Dies Irae

[dee-eys eer-ey]

Dies Irae (Day of Wrath) is a famous thirteenth century Latin hymn thought to be written by Thomas of Celano. It is a medieval Latin poem, differing from classical Latin by its accentual (non-quantitative) stress and its rhymed lines. The meter is trochaic. The poem describes the day of judgment, the last trumpet summoning souls before the throne of God, where the saved will be delivered and the unsaved cast into eternal flames. The hymn is used as a sequence in the Roman Catholic Requiem Mass in the extraordinary form (1962 missal). It is not used in the ordinary form (1970) of the Roman Missal.

Use in the Catholic liturgy

Those familiar with musical settings of the Requiem Mass—such as those by Mozart or Verdi—will be aware of the important place Dies Iræ held in the liturgy. Nevertheless the "Consilium for the Implementation of the Constitution on the Liturgy" - the Vatican body charged with drafting and implementing reforms to the Catholic Liturgy ordered by the Second Vatican Council - felt the funeral rite was in need of reform and eliminated the sequence from the ordinary rite. The architect of these reforms, Archbishop Annibale Bugnini, explains the mind of the members of the Consilium:
They got rid of texts that smacked of a negative spirituality inherited from the Middle Ages. Thus they removed such familiar and even beloved texts as the Libera me, Domine, the Dies Iræ, and others that overemphasized judgment, fear, and despair. These they replaced with texts urging Christian hope and arguably giving more effective expression to faith in the resurrection.

It remained as the sequence for the Requiem Mass in the Roman Missal of 1962 (the last edition before the Second Vatican Council) and so is still heard in churches where the Tridentine Latin liturgy is celebrated.

The "Dies Irae" is still suggested in the Liturgy of the Hours during last week before Advent as the opening hymn for the Office of Readings, Lauds and Vespers (divided into three parts).

The poem

The Latin text is taken from the Requiem Mass in the 1962 Roman Missal. The English version below was translated by William Josiah Irons in 1849 and appears in the English Missal, as well as in The Hymnal 1940 of the Episcopal Church in the USA. Note that the below translation is not literal, but modified to fit the rhyme and meter.

1 Dies iræ! dies illa Solvet sæclum in favilla Teste David cum Sibylla!

2 Quantus tremor est futurus, quando judex est venturus, cuncta stricte discussurus!

3 Tuba mirum spargens sonum per sepulchra regionum, coget omnes ante thronum.

4 Mors stupebit et natura, cum resurget creatura, judicanti responsura.

5 Liber scriptus proferetur, in quo totum continetur, unde mundus judicetur.

6 Judex ergo cum sedebit, quidquid latet apparebit: nil inultum remanebit.

7 Quid sum miser tunc dicturus? Quem patronum rogaturus, cum vix justus sit securus?

8 Rex tremendæ majestatis, qui salvandos salvas gratis, salva me, fons pietatis.

9 Recordare, Jesu pie, quod sum causa tuæ viæ: ne me perdas illa die.

10 Quærens me, sedisti lassus: redemisti Crucem passus: tantus labor non sit cassus.

11 Juste judex ultionis, donum fac remissionis ante diem rationis.

12 Ingemisco, tamquam reus: culpa rubet vultus meus: supplicanti parce, Deus.

13 Qui Mariam absolvisti, et latronem exaudisti, mihi quoque spem dedisti.

14 Preces meæ non sunt dignæ: sed tu bonus fac benigne, ne perenni cremer igne.

15 Inter oves locum præsta, et ab hædis me sequestra, statuens in parte dextra.

16 Confutatis maledictis, flammis acribus addictis: voca me cum benedictis.

17 Oro supplex et acclinis, cor contritum quasi cinis: gere curam mei finis.

1 Day of wrath! O day of mourning! See fulfilled the prophets' warning, Heaven and earth in ashes burning!

2 Oh what fear man's bosom rendeth, when from heaven the Judge descendeth, on whose sentence all dependeth.

3 Wondrous sound the trumpet flingeth; through earth's sepulchers it ringeth; all before the throne it bringeth.

4 Death is struck, and nature quaking, all creation is awaking, to its Judge an answer making.

5 Lo! the book, exactly worded, wherein all hath been recorded: thence shall judgment be awarded.

6 When the Judge his seat attaineth, and each hidden deed arraigneth, nothing unavenged remaineth.

7 What shall I, frail man, be pleading? Who for me be interceding, when the just are mercy needing?

8 King of Majesty tremendous, who dost free salvation send us, Fount of pity, then befriend us!

9 Think, good Jesus, my salvation cost thy wondrous Incarnation; leave me not to reprobation!

10 Faint and weary, thou hast sought me, on the cross of suffering bought me. shall such grace be vainly brought me?

11 Righteous Judge! for sin's pollution grant thy gift of absolution, ere the day of retribution.

12 Guilty, now I pour my moaning, all my shame with anguish owning; spare, O God, thy suppliant groaning!

13 Thou the sinful woman savedst; thou the dying thief forgavest; and to me a hope vouchsafest.

14 Worthless are my prayers and sighing, yet, good Lord, in grace complying, rescue me from fires undying!

15 With thy favored sheep O place me; nor among the goats abase me; but to thy right hand upraise me.

16 While the wicked are confounded, doomed to flames of woe unbounded call me with thy saints surrounded.

17 Low I kneel, with heart submission, see, like ashes, my contrition; help me in my last condition.

The poem appears complete as it stands at this point. Some scholars question whether the remainder is an addition made in order to suit the great poem for liturgical use, for the last stanzas discard the consistent scheme of triple rhymes in favor of rhymed couplets, while the last two lines abandon rhyme for assonance and are, moreover, catalectic.

18 Lacrimosa dies illa, qua resurget ex favilla judicandus homo reus. Huic ergo parce, Deus:

19 Pie Jesu Domine, dona eis requiem. Amen.

18 Ah! that day of tears and mourning! From the dust of earth returning man for judgment must prepare him; Spare, O God, in mercy spare him!

19 Lord, all pitying, Jesus blest, grant them thine eternal rest. Amen.

In 1970 the Dies Iræ was removed from the Missal and since 1971 it is proposed ad libitum as a hymn for the Liturgy of the Hours at the Office of Readings, Lauds and Vespers. For this purpose stanza 19 was deleted and the poem divided into three sections: 1-6 (for the Office of Readings), 7-12 (for Lauds) and 13-18 (for Vespers. In addition Qui Mariam absolvisti in stanza 13 was replaced by Peccatricem qui solvisti so that that line would now mean, "You who freed the sinful woman". In addition a doxology is given after stanzas 6, 12 and 18:

doxology: O tu, Deus majestatis, alme candor Trinitatis nos coniunge cum beatis. Amen.

doxology: O God of majesty nourishing light of the Trinity join us with the blessed. Amen.

Inspiration and other translations

A major inspiration of the hymn seems to have come from the Vulgate translation of Zephaniah 1:15–16:

Dies iræ, dies illa, dies tribulationis et angustiæ, dies calamitatis et miseriæ, dies tenebrarum et caliginis, dies nebulæ et turbinis, dies tubæ et clangoris super civitates munitas et super angulos excelsos.

That day is a day of wrath, a day of tribulation and distress, a day of calamity and misery, a day of darkness and obscurity, a day of clouds and whirlwinds, a day of the trumpet and alarm against the fenced cities, and against the high bulwarks. (Douai Bible)

Other images come from Revelation 20:11–15 (the book from which the world will be judged), (sheep and goats, right hand, contrast between the blessed and the accursed doomed to flames), 1 Thessalonians 4:16 (trumpet), 2 Peter 3:7 (heaven and earth burnt by fire), Luke 21:26–27 ("men fainting with fear ... they will see the Son of Man coming"), etc.

From the Jewish liturgy, the prayer Unetanneh Tokef also appears to have been a source: "We shall ascribe holiness to this day, For it is awesome and terrible"; "the great trumpet is sounded", etc.

A number of English translations of the poem have been written and proposed for liturgical use. A Franciscan version can be read here A very loose Protestant version was made by John Newton; it opens:

Day of judgment! Day of wonders!
Hark! the trumpet's awful sound,
Louder than a thousand thunders,
Shakes the vast creation round!
How the summons wilt the sinner's heart confound!

Jan Kasprowicz, a Polish poet, wrote a hymn entitled Dies irae which describes the Judgement day. The first six lines (two stanzas) follow the original hymn's meter and rhyme structure, and the first stanza translates to "The trumpet will cast a wondrous sound".

The American writer Ambrose Bierce published a satiric version of the poem in his 1903 book Shapes of Clay, preserving the original metre but using humorous and sardonic language; for example, the second verse is rendered:

Ah! what terror shall be shaping
When the Judge the truth's undraping -
Cats from every bag escaping!

Manuscript sources

The oldest text of the sequence is found, with slight verbal variations, in a 13th century manuscript in the Biblioteca Nazionale at Naples. It is a Franciscan calendar missal that must date between 1253–1255 for it does not contain the name of Clare of Assisi, who was canonized in 1255, and whose name would have been inserted if the manuscript were of later date.

Musical settings

The hymn music, with the words of the first stanza, is provided here:

The words have often been set to music as part of the Requiem service, originally as a sombre plainchant. It also formed part of the traditional Catholic liturgy of All Souls Day. Music for the Requiem mass has been composed by many composers, including Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Hector Berlioz, Giuseppe Verdi, and Igor Stravinsky. The setting by Mozart, especially the first two stanzas (Requiem, 2nd Movement), is often heard in the scores of movies and the musical "beds" of commercials (e.g. X2: X-Men United).

The traditional Gregorian melody has also been quoted in a number of other classical compositions, among them:

References in popular culture

The melody has also been referenced in popular culture:

The 18th stanza is sung at the end of the song "Lacrimosa," by Regina Spektor, on her album "Songs."

The melody was used by Ernest Gold in the opening credits for the horror movie The Screaming Skull.

The first two lines of the first stanza (with the modified second one) are sung in the refrain of the song "Starless Aeon" by the Swedish metal band Dissection on their album Reinkaos. The refrain starts with "Dies Irae, Dies illa // Solvet cosmos in favilla".

The first two lines of the first stanza are sung at the end of the song "Far åt Helvete" by the Swedish folk metal band Thyrfing on their album "Farsotstider," and in "A Fool's Paradise" on the fifth album of the American progressive metal band Symphony X.

Wendy Carlos used the melody in the opening credits sequence to her score to Stanley Kubrick's "The Shining". That same piece of the score was used in the background of Elias's speech explaining who "Pillowpants" is in "Clerks 2".

The melody is played in the 1992 video game Fatal Fury 2 from SNK, as theme for the last opponent of the game, Wolfgang Krauser, a German character with several references to Mozart, such as the first name. It's also played in other SNK games where Krauser appears, like Fatal Fury Special and The King of Fighters '96, always as the theme for Krauser.

The first 8 notes are quoted (the last two reduced to eighth notes and the last one raised one tone) as the character Kate's leitmotif in the television serial Lost, composed by Michael Giacchino.

The tune is parodied in the main theme of the movie It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.

Some Euronews viewers argue that their News block introduction tune (after June 2008 rebranding) very much resembling Dies Irae.

The musical Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street by Stephen Sondheim contains several variations of the Dies Irae throughout its score, most notably in the recurrent "Ballad of Sweeney Todd", and as part of the underscoring in the climactic "Epiphany".

A variation of the melody has also been used in the computer/video game Onimusha 3: Demon Siege, as the theme tune for the villain Guildenstern.

A variation of the poem was used by Steve Jablonsky for the theme of the Decepticons for the 2007 film Transformers.

Some verses from The Poem are used by funeral doom, gothic, gregorian band Virgin Black, in their song called "Domine".

The melody as used in Symphonie Fantastique is used to begin The Second Coming by Juelz Santana. The song was prominently used in Nike basketball commercials.

The setting by Mozart is played almost in its entirety during the opening credits of the computer game Still Life.

The melody is used in the Dreamworks movie The Road to El Dorado as the motiff for the explorer Hernán Cortés.

Variations of the Dies Irae are frequently heard in the music for the television show Lost.

The song is used as the Death Note's theme in the popular Japanese Show Death Note.

The song is frequently heard during the movie Battle Royale.

The song is used during the movie Duplex (film).

The melody is quoted in Bernard Herrmann's score for Jason and the Argonauts in the cue "The Teeth".

The song is used during the credits for the Pixar animated short Jack-Jack Attack based on The Incredibles movie.

The melody was used as the main thematic element in the incidental music for "The Age of Terror" series for Discovery Channel.

The song can be heard in the opening scene of Disney's The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

The melody is quoted in Gottfried Huppertz's original score for Metropolis during the scenes featuring apocalyptic imagery.

The Melvins released a version of the song on their 2008 album Nude With Boots.

The song is used in X-Men 2 during the opening scene in which Nightcrawler attacks the White House.

The melody is directly quoted and also alluded to in Michel Colombier's score to the 1996 film Barb Wire

Literary references


External links

A great podcast put together by the people at Film Score Monthly have a great podcast about the Dies Irae's use in both concert and film music. Found Here:

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