The sequence prayed during the traditional Requiem Mass, commonly known as the Dies Irae, has been used throughout the history of the Church to remind Christians of their death, the day of judgment, and the mercy of God. Some attribute the text of the sequence to Pope Saint Gregory the Great (d. 604), yet others have suggested that the origins of the prayer date even earlier. The simple, traditional chant for the Dies Irae is credited to a disciple of St. Francis, Thomas of Celano (1200-1255), and this profound, haunting melody complements the latin verse exceptionally. The very words of the Dies Ira, as well as the chant itself, make for an excellent meditation during the month of November, as we think about our final days and pray for the holy souls in purgatory.
Here is a translation which replicates the meter and rhyme of the original latin verse:
Day of wrath and doom impending, David’s word with Sibyl’s blending, Heaven and earth in ashes ending. O what fear man’s bosom rendeth, when from Heaven the Judge descendeth, On whose sentence all dependeth.
Wondrous sound the trumpet flingeth, through earth’s sepulchers it ringeth, all before the throne it bringeth. Death is struck, and nature quaking, all creation is awaking, to its Judge an answer making.
Lo, the book exactly worded, wherein all hath been recorded, thence shall judgement be awarded. When the Judge His seat attaineth, and each hidden deed arraigneth, nothing unavenged remaineth.
What shall I, frail man, be pleading? Who for me be interceding when the just are mercy needing? King of majesty tremendous, Who dost free salvation send us, Fount of Pity, then befriend us.
Think, kind Jesus, my salvation caused Thy wondrous Incarnation, leave me not to reprobation. Faint and weary Thou hast sought me, on the cross of suffering bought me, shall such grace be vainly brought me?
Righteous Judge, for sin’s pollution, grant Thy gift of absolution, ere that day of retribution. Guilty now I pour my moaning, all my shame with anguish owning, spare, O God, Thy suppliant groaning.
Through the sinful woman shriven, through the dying thief forgiven, Thou to me a hope hast given. Worthless are my prayers and sighing, yet, good Lord, in grace complying, rescue me from fires undying.
With Thy sheep a place provide me, from the goats afar divide me, to Thy right hand do Thou guide me. When the wicked are confounded, doomed to flames of woe unbounded, call me with Thy Saints surrounded.
Low I kneel with heart’s submission; see, like ashes, my contrition, help me in my last condition. Ah! that day of tears and mourning, from the dust of earth returning.
Man for judgement must prepare him, spare, O God, in mercy spare him. Lord all-pitying, Jesus blest, grant me Thine eternal rest. Amen.
Below are two versions of the Dies Irae. The first is the simple, traditional chant. The second is a segment from Mozart’s Requiem Mass K626. Both are beautiful renditions of this ancient prayer of the Church.
Traditional Chant of the Dies Irae – Courtesy of CCWatershed.org
Sequence from Mozart’s Requiem Mass K 626
For music and rehearsal instructions for the traditional chant, please visit: https://www.ccwatershed.org/2016/11/03/sequence-dies-irae-dies-illa/