Word of the Day – Thursday, November 21st
Irae: famous Latin hymn about the Day of Judgment
Dies Iræ is a famous Latin hymn written by Thomas of Celaeno. It is often judged to be the best 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 good will be delivered and the evil will be cast into eternal flames.
The poem itself
Dies Iræ! dies illa
Solvet sæclum in favilla
Teste David cum Sibylla!
'Day of Wrath! That day (which) will scatter the universe into embers, by the witness of David and the Sibyl!'
Quantus tremor est futurus,
quando judex est venturus,
cuncta stricte discussurus!
'What trembling is to come, when the Judge arrives, everything drawn together to be shattered.'
Tuba mirum spargens sonum
per sepulcra regionum,
coget omnes ante thronum.
'The trumpet, casting a wondrous sound through the tombs of all nations, gathers all before the Throne.'
Mors stupebit et natura,
cum resurget creatura,
'Death shall be stunned, and nature, when creation rises again, to answer the Judge.'
Liber scriptus proferetur,
in quo totum continetur,
unde mundus judicetur.
'The written book shall be brought forth, in which all is contained, from which the world will be judged.'
Judex ergo cum sedebit,
quidquid latet apparebit:
nil inultum remanebit.
'So when the Judge shall sit, whatever is hidden shall be clear, no unpunished thing shall remain.'
Quid sum miser tunc dicturus?
Quem patronum rogaturus,
cum vix justus sit securus?
'What am I, wretched, to say, What patron (am I) to call, when the just will (only) narrowly be safe?'
Rex tremendæ majestatis,
qui salvandos salvas gratis,
salva me fons pietatis.
'King of awesome majesty, who freely saves the chosen, save me, O fountain of grace'.
Recordare, Jesu pie,
quod sum causa tuæ viæ:
ne me perdas illa die.
'Remember, gracious Jesus, that I am the cause of your journey; do not forget me that day.'
Quærens me, sedisti lassus:
redemisti Crucem passus:
tantus labor non sit cassus.
'Seeking me, you sat exhausted; you redeemed me by suffering on the Cross; so great a work should not be in vain.'
Juste judex ultionis,
donum fac remissionis
ante diem rationis.
'Just judge of vengeance, grant me the gift of forgiveness, before the day of reckoning'.
Ingemisco, tamquam reus:
culpa rubet vultus meus:
supplicanti parce, Deus.
'I groan as though guilty, sin reddens my face; spare the supplicant, O God'.
Qui Mariam absolvisti,
et latronem exaudisti,
mihi quoque spem dedisti.
'You who forgave Mary (Magdalene), and heard the plea of the thief (Dismas), have also given me some hope.'
Preces meæ non sunt dignæ:
sed tu bonus fac benigne,
ne perenni cremer igne.
'My prayers are unworthy; but you, the Good, show me favour, that I may not be consumed by eternal fire.'
Inter oves locum præsta,
et ab hædis me sequestra,
statuens in parte dextra.
'Prepare me a place among the sheep, and keep me from the goats, standing at your right hand.'
flammis acribus addictis:
voca me cum benedictis.
'With the slanderers silenced, sentenced to piercing flames, call me with the blessed.'
Oro supplex et acclinis,
cor contritum quasi cinis:
gere curam mei finis.
'Kneeling I plead, (my) contrite heart like ash: carry my trouble until the end.'
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 abandom rhyme for assonance and are, moreover, catalectic:
Lacrimosa dies illa,
qua resurget ex favilla
judicandus homo reus.
Huic ergo parce, Deus:
pie Jesu Domine,
dona eis requiem. Amen.
'That day will be full of tears, when from the grave, guilty mankind rises to be judged. Therefore, have mercy upon me, O God; sweet Lord Jesus, grant them eternal rest. Amen'.
fons pietatis is sometimes translated 'fount of piety.'
The inspiration of the hymn seems to have come from the Vulgate translation of Zephaniah I: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 trouble and distress, a day of wasteness and desolation, a day of darkness and gloominess, a day of clouds and thick darkness, a day of the trumpet and alarm against the fenced cities, and against the high towers. (KJV)
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 Saint Clare, who was canonized in 1255, and whose name would have been inserted if the manuscript were of later date.
The words have often been set to music as part of the Requiem service, originally as a sombre Gregorian chant. Famous classical versions include those by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Giuseppe Verdi and Hector Berlioz.
The traditional Gregorian melody has also been quoted in a number of other classical compositions, among them Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique, Franz Liszt's Totentanz, and several pieces by Sergei Rachmaninoff, including Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, The Isle of the Dead and the finale of his final large work, the Opus 45 Symphonic Dances.
The hymn was used as a sequence in the Roman Catholic Requiem service until the Missal of Paul VI, released in 1972. (It is still permitted as an optional sequence at that Mass). The hymn is suggested in the current Latin Breviary (Editio Typica Altera, from 2000) for use in the Liturgy of the Hours during the last week of Ordinary Time, leading up to the feast of Christ the King.