Dies Irae

Dies irae, dies illa
Solvet saeclum in favilla,
Teste David cum Sibylla.

Quantus tremor est futurus,
Quando judex est venturus,
Cuncta stricte discussurus!

Tuba mirum spargens sonum
Per sepulcra regionum,
Coget omnes ante thronum.

Mors stupebit et natura,
Cum resurget creatura,
Judicanti responsura.

Liber scriptus proferetur,
In quo totum continetur,
Unde mundus judicetur.

Judex ergo cum sedebit,
Quidquid latet apparebit.
Nil inultum remanebit.

This day, this day of wrath
shall consume the world in ashes,
as foretold by David and the Sibyl.

What trembling there will be
When the judge shall come
to weigh everything strictly!

The trumpet, scattering its awful sound
Across the graves of all lands
Summons all before the throne.

Death and nature shall be stunned
When mankind arises
To render account before the judge.

The written book shall be brought
In which all is contained
Whereby the world shall be judged

When the judge takes his seat
all that is hidden shall appear
Nothing will remain unavenged.

Until not too long ago, as a Catholic you were exposed to the Dies Irae as part of the Requiem, the mass for the deceased. Even if not heard in music, certainly in the popular feeling there was a vivid knowledge of what the dies irae is about. It must have certainly worked as a very sobering reminder of realities that people of those times – like, probably, people of every time – tried not to think too much about.

Sadly for us, those times seem to have gone. I can’t remember an English bishop willing to remember his faithful once about the sheer inevitability of death and judgement and if someone, incredibile dictu, would dare such a feat it would probably be to make some easy populism at the expense of, say, the oil industry.

Nowadays, the prevalent mentality seems to love to sing to a different tune: no “day of wrath” anymore as to nowadays mickey mouse Christians such an event must seem…. un-Christian. Similarly, no “judgment” as they think that God will, of course, “not judge”; joy instead of trembling, forgiveness galore instead of strictness and, of course, nothing that will not be “included” instead of nothing that will remain unavenged.

Alas, I am afraid (and I mean this in the literal sense; which is probably a healthy feeling) that things are not going to go so smoothly, and that those living in the fantasy world of the Last Day as gandhi-cum-pavarotti-peace-event will have a bitter disappointment.

Thankfully, something has remained to bring those ancient wisdom in our houses: music. Among the many composers who have dealt with the issue, I have picked for you the work of my fellow countryman Giuseppe Verdi *. I could write about the Giudizio Universale for very long, but I would never express what this great composer has achieved in, what, two minutes and change. Even if you don’t like classical music, you might do much worse with your two minutes. Very Italian by the way.

Dies Irae, dies illa.

We are well advised not to forget it, and not to downplay it.


* “Giuseppe” is pronounced with the second “e” exactly like the first one. It drives me mad how even at Classic FM they don’t get simple things…

Posted on May 12, 2011, in Catholicism and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. The most moving recording I have heard is that made in 1939 on the eve of WW II, prophetically full of forboding and terror. Gigli sang, and three others whose names I forget.
    The rendering of ‘mors stupebit et natura’ is unforgettable.

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