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Dies irae

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Centre panel from Memling's triptych Last Judgment (c. 1467–1471)

"Dies irae" (Ecclesiastical Latin: [ˈdi.es ˈi.re]; "the Day of Wrath") is a Latin sequence attributed to either Thomas of Celano of the Franciscans (1200–1265)[1] or to Latino Malabranca Orsini (d. 1294), lector at the Dominican studium at Santa Sabina, the forerunner of the Pontifical University of Saint Thomas Aquinas (the Angelicum) in Rome.[2] The sequence dates from the 13th century at the latest, though it is possible that it is much older, with some sources ascribing its origin to St. Gregory the Great (d. 604), Bernard of Clairvaux (1090–1153), or Bonaventure (1221–1274).[1]

It is a medieval Latin poem characterized by its accentual stress and rhymed lines. The metre is trochaic. The poem describes the Last Judgment, the trumpet summoning souls before the throne of God, where the saved will be delivered and the unsaved cast into eternal flames.

It is best known from its use in the Roman Rite Requiem Catholic (Mass for the Dead or Funeral Mass). An English version is found in various Anglican Communion service books.

The first melody set to these words, a Gregorian chant, is one of the most quoted in musical literature, appearing in the works of many composers. The final couplet, Pie Jesu, has been often reused as an independent song.

Use in the Roman liturgy[edit]

The "Dies irae" has been used in the Roman Rite liturgy as the sequence for the Requiem Mass for centuries, as made evident by the important place it holds in musical settings such as those by Mozart and Verdi. It appears in the Roman Missal of 1962, the last edition before the implementation of the revisions that occurred after the Second Vatican Council. As such, it is still heard in churches where the Tridentine Latin liturgy is celebrated. It also formed part of the pre-conciliar liturgy of All Souls' Day.

In the reforms to the Catholic Church's Latin liturgical rites ordered by the Second Vatican Council, the "Consilium for the Implementation of the Constitution on the Liturgy", the Vatican body charged with drafting and implementing the reforms (1969–70), eliminated the sequence as such from funerals and other Masses for the Dead. A leading figure in the post-conciliar liturgical reforms, Archbishop Annibale Bugnini, explains the rationale 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 "Libera me, Domine", "Dies irae", 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.[3]

"Dies irae", slightly edited, remains in use ad libitum as a hymn in the Liturgy of the Hours on All Souls' Day and during the last week before Advent, for which it is divided into three parts for the Office of Readings, Lauds and Vespers, with the insertion of a doxology after each part.[4]


In the Roman Catholic Church there was formerly an indulgence of three years for each recitation and a plenary indulgence for reciting the prayer daily for a month.[5] This indulgence was not renewed in the Manual of Indulgences.[6]


The Latin text below is taken from the Requiem Mass in the 1962 Roman Missal.[7] The first English version below, translated by William Josiah Irons in 1849,[8] albeit from a slightly different Latin text, replicates the rhyme and metre of the original.[9] This translation, edited for more conformance to the official Latin, is approved by the Catholic Church for use as the funeral Mass sequence in the liturgy of the Catholic ordinariates for former Anglicans.[10] The second English version is a more formal equivalence translation.

Original Approved adaptation Formal equivalence

Dies iræ, dies illa,
Solvet sæclum in favilla:
Teste David cum Sibylla.

Day of wrath and doom impending!
David's word with Sibyl's blending,
Heaven and earth in ashes ending!

The day of wrath, that day,
will dissolve the world in ashes:
(this is) the testimony of David along with the Sibyl.


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

Oh, what fear man's bosom rendeth,
When from heaven the Judge descendeth,
On whose sentence all dependeth.

How great will be the quaking,
when the Judge is about to come,
strictly investigating all things!


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

Wondrous sound the trumpet flingeth;
Through earth's sepulchres it ringeth;
All before the throne it bringeth.

The trumpet, scattering a wondrous sound
through the sepulchres of the regions,
will summon all before the throne.


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

Death is struck, and nature quaking,
All creation is awaking,
To its Judge an answer making.

Death and nature will marvel,
when the creature will rise again,
to respond to the Judge.


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

Lo, the book, exactly worded,
Wherein all hath been recorded,
Thence shall judgement be awarded.

The written book will be brought forth,
in which all is contained,
from which the world shall be judged.


Iudex ergo cum sedebit,
Quidquid latet, apparebit:
Nil inultum remanebit.

When the Judge his seat attaineth,
And each hidden deed arraigneth,
Nothing unavenged remaineth.

When therefore the Judge will sit,
whatever lies hidden, will appear:
nothing will remain unpunished.


Quid sum miser tunc dicturus?
Quem patronum rogaturus,
Cum vix iustus sit securus?

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

What then shall I, poor wretch [that I am], say?
Which patron shall I entreat,
when [even] the just may [only] hardly be sure?


Rex tremendæ maiestatis,
Qui salvandos salvas gratis,
Salva me, fons pietatis.

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

King of fearsome majesty,
Who saves the redeemed freely,
save me, O fount of mercy.


Recordare, Iesu pie,
Quod sum causa tuæ viæ:
Ne me perdas illa die.

Think, kind Jesu! — my salvation
Caused Thy wondrous Incarnation;
Leave me not to reprobation.

Remember, merciful Jesus,
that I am the cause of Your journey:
lest You lose me in that day.


Quærens me, sedisti lassus:
Redemisti Crucem passus:
Tantus labor non sit cassus.

Faint and weary, Thou hast sought me,
On the Cross of suffering bought me.
Shall such grace be vainly brought me?

Seeking me, You rested, tired:
You redeemed [me], having suffered the Cross:
let not such hardship be in vain.


Iuste Iudex ultionis,
Donum fac remissionis
Ante diem rationis.

Righteous Judge, for sin's pollution
Grant Thy gift of absolution,
Ere the day of retribution.

Just Judge of vengeance,
make a gift of remission
before the day of reckoning.


Ingemisco, tamquam reus:
Culpa rubet vultus meus:
Supplicanti parce, Deus.

Guilty, now I pour my moaning,
All my shame with anguish owning;
Spare, O God, Thy suppliant groaning!

I sigh, like the guilty one:
my face reddens in guilt:
Spare the imploring one, O God.


Qui Mariam absolvisti,
Et latronem exaudisti,
Mihi quoque spem dedisti.

Through the sinful woman shriven,
Through the dying thief forgiven,
Thou to me a hope hast given.

You Who absolved Mary,
and heard the robber,
gave hope to me also.


Preces meæ non sunt dignæ:
Sed tu bonus fac benigne,
Ne perenni cremer igne.

Worthless are my prayers and sighing,
Yet, good Lord, in grace complying,
Rescue me from fires undying.

My prayers are not worthy:
but You, [Who are] good, graciously grant
that I be not burned up by the everlasting fire.


Inter oves locum præsta,
Et ab hædis me sequestra,
Statuens in parte dextra.

With Thy sheep a place provide me,
From the goats afar divide me,
To Thy right hand do Thou guide me.

Grant me a place among the sheep,
and take me out from among the goats,
setting me on the right side.


Confutatis maledictis,
Flammis acribus addictis,
Voca me cum benedictis.

When the wicked are confounded,
Doomed to flames of woe unbounded,
Call me with Thy saints surrounded.

Once the cursed have been silenced,
sentenced to acrid flames,
Call me, with the blessed.


Oro supplex et acclinis,
Cor contritum quasi cinis:
Gere curam mei finis.

Low I kneel, with heart's submission,
See, like ashes, my contrition,
Help me in my last condition.

[Humbly] kneeling and bowed I pray,
[my] heart crushed as ashes:
take care of my end.


Lacrimosa dies illa,
Qua resurget ex favílla
Iudicandus homo reus:
Huic ergo parce, Deus:

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.

Tearful [will be] that day,
on which from the glowing embers will arise
the guilty man who is to be judged:
Then spare him, O God.


Pie Iesu Domine,
Dona eis requiem. Amen.

Lord, all-pitying, Jesus blest,
Grant them Thine eternal rest. Amen.

Merciful Lord Jesus,
grant them rest. Amen.

Because the last two stanzas differ markedly in structure from the preceding stanzas, some scholars consider them to be an addition made in order to suit the great poem for liturgical use. The penultimate stanza, Lacrimosa, discards the consistent scheme of rhyming triplets in favour of a pair of rhyming couplets. The last stanza, Pie Iesu, abandons rhyme for assonance, and, moreover, its lines are catalectic.

In the liturgical reforms of 1969–71, stanza 19 was deleted and the poem divided into three sections: 1–6 (for 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 absolved the sinful woman". This was because modern scholarship denies the common mediæval identification of the woman taken in adultery with Mary Magdalene, so Mary could no longer be named in this verse. In addition, a doxology is given after stanzas 6, 12 and 18:[4]

Original Approved adaptation Formal equivalence

O tu, Deus majestatis,
alme candor Trinitatis
nos conjunge cum beatis. Amen.

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

You, God of majesty,
gracious splendour of the Trinity
conjoin us with the blessed. Amen.

Manuscript sources[edit]

The text of the sequence is found, with slight verbal variations, in a 13th-century manuscript in the Biblioteca Nazionale Vittorio Emanuele III at Naples. It is a Franciscan calendar missal that must date between 1253 and 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.


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

Other images come from the Book of Revelation, such as Revelation 20:11–15 (the book from which the world will be judged), Matthew 25:31–46 (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), and Luke 21:26 ("men fainting with fear... they will see the Son of Man coming").

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

Other translations[edit]

A number of English translations of the poem have been written and proposed for liturgical use. 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 will the sinner's heart confound!

Jan Kasprowicz, a Polish poet, wrote a hymn entitled "Dies iræ" which describes the Judgment day. The first six lines (two stanzas) follow the original hymn's metre 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!

The Rev. Bernard Callan (1750–1804), an Irish priest and poet, translated it into Gaelic around 1800. His version is included in a Gaelic prayer book, The Spiritual Rose.[11]

Literary references[edit]


Musical settings[edit]

The words of "Dies iræ" have often been set to music as part of the Requiem service. In some settings, it is broken up into several movements; in such cases, "Dies iræ" refers only to the first of these movements, the others being titled according to their respective incipits.

The original setting was a sombre plainchant (or Gregorian chant). It is in the Dorian mode.[13] In four-line neumatic notation, it begins: The "Dies iræ" melody in four-line neumatic chant notation.

In 5-line staff notation:

  \new Staff \with {
    \remove Time_signature_engraver
  \relative c' { \set Staff.midiInstrument = #"tuba" \tempo 8 = 90 \set Score.tempoHideNote = ##t
    f8 e f d e c d d \breathe
    f8 f([ g)] f([ e)] d([ c)] e f e d4. \breathe
    a8 c([ d)] d d([ c)] e f e d4. \bar "||"
  \addlyrics {
    Di -- es i -- ræ di -- es il -- la,
    Sol -- vet sae -- clum in fa -- vil -- la:
    Tes -- te Da -- vid cum Si -- byl -- la

The earliest surviving polyphonic setting of the Requiem by Johannes Ockeghem does not include "Dies iræ". The first polyphonic settings to include the "Dies iræ" are by Engarandus Juvenis (1490) and Antoine Brumel (1516) to be followed by many composers of the renaissance. Later, many notable choral and orchestral settings of the Requiem including the sequence were made by composers such as Charpentier, Delalande, Mozart, Berlioz, Verdi, Britten and Stravinsky. Giovanni Battista Martini ended his set of (mostly humorous) 303 canons with a set of 20 on extracts of the sequence poem.[14][15]

Musical quotations[edit]

The traditional Gregorian melody has been used as a theme or musical quotation in many classical compositions, including:

It has also been used in many film scores and popular works, such as:


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External links[edit]