Dies Irae: Commentario Novum Translatioque pro Fidelibus Recentibus Sanctae Ecclesiae Catholicae
Dies irae, dies illa
Solvet saeculum in favilla
Teste David cum Sibylla
Day of anger, that day
(which) will reduce the world to ashes
according to the word of both David and the Sibyl.
Dies Irae: The day of judgment is a day of anger for several reasons. On the part of God, anger will pour forth both on account of the sin of the world and from sorrow at the damnation of the lost; indeed, the condemnation of unbelievers, as creatures equally loved by God, must be agonizing to the Lord. The second reason it will be a day of wrath will be on our part, id est, the weeping and gnashing of teeth, the pain of separation from God.
Solvet Saeculum in Favilla refers to the concept that the final day of secular time will see the world annihilated and replaced by a new kingdom, id est, a world order according to God's plan.
Teste David cum Sibylla. Both David and the Greek Sibyl (an oracular prophetess of Apollo) foretold a catastrophic end of time as discussed in Dies Irae. The inclusion of the pagan priestess seems to point back to the culpability of nations which had heard the Gospel but did not accept it; in the sibyl's case, it seems that she would have recognized the error of her paganism by virtue of her oracular prowess.
Translator's note: An alternative explanation may be that the Christian author was demonstrating his familiarity with classical civilization (the mark of an educated man until very recently), or was pressed to find a rhyme for 'Illa' and 'Favilla'. The last explanation seems the least likely to me, considering how simple it is to find rhyming word-endings in a declining language such as Latin.
Quantus tremor est futurus
Quando judex est venturus
Cuncta stricte discussurus!
How great is the tremor (that) is to come
When the judge will have come forth
(and) all things are to be dashed to pieces!
Tremor has a double implication, both of the cataclysmic shaking of the earth which was thought to be characteristic of the end of time as well as the trembling of mankind before the manifest glory and wrath of the divine.
Judex: in reference to Christ Pantocrator, upon his second coming.
Cuncta stricte discussurus makes reference again to the violent destruction of worldly things preceding the dedication of the City of God, see stanza I:ii.
Tuba mirum spargens sonum
Per sepulchra regionum
Coget omnes ante thronum.
The wondrous horn, dispersing (its) note
Through tombs in all directions
Will gather all people before the throne.
Tuba mirumIt is written that the end of time will be announced by the sounding of a celestial trumpet. The word used here refers specifically to the kind of horn used in battle, lending the phrase a violent quality in keeping with the tone of the poem. The horn is miraculous both because of its divinity and because it is heard even by the dead, see III:iii.
Per sepulchra regionum refers to the raising of the dead to face judgment. This is not necessarily literal; rather, this leads one to think that upon judgment all of humanity, including the dead in heaven, hell, and purgatory, will be summoned from those celestial regions in order to stand in the general judgment of humanity.
Coget omnes ante thronum is in reference to the general judgment of mankind, as opposed to the individual judgment of the soul which occurs immediately upon death.
Mors stupebit, et natura
Cum resurget creatura
Death and nature shall stand agape
When (the whole of) creation will rise again;
They shall answer to their judgment.
Mors stupebit: the final day will mark the end of Death as the door between this life and the next; upon judgment day, there will be only eternal life or eternal death. Thus, death as the world has known it is personified as being astounded by its unseating from its traditional place in human life and being replaced by its successor, perdition. It marvels also because it has been cheated for the last time, with the resurrection of all mankind to stand judgment before the Lord.
Liber scriptus proferatur
In quo totum continetur
Unde mundus judicetur.
The inscribed book is brought forth
In which the fullness (of humanity) is contained
From (which) the world is to be judged.
The Liber scriptus is the book of life, referenced in the book of revelations, in which the names of Christ's faithful are inscribed. Revelations describes in loving detail the fashion in which it is to be brought forth on judgment day, including the breaking of the eternal seals upon it by victorious Christ.
Translator's note: unde mundus may be more effectively translated into English as 'by (which book)', though the Latin in fact means 'out of (which)'. In 'from (which)' I have attempted to capture the correct meaning while being loyal to the literal meaning of the latin unde.
Judex ergo cum sedebit
Quidquid latet, apparebit
Nil inultum remanebit.
Thus, when the Judge will preside
Whatever lies hidden will appear
(And) nothing will remain unpunished.
Judex sedebit is an interesting phrase in that judex, here translated as Judge and referring to Christ, translates in Classical Latin as 'juryman'. Though this is a feature of medieval Latin, it is intriguing to note that Christ in this function is indeed a juryman in a set of three; in another sense, he is the juryman that defends mankind while the Father is the juryman that prosecutes it, while the Holy Spirit completes the Trinitarian jury as the voice and virtue of the accused. Sedebit, similarly, both refers to Christ taking his seat on the throne of ages (see III:iii) and is idiomatic for the inception of a Roman trial, when the jury (judices) would take their seats and hear the opening rhetoric of the prosecuting and defending attorneys.
Quidquid latet... Nil inultum: the final two verses of stanza six refer to the most terrifying aspect of the final judgment, in that the omniscient God will both know of and make public all secret sins and hidden transgressions and rebuke each of us before mankind in very specific terms. Nothing is hidden from God.
Quid sum miser tunc dicturus
Quem patronum rogaturus,
Cum vix justus sit securus?
What am I, (a) wretched (man), to say
When (I shall be) questioned (as a) defendant
When the righteous (man) will scarcely be safe?
This passage marks a shift in the poem away from simple description to the personal exclamation of the soul facing judgment. Stanza seven is my personal favorite, worthy of much contemplation by the faithful Catholic.
In Roman times, the Patronus, or patron, was a wealthy man who provided for a set of plebeian clients as an act of social philanthropy. One function of the Patron, because he was (or wished to demonstrate himself to be) an educated man, was to defend his clients in court; in those days, no license to practice law was required, for any Patrician worth his salt was educated in rhetoric enough that he could stand his own in a Roman court of law. The use of patronus is ironic to the point of self-mockery, styling the infinitely wretched (miser) human soul as a competent lawyer; you notice that the court-of-law imagery persists through this stanza.
Cum vix Justus sit securus reminds us that even the best among us have committed sin, which ipso facto would condemn us to separation from God but for the mercy of Christ; because of the minutest imperfection, even the saintly man is unfit to stand in the presence of God without the intercession of the second person of the trinity. The poet is dwelling on the wrenching anxiety of the last judgment, in which the gravity of even our slightest sins will be revealed to us in the harshest of terms.
Rex tremendae majestatis
Qui salvandos salvas gratis
Salva me, fons pietatis!
O king of terrible majesty,
You who preserve the saved without a price,
Preserve me, O font of piety!
The petition of the soul continues, referring to God in his aspect as the savior of mankind.
Salvas gratis reminds us of the fact that our salvation, being priceless, cannot be bought and none of our works can pay for it; in that sense, it is given for free to debtors with no hope of repayment, but gratis, without price, by grace.
Christ is indeed a fons pietatis for several reasons. First, it is by the salvation he extends that our piety has any meaning whatsoever; second, it is by his function as a radiator of the Holy Spirit (Spiritus Sanctus, qui ex Patre Filioque procedit, see Credo) allows us to be vessels of Christian virtue on earth.
Recordare, Jesu pie
Quod sum causa tuae viae
Ne me perdas illa die.
Remember, faithful Jesus
That I was the cause of your journey
So that you shall not condemn me on that day.
The petition of the soul continues.
Tuae Viae: Via means, literally, road; here it refers to the path walked by Christ, carrying his cross, toward Golgotha.
Here the soul acknowledges that the horrible suffering and humiliation of Christ were endured for him, specifically; that is, the sacrifice of Christ was made for each of us as an immortal soul as well as for mankind as a whole. The via of Christ was one of humiliation, agony, and spiritual and physical exhaustion endured for our individual salvation.
Recordare... ne me perdas: the soul entreats Christ to remember that the soul is aware of his personally commanding the death of the Agnus Dei, using this in his defense as proof of his faith.
Quaerens me, sedisti lassus:
Redemisti Crucem passus:
Tantus labor non sit cassus.
Seeking me, you have sat exhausted;
You have redeemed me by suffering the Cross;
Let not so great a work be empty (of significance).
The soul continues to plead for his salvation, begging that Christ's sacrifice on the cross will not be overlooked in his trial.
sedisti lassus: Sedisti here is a word of several meanings, referring both to the fashion in which Christ sits in a position of judgment but also in the sense of you have remained, that is, Christ has worked himself to exhaustion in his continual pursuit of the soul's salvation. In both cases, the labor of his occupation has physically and spiritually drained the Redeemer.
Juste judex ultionis,
Donum fac remissionis
Ante diem rationis.
Righteous judge of punishment,
Make a gift of forgiveness
before the day of reckoning.
The soul's speech continues, recognizing that any punishment is just and deserved in accordance with the gravity of his transgressions.
Ingemisco, tamquam reus:
Culpa rubet vultus meus:
Supplicanti parce, Deus.
I groan as much as a convicted criminal;
My face blushes with (my) fault;
Spare (me), your supplicant, O God.
The soul exclaims his humiliation and supinates himself before the throne of judgment.
Reus means defendant, but has the special connotation of a defendant of a hopeless cause, one sure to be convicted or already sentenced to death by Roman law.
Qui Mariam absolvisti,
Et latronem exaudisti,
Mihi quoque spem dedisti.
You who have absolved Mary,
(You who) have forgiven the thief,
Give to me hope as well.
Maria in this case refers to Mary Magdalene, a penitent prostitute who came to follow Christ.
Latronem exaudisti: a reference to the repentant thief who Christ spoke to at Golgotha.
Preces meae non sunt dignae,
Sed tu bonus fac benigne,
Ne perenni cremer igne.
My prayers are unworthy,
But benevolently do such, you who are good
That I will not be consumed by eternal fire.
Sed tu bonus fac benigne It is only Christ that has the authority to spare us from eternal separation from God, the pain of which the medieval consciousness equated with eternal consumption in fire. This is not something we are entitled to, but a benevolence on the part ofChrist.
Translator's note: The construction Fac ne cremer igne may more gracefully be translated into English as 'Do whatever you will, just so that I may not be consumed by fire'. The extant translation, however, is truer to the literal meaning of the Latin as well as its arrangement in the stanza.
Inter oves locum praesta,
Et ab hoedis me sequestra
Statuens in parte dextra.
Display (for me my) place among (your) sheep
And divide me from the goats,
Standing in the right-hand side.
The soul makes reference to the division of 'the sheep' from 'the goats'.
Translator's Note: The third line refers to the first, rather than to the second; the stanza would read more clearly as
Inter oves locum praesta
Statuens in parte dextra
Et ab Hoedis me sequestra.
Flammis acribus addictis
Voca me cum benedictis.
With the wicked men rebuked,
With the harsh flames summoned up,
Call me, (O Lord), with blessings.
The triumph of Godhead over evildoers is described in the ablative absolute, coupled with a penultimate plea for the mercy of God.
Oro supplex, et acclinis
Cor contritum quasi cinis:
Gere curam mei finis.
With my mouth a petitioner and (with) prostration,
(With) my contrite heart just like ash,
Bear my cares to my end.
So ends the plea of the soul in a breath of resignation to the loving hand of Christ.
(Dum) cor contritum quasi cinis Gere curam mei finis: Only when our contrition has dissolved our attachment to the material world will we be able to enter into the presence of God.
The Cura mentioned here is the worry for the soul's eternal position, that is, the concern Christ bears for each individual's salvation.
Mei finis: This refers to the end of the soul as an essentially worldly creature with the destruction of his attachment to material things, that is, the escape from purgatory. At this point the soul undergoes a metamorphosis, leaving behind some aspects of humanity while attaining some qualities of divinity.
Lacrimosa dies illa,
Qua resurget ex favilla,
Judicandus homo reus.
That tearful day
In which shall rise again from the ashes
The judged man condemned to death.
Stanza eighteen is a transition from the spiritual to the pontifical voice within the hymn.
The day of judgment is Lacrimosa for both believer and nonbeliever; on the part of the saved, because there will most certainly be sorrow in abandoning all attachment to worldly feelings and memories and on the part of the damned because of their imminent and eternal separation from the Trinity. Though it is a day of weeping for the saved as well, some of those tears are shed for joy; the kingdom of God is then at hand.
Qua resurget ex favilla judicandus homo reus. It is important to note that the judicandus homo reus is nevertheless rising from the ashes of the world, that is, this passage refers to the Christian who has been granted salvation by the sacrifice of Christ. Though judged and condemned to death by the absolute justice of God the Father, he is spared and uplifted by the absolute mercy of God the Son.
Translator's note: I find it interesting to note that the last two stanzas do not rhyme, with stanza nineteen actually breaking meter; this leads me to believe that they are retrofitted adaptations to the liturgy, to make the poem more appropriate as a funereal hymn.
ergo parce, Deus:
Pie Jesu Domine
Dona eis requiem
Therefore spare this one, O God;
Faithful lord Jesus,
Give him rest.
This marks the only pontifical stanza, the prayer of the priest for the soul of the object of the Missa Pro Defuncto. It is the climax and culmination of the Dies Irae, the 'operative segment' as it were.
Pie Jesu: Though translated 'Faithful' here, the latin word pius more literally means mindful of one's sacred obligations. In this sense Christ is both Pius in our regard (He has suffered so much for our sakes) and Pius in regard to God the Father, at whose command he suffered the passion.
One may well notice the difference between the function of Christ and God in this petition; God the father is petitioned to spare the soul, whereas Christ is petitioned to comfort it in paradise.
This commentary is the completely original work of the Author. No other translation was used and the text was hand-copied from the Author's 1956 Missale Romanum.