Old Catholic Music: Dies Irae, dies illa

I love old hymns.  Especially ones that were meant to be sung during worship of God in the holy Mass.  Hymns of the Breviary and Missal is a marvelous site. The web site has tons of historical notes which are just an incredible resource about the music.  It explains concepts that, due to the age of the music, might not be so easily understood. If you love Hymnology I recommend that you go enjoy this web site and explore the depths of the entire project.

I enjoy all the music of the Church.  Even hymns which seem dark on the surface but if you dig deeper you find them full of hope and heaven.  Here is one such hymn.  I enjoy using the words to hymns of great theological depth for meditations and if I can sing those meditations in between moments of silent prayer and contemplation all the better.  I find it a great practice in addition to Lectio Divina and the study of the Saints’ writings.

This particular hymn is about death, justice, God’s incomprehensible glory, our human sinfulness, mercy, grandeur, the end of life and the final Judgement.  It is rich in imagery and full of motifs to think about.  The language is vivid, the theological implications deep, and the rhythm of the lyric stirs the body as well as the mind to awe of God.  This is a hymn to bring both soul and body to attention.  This is a hymn to cause your deepest self to absorb the truth of it and to marvel at God.

THIS is what the music of the Mass should ALWAYS be like!  Deep, theologically rich, stirring, a catechesis in song!

Meanwhile, I am borrowing the English Words to that fabulous hymn for you to read. You can find the notes and the Latin as well at the link from the title.   This hymn’s words just thrill me clear to my bones.  Fabulous in my opinion.  I would LOVE to one day learn to sing it.

Dies Irae, dies illa

That Day of Wrath, That Dreadful Day


  1. That Day Of Wrath, that dreadful day,
    When heaven and earth shall pass away,
    Both David and the Sibyl say.
  2. What terror then shall us befall,
    When lo, the Judge’s steps appall,
    About to sift the deeds of all.
  3. The mighty trumpet’s marvellous tone
    Shall pierce through each sepulchral stone
    And summon all before the throne.
  4. Now Death and Nature in amaze
    Behold the Lord His creatures raise,
    To meet the Judge’s awful gaze.
  5. The books are opened, that the dead
    May have their doom from waht is read,
    The record of our conscience dread.
  6. The Lord of judgment sits Him down,
    And every secret thing makes known;
    No crime escapes His vengeful frown.
  7. Ah, how shall I that day endure?
    What partron’s friendly voice secure,
    When scarce the just themselves are sure?
  8. O King of dreadful majesty,
    Who grantest grace and mercy free,
    Grant mercy now and grace to me.
  9. Good Lord, ’twas for my sinful sake,
    That Thou our suffering nature didst take;
    Then do not now my soul forsake.
  10. In weariness Thy sheep was sought;
    Upon the Cross His life was bought;
    Alas, if all in vain were wrought.
  11. O just avenging Judge, I pray,
    For pity take my sins away,
    Before the great accounting-day.
  12. I groan beneath the guilt, which Thou
    Canst read upon my blushing brow;
    But spare, O God, Thy suppliant now.
  13. Thou who didst Mary’s sins unbind,
    And mercy for the robber find,
    Dost filled with hope my anxious mind.
  14. My feeble prayers can make no claim,
    Yet, gracious Lord, for Thy great Name,
    Redeem me from the quenchless flame.
  15. At Thy right hand, give me a place
    Among Thy sheep, a child of grace,
    Far from the goats’ accursed race.
  16. Yea, when Thy justly kindled ire
    Shall sinners hurl to endless fire,
    Oh, call me to Thy chosen choir.
  17. In suppliant prayer I prostrate bend,
    My contrite heart like ashes rend,
    Regard, O Lord, my latter end.
  18. Oh, on that day, that tearful day,
    When man to judgment wakes from clay,
    Be thou the trembling sinner’s stay,
    And spare him, God, we humbly pray.
    Yea, grant to all, O Saviour Blest,
    Who die in Thee, the Saints’ sweet rest.

This hymn just gives me goose bumps!  I love love love it.  There is so much in it on which to think, there are references to ancient stories, references our our particular judgement day at our deaths and THE Judgement Day at the end of time.  Of course, as God is outside of time so “when” these Judgement days occur is a bit beyond our comprehension but we know we’ll be dead from a temporal standpoint and waiting our fate in eternity.  It certainly lends weight to an examination of conscience!

Music like this moves us to greater dedication to our personal vocations and imbues us with an awareness of God that we can carry throughout our days and into our daily work.  Music like this helps form us to be SAINTS.

Praise God that our hope is in Christ. Amen.


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