Dies Irae

For other uses, see Dies Irae (disambiguation).
Centre panel from Memling's triptych Last Judgment (c. 1467–71)

"Dies Irae" (Day of Wrath) is a Latin hymn attributed to either Thomas of Celano of the Franciscan Order (1200  c. 1265)[1] or to Latino Malabranca Orsini (†1294), lector at the Dominican studium at Santa Sabina, the forerunner of the Pontifical University of Saint Thomas Aquinas, Angelicum in Rome.[2] The hymn dates from at least the thirteenth century, though it is possible that it is much older, with some sources ascribing its origin to St. Gregory the Great (d. 604), St. Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153), or St. Bonaventure (1221-1274).[1]

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

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

The melody is one of the most quoted in musical literature, appearing in the works of many diverse composers.

Use in the Roman liturgy

The "Dies Irae" was used in the Roman liturgy as the sequence for the Requiem Mass for centuries, as evidenced 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 traditional liturgy of All Souls' Day.

In the reforms to the Roman Catholic liturgy 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 the "Libera Me, Domine", the "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]

The "Dies Irae" remains as a hymn ad libitum in the Liturgy of the Hours during the last week before Advent, divided into three parts for the Office of Readings, Lauds and Vespers.[4]


The Latin text below is taken from the Requiem Mass in the 1962 Roman Missal. The first English version below, translated by William Josiah Irons in 1849, albeit from a slightly different Latin text, replicates the rhyme and metre of the original.[5][6] 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 Anglican ordinariate.[7] The second English version is a more formal equivalence translation.

1Dies 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,
David being witness along with the Sibyl.
2Quantus 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 will come,
investigating everything strictly.
3Tuba 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.
4Mors stupebit et natura,
Cum resurget creatura,
Judicanti 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.
5Liber scriptus proferetur,
In quo totum continetur,
Unde mundus judicetur.
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.
6Judex 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.
7Quid sum miser tunc dicturus?
Quem patronum rogaturus,
Cum vix justus sit securus?
What shall I, frail man, be pleading?
Who for me be interceding,
When the just are mercy needing?
What then will I, poor wretch [that I am], say?
Which patron will I entreat,
when [even] the just may [only] hardly be sure?
8Rex tremendæ majestatis,
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 freely savest those that are to be saved,
save me, O font of mercy.
9Recordare, Jesu 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 Thy way:
lest Thou lose me in that day.
10Quærens 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, Thou sattest tired:
Thou redeemedst [me], having suffered the Cross:
let not so much hardship be in vain.
11Juste Judex 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.
12Ingemisco, 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 supplicating one, O God.
13Qui 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.
Thou who absolvedst Mary,
and heardest the robber,
gavest hope to me, too.
14Preces 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 do Thou, [who art] good, graciously grant
that I not be burned up by the everlasting fire.
15Inter 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.
16Confutatis 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 Thou me with the blessed.
17Oro 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.
18Lacrimosa dies illa,
Qua resurget ex favilla,
Judicandus 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.
19Pie Jesu 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 favor 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 freed/absolved the sinful woman". In addition, a doxology is given after stanzas 6, 12 and 18:[4]

O tu, Deus maiestatis,
alme candor Trinitatis
nos coniunge cum beatis. Amen.
O God of majesty
nourishing light of the Trinity
join us with the blessed. Amen.
O thou, God of majesty,
gracious splendour of the Trinity
conjoin us with the blessed. Amen.

Manuscript sources

The 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 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:

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 tribulation and distress, a day of calamity and misery, a day of darkness and obscurity, a day of clouds and whirlwinds, a day of the trumpet and alarm against the fenced cities, and against the high bulwarks. (Douay–Rheims Bible)

Other images come from 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), 1Thessalonians 4:16 (trumpet), 2Peter 3:7 (heaven and earth burnt by fire), Luke 21:26 ("men fainting with fear... they will see the Son of Man coming"), etc.

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

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 irae" 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!

Rev. Bernard Callan (1750–1804), an Irish priest and poet, translated it into Gaelic around 1800. His version is included in the Gaelic prayer book, The Spiritual Rose.[8]

Literary references


Musical settings

Dies Irae (plainchant)

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The words of "Dies Irae" 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 Irae" refers only to the first of these movements, the others being titled according to their respective first words.

The original setting was a sombre plainchant (or Gregorian chant). In four-line neumatic notation, it begins: The "Dies Irae" melody in four-line neumatic chant notation.

In 5-line staff notation, the same appears:

\relative c' {
  f8 e f d e c d4 d \breathe
  f8 f([ g)] f([ e)] d([ c)] e f e d4 \breathe
  a8 c( d) d d( c) e f e d \bar "|."
\addlyrics {
  Di -- es i -- rae 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 a Dies Irae. The first polyphonic settings to include the Dies Irae are by Engarandus Juvenis (c. 1490) and Antoine Brumel (1516) to be followed by many composers of the renaissance. Later many notable choral and orchestral settings of the Requiem Mass, including the Dies Irae, were made by composers such as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (incomplete, lacking the last three lines: finished by Franz Xaver Süssmayr), Hector Berlioz, Giuseppe Verdi, Gaetano Donizetti, and Igor Stravinsky.

Musical quotations

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


  1. 1 2  Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "Dies Iræ". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.
  2. "Scritti vari di Filologia", The Catholic Encyclopædia, Rome: New Advent, 1901, p. 488
  3. Bugnini, Annibale (1990), "46.II.1", The Reform of the Liturgy: 1948–1975, The Liturgical Press, p. 773
  4. 1 2 Liturgia Horarum, IV, Vaticana, 2000, p. 489
  5. English Missal.
  6. The Hymnal, USA: The Episcopal Church, 1940.
  7. The Order for Funerals for use by the Ordinariates erected under the auspices of the Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum cœtibus (PDF), United States: US Ordinariate
  8. McKenna, Malachy (ed.), The Spiritual Rose, Dublin: School of Celtic Studies – Scoil an Léinn Cheiltigh, Institute for Advanced Studies – Institiúid Ard-Léinn Bhaile Átha Cliath, F 2.22, archived from the original on April 6, 2007
  9. Leroux, Gaston (1985), The Phantom of the Opera, Barnes & Noble, p. 139
  10. Simmons, Walter (2004), Voices in the Wilderness: Six American Neo-romantic Composers, Scarecrow, ISBN 0-8108-4884-8
  11. Cummings, Robert. Intermezzo for piano in E-flat minor, Op. 118/6 at AllMusic. Retrieved 17 July 2014.
  12. About this Recording – 8.559635 – Daugherty, M.: Metropolis Symphony / Deus ex Machina (T. Wilson, Nashville Symphony, Guerrero), Naxos
  13. Daugherty, Michael, Dead Elvis
  14. Grantham, Donald (2004), "Donald Grantham", in Camphouse, Mark, Composers on Composing for Band, 2, Chicago: GIA, pp. 100–01, ISBN 1-57999-385-0
  15. Greenberg, Robert (2011), The Great Courses: The 30 Greatest Orchestral Works, The Teaching Co
  16. "Dies Irae – Holst: The Planets, V. Saturn, the Bringer of Old Age", struweltiger, 18 March 2013
  17. Spratt, Geoffrey K. The Music of Arthur Honegger. Cork University Press, 1985.
  18. Johnson, Edward. Liner notes: Respighi – Church Windows / Brazilian Impressions, CHAN 8317. Chandos.
  19. Zadan, Craig (1989). Sondheim & Co (2nd ed.). Perennial Library. p. 248. ISBN 0-06-091400-9.
  20. Roberge, Marc-André, "Citations of the Dies irae", Sorabji Resource Site, CA: U Laval
  21. Lintgen, Arthur, "Tchaikovsky: Manfred Symphony", Fanfare (review)
  22. Leonard, James. Tchaikovsky: Suite No. 3; Stravinsky: Divertimento at AllMusic. Retrieved 15 October 2011.
  23. Tedesco: 24 Caprichos de Goya, Op. 195
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