Dies irae, dies illa,
solvet saeculum in favilla,
teste David cum Sibylla.
Thus begins that famous Catholic hymn, the Dies Irae. That day of wrath, that dreadful day, shall heaven and earth in ashes lay, as David and the Sybil say.
Haunting and beautiful, that hymn permeates Western civilization. “Andy, you kid. That medieval and negative piece was shown the door by Annibale Bugnini, we haven’t heard it outside of concert halls in decades.” But, au contraire, mon frere, this video, A Musical History of Death, will walk you through how the Dies Irae influences our culture in many varied settings, from music, movies, even books!
But, as I was sitting, prayerfully taking in the symphonic joy that was Holy Rosary’s (Indianapolis, IN) All Souls’ Day Mozart Requiem Mass, I was jarred. I had “prepared” for the Mass by listening to some of the pieces from Mozart’s Requiem on my drive out to Indy from Terre Haute, but I hadn’t noticed this in my drive. But, before I mention it, go ahead and give this a watch.
What do you notice? Anything strike you at all?
You’re jarred, you’re shocked. There you are, Catholic layman, sitting in your pew, looking at some stained glass, maybe praying the rosary, or just daydreaming about the choir, which is just finishing up Gradual and the tract. A brief pause. Then blam! The full force of the choir and musicians burst forth, presenting that oh-so-Catholic hymn!
I really, really like how Mozart did this. I could be reading (or listening?) too much into how the piece is performed, but in my perusal of YouTube recordings and settings, I’ve found the immediate burst of music and lyrics is not universal, which I think makes Mozart’s setting ever-so-great. The Dies Irae comes surprisingly, much like Our Lord will in the Second Coming (which makes me think this burst is purposeful).
Now death and nature with surprise / behold the trembling sinners rise / to meet the Judge’s searching eyes.
But, of course, this holds more meaning than just meets the ear. It speaks to not only the Second Coming, but our deaths. Every man faces this, the ending of his life. And he knows not when nor how. None of us knows when we will be called to Our Lord. It could happen now, as you read this (I hope it doesn’t, though)! Heck, you could even be driving down the street, at a rock concert, in a restaurant with some friends, or watching a soccer game. In an instant, Death can snip your thread of life, as imaged in the Asamkirche in Munich, and our lives end just as quick as the Dies Irae begins, as the thief comes in the night.
Let us never forget to pray for the dead and dying, but remember to reflect on your own end, as well! Will you be prepared?