By Rev. Nicholaus Gihr, D.D.
A sign will appear in the sky before the glorious return of Christ the King. Angelic trumpets will sound, and the dead will arise. Souls who humbly wait in expectation will rejoice and enter into heavenly rest. Those who reject God will cry in terror, as they enter the eternal flames.
“Dies Irae” (day of wrath), called “a musical gem even without the music” and “the giant among hymns,” was composed by Thomas of Celano, a companion and the first biographer of St. Francis of Assisi. First written in Latin, it has been translated hundreds of times into many languages and is regarded even by secular experts as one of the greatest masterpiece of Western poetry.
In this reprint of his classic work, Msgr. Nicholaus Gihr elucidates Dies Irae: The Sequence of the Mass for the Dead for devotional reading and meditation. Although we do not know when the end of the world and the final judgment will come, each soul will face a particular judgment upon his death. Drawing from the Bible, the Liturgy of the Church, and the writings of the saints, Msgr. Gihr grandiloquently reflects upon the beauty and insights of this renowned lyric poem and chant, allowing the reader to dwell upon the soul’s final journey in a way that is both convicting and inspiring. Msgr. Gihr’s reflections challenge and spur us on; amid pain and suffering, his words comfort and uplift.
As “the Day” draws near, Rev. Gihr encourages readers to:
keep watch, as in Advent, and cast off sloth
fulfill even the smallest duties with intentionality
guard against idle conversations and indifference
reflect upon the things of Heaven
remember that thoughts, actions, and inactions will be revealed
repent, serve the poor, and show and receive God’s mercy
abandon lukewarmness, pray for others, fast, and do penance
adore in fear and trembling now
ask the intercession of Our Lady, the angels, and the saints now … to enjoy their friendship later!
Dies Irae reminds us that the future of the just is hopeful, since God will re-create the earth and transform our lowly bodies into glorified bodies. Although the day of reckoning must inspire a just and reverential fear, by living virtuously we can await the coming of our Good Shepherd with joy and hope.