Ministry to the Dying, Dead, and Bereaved
Part 2 History

Chapter f24 Medieval Period [1200-1299 CE]

Secular History

Church History

Ministry to the Dead and Bereaved

Dies Irae

Secular History

A period of superstition and magic in Europe. 

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Church History

1193 - 1280 Albert the Great

1225 - 1274 Thomas Aquinas -- Scholastics develop a "Sacramental Theology" in which Sacraments are signs of grace and have SPIRITUAL EFFECTS: e.g. the forgiveness of sins.

1254 Pope Innocent IV officially formulated the doctrine of purgatory.

Monks begin to be taken from the fields and ordained priests to say Masses for the souls in purgatory in order to collect the Mass Stipend (there was more money in stipends than in corn, wheat, or sheep!)  

1266 - 1308 John Duns Scotus

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Ministry to the Dead and Bereaved

The scholastic theologians begin to make a "synthesis" of theological beliefs about God, death, and the after life. 

The emphasis on prayers for the "purification" of the dead leads to the composition of a special Mass formula, the Requiem Mass ("requiem" from the first words of the Introit, or entrance antiphon, "Requiem eternam...",  "Eternal rest grant to them, O Lord...").

The focus of these Mass texts is on expiation.  They are marked by fear and a pessimistic eschatology (see the commentary on the sequence "Dies irae" below). [This is another of the trends reversed by the reforms of the Second Vatican Council.]

The Franciscans, as missionaries and iterant preachers, carry the Roman ritual far and wide.

Dies Irae

1.  Dies Irae, Icebergs, and Lex Orandi  To understand something of the "theology and pastoral practice" related to death and bereavement in the Catholic Church, I suggest you examine the text of the poem "Dies Irae"  which was (until 1970) an integral part of the Church's prayer for the dead.  And the way we pray, reveals our belief:  Lex orandi.  As you read the text of this prayer, think of what the author (and those praying the prayer) thought about death and what happens after death -- the "presuppositions" that often lie in the unconscious (refer to the "Iceberg Metaphor"). 

Dies Irae ("Day of Wrath") is a famous 13th-century Latin hymn written by Thomas of Celano. [Richstatter Note:  This is no longer certain.]  It is often judged to be the best medieval Latin poem, differing from classical Latin by its accentual (non-quantitative) stress, and its rhymed lines. The meter is trochaic. The poem describes the day of judgment, the last trumpet summoning souls before the throne of God, where the good will be delivered and the evil cast into eternal flames.  The hymn was used as a sequence in the Roman Catholic Requiem Mass until the 1970 revision of the Roman Missal. It is suggested in the current Latin Breviary (Editio Typica Altera, from 2000) for use in the Liturgy of the Hours during the last week of Ordinary Time, following the feast of Christ the King and leading up to the beginning of the Advent season.

The words have often been set to music as part of the Requiem service [Richstatter e.g. Mozart, Verdi, Berlioz, etc] originally it was a somber Gregorian chant. It also forms part of the liturgy of All Souls Day.

The inspiration of the hymn seems to have come from the Vulgate translation of Zephaniah I:15-16:

Dies irae, dies illa, dies tribulationis et angustiae, dies calamitatis et miseriae, dies tenebrarum et caliginis, dies nebulae et turbinis, dies tubae et clangoris super civitates munitas et super angulos excelsos.
That day is a day of wrath, a day of trouble and distress, a day of wasteness and desolation, a day of darkness and gloominess, a day of clouds and thick darkness, a day of the trumpet and alarm against the fenced cities, and against the high towers. (KJV)

The oldest 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 - 1255 for it does not contain the name of Saint Clare, who was canonized in 1255, and whose name would have been inserted if the manuscript were of later date.

This English translation attempts to preserve the trochaic meter of the Latin for the first four stanzas, in a style appropriate for the program for a performance. Later stanzas are translated more literally.

Dies irae dies illa
Solvet saeclum in favilla
Teste David cum Sibylla!
Day of wrath and terror looming!
Heaven and earth to ash consuming,
David's word and Sibyl's truth foredooming!
Quantus tremor est futurus,
quando judex est venturus,
cuncta stricte discussurus!
What horror must invade the mind,
when the approaching judge shall find,
and sift the deeds of all mankind.
Tuba mirum spargens sonum
per sepulcra regionum,
coget omnes ante thronum.
The trumpet casts a wondrous sound,
through the tombs of all around,
making them the throne surround.
Mors stupebit et natura,
cum resurget creatura,
judicanti responsura.
Death is struck and nature quaking,
all creation is awaking,
to its judge an answer making.
Liber scriptus proferetur,
in quo totum continetur,
unde mundus judicetur.
The written book shall be brought forth,
in which is contained all
from which the world is to be judged.
Judex ergo cum sedebit,
quidquid latet apparebit:
nil inultum remanebit.
So when the Judge shall sit,
whatever is hidden shall be seen,
nothing shall remain unpunished.
Quid sum miser tunc dicturus?
Quem patronum rogaturus,
cum vix justus sit securus?
What am I, wretched one, to say,
What protector implore,
when (even) a just person will scarcely be confident?
Rex tremendae majestatis,
qui salvandos salvas gratis,
salva me, fons pietatis.
King of awesome majesty,
you who save gratuitously those to be saved,
save me, fount of pity.
Recordare, Jesu pie,
quod sum causa tuae viae:
ne me perdas illa die.
Remember, gracious Jesus,
that I am the cause of your journey;
do not let me be lost on that day.
Quaerens me, sedisti lassus:
redemisti Crucem passus:
tantus labor non sit cassus.
Seeking me, you sat exhausted;
you redeemed me by undergoing the Cross; 
let so much toil not be in vain.
Juste judex ultionis,
donum fac remissionis
ante diem rationis.
Just judge of vengeance,
grant the gift of forgiveness,
before the day of reckoning'.
Ingemisco, tamquam reus:
culpa rubet vultus meus:
supplicanti parce, Deus.
I groan, as guilty;
my face is red with guilt;
spare, O God, a supplicant.
Qui Mariam absolvisti,
et latronem exaudisti,
mihi quoque spem dedisti.
You who forgave Mary (Magdalene),
and heard the plea of the thief (Dismas),
have given hope to me also.
Preces meae non sunt dignae:
sed tu bonus fac benigne,
ne perenni cremer igne.
My prayers are unworthy;
but you, the Good, show me favour,
that I may not be consumed by eternal fire.
Inter oves locum praesta,
et ab haedis me sequestra,
statuens in parte dextra.
Grant me a place among the sheep,
and separate me from the goats,
placing me at your right hand.
Confutatis maledictis,
flammis acribus addictis:
voca me cum benedictis.
When the accursed are silenced,
sentenced to piercing flames,
call me with the blessed.
Oro supplex et acclinis,
cor contritum quasi cinis:
gere curam mei finis.
Suppliant and bowing, I beg,
(my) heart contrite like ash:
Have a care for my end.

The poem appears complete as it stands at this point. Some scholars question whether the remainder is an addition made in order to suit the great poem for liturgical use, for the last stanzas discard the consistent scheme of triple rhymes in favor of rhymed couplets, while the last two lines abandom rhyme for assonance and are, moreover, catalectic:

Lacrimosa dies illa,
qua resurget ex favilla
judicandus homo reus.
Huic ergo parce, Deus:
pie Jesu Domine,
dona eis requiem. Amen.
Tearful that day,
on which will rise from ashes
guilty man for judgment.
So have mercy, O God, on this person.
Compassionate Lord Jesus,
grant them rest. Amen.

("Dies Irae." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 9 Feb 2006, 20:24 UTC. 11 Feb 2006, 20:07 Emphasis added by Richstatter.)

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Copyright: Tom Richstatter.  All Rights Reserved.  This page was created by Fr. Thomas Richstatter, O.F.M.  Every effort has been, and is being made to acknowledge sources when the ideas are not my own.  Any failure to comply with the United States Copyright Act (Title 17, United States Code) will be corrected immediately should I become aware of it.  This site was updated on 08/15/14.  Your comments on this site are welcome at trichstatter@franciscan.org