WROTE ABOUT Dies Irae last year. Next time someone asks me why I attend a Vetus Ordo Mass I’ll give Dies Irae as the reason. The current plan splits up the hymn across Matins, Lauds and Vespers – like they do with Jesu Rex Admirabilis and Jesu Dulcis Memoria for the feast of the Holy Name of Jesus. If you are eager to read more on their history and place in the Mass
Fr Friel has written a mini history of the Sequences.
But back to the guinea pigs.
A couple of years ago my sons bought a pair of guinea pigs at a homeschool market day. We had lots of exciting times, like when they hid under the shed and wouldn’t come back until after dark. We had random squares of neatly trimmed grass around our yard where their pen would stay for a few days at a time.
But then after a particularly hot day, the boys went to bring the guinea pigs in and found them both dead.
One was stiff already. The other was going that way. To be sure that they weren’t about to revive we kept them in shoeboxes overnight – something like having an open coffin. The passing of time eased the heartache a little.
The next day we dug a hole under a persimmon tree near where their pen was. The usual question about whether animals go to heaven was discussed. We didn’t want to be praying for the repose of their souls, but something to show our trust in God and express the unsettling awareness of the transience of all material things – including fuzzy pets. Queue Dies Irae.
Many are daunted by the length – 20 verses depending how you count them – but it is fairly easy. There are three main tunes. Let’s call them A, B and C.
The pattern is : A A B B C C A A B B C C A A B B C C then the closing tune for Lacrimosa through to the end. All the Sequences have that echo effect which can be very handy for a choir to sing antiphonally with the more experienced singers leading.
Back in our backyard, I pulled out some copies of A New Book of Old Hymns. We sang it through and it seemed so right. Our littlest piped up at the end to say it was all finished.
* * Dies Irae – pp 52-55 of A New Book of Old Hymns
I didn’t make a recording that day, but there are many recordings. Giovanni Vianini’s renditions are always great. There are also many, many, many translations and paraphrases.
Maybe you can take this hymn along to your local cemetery for the plenary indulgence Nov 1-8. Have a blessed November.