Sequence that was assigned in the Tridentine Missal to All Souls' Day and Mass for the Dead. Its composition is commonly ascribed to thomas of celano, but it was probably not written by him. Though found in manuscripts of the 13th century, the Dies irae, according to Inguanez, belongs perhaps to the 12th century (cf. Cod. VII D 36, Bibl. Naz. of Naples), a view opposed by Lampen. Some portions of the text (such as Lacrimosa dies illa: see Mone 1:408) antedate the 13th century. The initial words Dies irae have biblical background (Soph1.14–16) and appear in several hymns and liturgical texts (Strecker), including the famous Irish hymn Altus prosator (of the 6th century). As Strecker and Ermini demonstrated, many motifs are drawn from earlier hymns and poems; accordingly, Gazeau suggests that Thomas of Celano only reworked an earlier text already in use. Thomas's authorship is a late attribution (Bartolomeo degli Albizzi, d. 1401, and Liber conformitatum, 1385). The Dies irae was not designed originally to be used as a Sequence (Blume: Libera trope ). It was used as a sequence only in the Tridentine Missal (1570). In its text unusually forceful language and vivid images of the Last Judgment are interwoven with subjective tones. Apart from a general biblical background deriving from passages in the Gospel referring to the Last Judgment, the first verse (teste David cum Sibylla ) reflects the medieval "Sibyll" tradition as well as a liturgical Christmas ceremony (Ordo prophetarum: K. Young). At the same time, there are other classical reminiscences (Vergil's Georgics, especially the Orpheus episode: Savage). Some ascribe the general mood of the poem to the atmosphere of the age, created by Abbot joachim of fiore. A. Kaminka pointed to similarities between the Dies irae and a Jewish piyyut called Unethane toquef. Werner and Deutschmann associate the latter with a Kontakion by romanus me lodus—a theory rejected by L. Kunz. Manuscripts show three different groups of versions, among which is the "Mantuan text" once recorded on a marble tablet in the Franciscan church in Mantua.
The common text consists of 17 three-line verses to which four 12th-century lines (beginning Lacrimosa dies illa ) and a two-line prayer (Pie Jesu Domine ) are added. The form is trochaic dimeter acatalectic, accentual, with two-syllabled rhyme (a a a ). The text falls into two parts, which differ greatly from each other. The first part (verses 1–7) is an economically worded, majestic, and objective description of the Last Judgment, a summary of Christian eschatology in microcosm. The second part (verses 9–17) is a passionate appeal to Christ's mercy, with reference to mary magdalene and the Good Thief (exemplars of the divine mercy). The two parts are joined together with the exclamation, "In such a plight what can I plead?" The melody is tripartite, using identical formulas.
Bibliography: Text. Analecta hymnica 54:269. j. connelly, Hymns of the Roman Liturgy (Westminster, MD 1957) 252–256. Literature. k. strecker, "Dies irae," Zeitschrift für deutsches Altertum und Literatur 50 (1909) 227–255. f. ermini, Il Dies irae (Geneva 1928). m. inguanez, "Il Dies irae in un codice del secolo XII," Revista liturgica 18 (1931) 277–282; Miscellanea Cassinese 9 (1931) 5–11. k. young, The Drama of the Medieval Church, 2v. (Oxford 1933) 1:125–171, Ordo prophetarum. w. lampen, "Losse Aren X," Tijdschrift voor liturgie 16 (1935) 263–268. b. capelle, "Le Dies irae : Chant d'espérance?" Questions liturgiques et paroissiales 22 (1937) 217–224. l. kunz, "Ist die Sequenz Dies irae von dem Kontakion des Romanos vom letzten Gericht abhängig?" Der Christliche Orient 5 (1940) 43–46. r. gazeau, Catholicisme 3:764–765. f. j. e. raby, A History of Christian-Latin Poetry from the Beginnings to the Close of the Middle Ages (Oxford 1953) 443–452. a. m. kurfess, Historisches Jahrbuch der Görres-Gesellschaft 77 (1957) 328–338. l. kunz, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner (Freiburg 1957–65) 3:380–381. e. werner, Sacred Bridge (New York 1959) 252–255. j. szÖvÉrffy, Die Annalen der lateinischen Hymnendichtung (Berlin 1964–65) 2:220–224.