Tuesday, November 22, 2016

The Dies Irae in English

One of the gifts which the Church has received through the promulgation of the Ordinariate Liturgy is a model for vernacular liturgy that preserves some of the great treasures of the Catholic liturgical tradition, treasures which in one way or another were lost to the liturgical reform. Here we see a Mass for All Souls’ Day celebrated at Incarnation Catholic Church in Orlando, Florida, celebrated ad orientem and in black vestments; particularly noteworthy is the singing of the famous sequence of the Requiem Mass, the Dies irae, in an English translation which perfectly preserves the music of the Latin original (starting at 9:57).

Anglo-Catholic churches produced quite a lot of music which the English-speaking Catholic world would have done well to adopt when vernacular liturgy came in the 1960s. (A friend of mine who grew up in a very famous Anglo-Catholic parish knew how to sing the Introit of Corpus Christi, also in an English setting that followed the original Gregorian chant exactly.)

In the Liturgy of the Hours, the Dies irae is given as an optional hymn (split into three parts) for the Office of Readings, Lauds and Vespers on the ferias between Christ the King and First Advent. In his book Te decet laus, Dom Anselmo Lentini, O.S.B., who led the committee that revised the Office hymns, leaves little doubt as to what he really thought of the removal of the Sequence from the Requiem Mass, referring to it as something which the faithful knew very well and sung with enthusiasm. The committee decided to give it a place in the Office, lest it be lost altogether from the liturgy, since the revisers of the Mass had decided that death was henceforth to be treated as a rather cheerier affair.

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