Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Dies iræ

Posted November 2nd, 2005, All Souls Day

Dies iræ, dies illa
solvet saeclum in favilla:
teste David cum Sibylla.

Quantus tremor est futurus,
quando iudex est venturus
cuncta stricte discussurus!

(Day of wrath, day that
will dissolve the world into burning coals,
as David bore witness with the Sibyll.

How great a tremor is to be,
when the judge is to come
briskly shattering every grave.)
—First stanzas of the 13th Century poem Dies iræ

Dies iræ is a rather shocking text that is used in the Tridentine Requiem Mass and the Divine Office for the occasions of All Souls Day and for funerals.
Lacrimosa dies illa,
qua resurget ex favilla
iudicandus homo reus:
huic ergo parce, Deus.

(That sorrowful day,
on which will arise from the burning coals
Man accused to be judged:
therefore, O God, do Thou spare him.)

In the typical timid religious fashion of our days, Dies iræ, upsetting as it is, is left untranslated in the Liturgy of the Hours.

Modern Enlightenment culture, from which the New Liturgy springs, is indeed timid; its pinnacle was the Victorian era, which was known for its squeamishness of all things unsettling. Postmodern culture, which arose after the Second Vatican Council, which loves the Grateful Dead and considers pornography good, is not timid, but crass and selfish.

But Moderns and Postmoderns alike have a similar dislike for unpleasantness regarding death. It has been said that everyone in the hospitals know who is dying except for the physicians and the patients; medical progress of the 1960s seemed to claim that no one would die. But who would have guessed that the Universalism of the 19th century would have become the standard philosophy of the afterlife? We no longer speak of Hell, but instead assume everyone goes to a pleasant afterlife, and will go there immediately upon demise. The Moderns see everyone in Heaven, and the Postmoderns too, for they think that we are all God(dess).

Everywhere in history and in all places we find that people pray for the dead. Orthodox and Catholic Christians, Orthodox Jews, Muslims, some Anglicans, and nearly every other religion in world except for post-Reformation Christians and Western secularists pray for the dead. The theologies might be different, but nearly everyone everywhere has always assumed that souls, after death, do not arrive at their final resting place until after a spiritual journey or purification, and that we help them in this. All agree that prayers for the dead are effective.
Libera me, Domine, de morte aeterna
in die illa tremenda
quando coeli movendi sunt et terra,
dum veneris judicare saeculum per ignem.
Tremens factus sum ego et timeo,
dum discussion venerit atque venture ira:
quando coeli movendi sunt et terra.

(Deliver me, O Lord, from eternal death
on that awful day
when the heavens and earth shall be shaken
and you shall come to judge the world by fire.
I am seized with fear and trembling
until the trial is at hand and the wrath to come:
when the heavens and earth shall be shaken.)
—From the Requiem Mass

An ancient Catholic custom is visiting cemeteries on All Souls Day and its octave, or the eight days starting with November 2nd. From my visits today, I've noticed that there is plenty of available parking and no crowds, so it should be convenient to follow this custom.

I can't say it any better than the source, so here is an extract from the Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy: Principles and Guidelines, from the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, promulgated in 2001.

The Memorial of the Dead in Popular Piety

256. As with the Liturgy, popular piety pays particular attention to the memory of the dead and carefully raises up to God prayers in suffrage for them.

In matters relating to the "memorial of the dead", great pastoral prudence and tact must always be employed in addressing the relationship between Liturgy and popular piety, both in its doctrinal aspect and in harmonising the liturgical actions and pious exercises.

257. It is always necessary to ensure that popular piety is inspired by the principles of the Christian faith. Thus, they should be made aware of the paschal meaning of the death undergone by those who have received Baptism and who have been incorporated into the mystery of the death and resurrection of Christ (cf. Rm 6,3-10); the immortality of the soul (cf Lk 23, 43); the communion of Saints, through which "union with those who are still on their pilgrim journey with the faithful who repose in Christ is not in the least broken, but strengthened by a communion of spiritual goods, as constantly taught by the Church our prayer for them is capable not only of helping them, but also of making their intercession for us effective"; the resurrection of the body; the glorious coming of Christ, who will "judge the living and the dead"; the reward given to each according to his deeds; life eternal.

Deeply rooted cultural elements connoting particular anthropological concepts are to be found among the customs and usages connected with the "cult of the dead" among some peoples. These often spring from a desire to prolong family and social links with the departed. Great caution must be used in examining and evaluating these customs. Care should be taken to ensure that they are not contrary to the Gospel. Likewise, care should be taken to ensure that they cannot be interpreted as pagan residues.

258. In matters relating to doctrine, the following are to be avoided:
  • the invocation of the dead in practices involving divination;

  • the interpretation or attribution of imaginary effects to dreams relating to the dead, which often arises from fear;

  • any suggestion of a belief in reincarnation;

  • the danger of denying the immortality of the soul or of detaching death from the resurrection, so as to make the Christian religion seem like a religion of the dead;

  • the application of spacio-temporal categories to the dead.

259. "Hiding death and its signs" is widespread in contemporary society and prone to the difficulties arising from doctrinal and pastoral error.

Doctors, nurses, and relatives frequently believe that they have a duty to hide the fact of imminent death from the sick who, because of increasing hospitalization, almost always die outside of the home.

It has been frequently said that the great cities of the living have no place for the dead: buildings containing tiny flats cannot house a space in which to hold a vigil for the dead; traffic congestion prevents funeral corteges because they block the traffic; cemeteries, which once surrounded the local church and were truly "holy ground" and indicated the link between Christ and the dead, are now located at some distance outside of the towns and cities, since urban planning no longer includes the provision of cemeteries.

Modern society refuses to accept the "visibility of death", and hence tries to conceal its presence. In some places, recourse is even made to conserving the bodies of the dead by chemical means in an effort to prolong the appearance of life.

The Christian, who must be conscious of and familiar with the idea of death, cannot interiorly accept the phenomenon of the "intolerance of the dead", which deprives the dead of all acceptance in the city of the living. Neither can he refuse to acknowledge the signs of death, especially when intolerance and rejection encourage a flight from reality, or a materialist cosmology, devoid of hope and alien to belief in the death and resurrection of Christ.

The Christian is obliged to oppose all forms of "commercialisation of the dead", which exploit the emotions of the faithful in pursuit of unbridled and shameful commercial profit.

260. In accordance with time, place and tradition, popular devotions to the dead take on a multitude of forms:
  • the novena for the dead in preparation for the 2 November, and the octave prolonging it, should be celebrated in accordance with liturgical norms;

  • visits to the cemetery; in some places this is done in a community manner on 2 November, at the end of the parochial mission, when the parish priest takes possession of the parish; visiting the cemetery can also be done privately, when the faithful go to the graves of their own families to maintain them or decorate them with flowers and lamps. Such visits should be seen as deriving from the bonds existing between the living and the dead and not from any form of obligation, non-fulfilment of which involves a superstitious fear;

  • membership of a confraternity or other pious association whose objects include "burial of the dead" in a the light of the Christian vision of death, praying for the dead, and providing support for the relatives of the dead;

  • suffrage for the dead through alms deeds, works of mercy, fasting, applying indulgences, and especially prayers, such as the De profundis, and the formula Requiem aeternam, which often accompanies the recitation of the Angelus, the rosary, and at prayers before and after meals.

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