The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

Day of wrath! O day of mourning!

For Advent
And after the Burial of the Dead:
At Holy Communion.

Words: "Dies iræ, dies illa," Thomas of Celano, 13th Century, a Franciscan monk,
a friend, and the biographer of St. Francis of Assisi.
Trans. William J. Irons, 1849

Compare: Day Of Wrath! That Day Of Burning

Music: The melody the Latin original was sung to at an 1848 funeral in Paris together with the 1849 harmonization by Charles Child Spencer,
Also: "Dies irae," John B. Dykes, 1823-1876
MIDI / Noteworthy Composer / XML
Meter: Irregular
Verses 1-14: MIDI / Noteworthy Composer / XML
Verses 15-19: MIDI / Noteworthy Composer / XML

Source: Rev. John Mason Neale and Rev. Thomas Helmore, eds., Hymnal Noted, Part I. (London: Novello & Co., 1852), Part II (London: Novello & Co., 1856), #46 (Combined Edition #105), pp. 90-92.

I Cor. xv. 53: "The trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible."

1. a Day of Wrath! O Day of mourning! I
b See! once more the Cross returning —1 II
c Heav'n and earth in ashes burning!

2. d O what fear man's bosom rendeth,
e When from heav'n the Judge descendeth,
f On Whose sentence all dependeth!

3. g Wond'rous sound the Trumpet flingeth,
h Through earth's sepulchres it ringeth,
i All before the throne it bringeth!

4. k Death is struck, and nature quaking —
l All creation is awaking,
m To its Judge an answer making!

5. n Lo, the Book, exactly worded,
Wherein all hath been recorded; —
Thence shall judgment be awarded.

6. o When the Judge His seat attaineth,
p And each hidden deed arraigneth,
q Nothing unaveng'd remaineth.

7. r What shall I, frail man, be pleading ?
Who for me be interceding ?—
s When the just are mercy needing. XXI

8. t King of majesty tremendous,
u Who dost free salvation send us,
v Fount of pity ! then befriend us !

9. w Think, kind Jesu ! — my salvation
Caus'd Thy wond'rous Incarnation ;
x Leave me not to reprobation !

10. yy Faint and weary Thou hast sought me,
z   On the Cross of suffering bought me ; —
aa Shall such grace be vainly brought me ?

11. bb Righteous Judge of retribution,
cc Grant Thy gift of absolution,
dd Ere that reckoning-day's conclusion !

12. ee Guilty, now I pour my moaning,
ff All my shame with anguish owning;
gg Spare, O God, Thy suppliant groaning !

13. hh Thou the sinful woman savest ;
ii Thou the dying thief forgavest ;
kk And to me a hope vouchsafest.

14. ll Worthless are my prayers and sighing,
mm Yet, good Lord, in grace complying,
Rescue me from fires undying !

15. nn With Thy favor'd sheep, O place me !
oo Nor among the goats abase me ;
pp But to Thy right hand upraise me.

16. qq While the wicked are confounded,
rr Doom'd to flames of woe unbounded,
ss Call me, with Thy saints surrounded.

17. tt Low I kneel, with heart-submission ;
See, like ashes, my contrition—
uu Help me, in my last condition !

18. vv Ah ! that Day of tears and mourning !
ww From the dust of earth returning,
xx Man for judgment must prepare him ; —
yy Spare ! O God, in mercy spare him !
zz Lord, Who didst our souls redeem,
Grant a blessed Requiem ! Amen.


1. Or: See fulfilled the prophets' warning, Return

Notes from A Short Commentary on the Hymnal Noted (London: Joseph Masters, 1852), pp.  43-44.

This is generally allowed to be the finest Hymn that the Church possesses. It needs scarcely any explanation, for the writer seems to have felt that, in looking forward to the end of all things, the plainer the words he used, the more reverent : and it is this plainness of expression, joined to the greatness of the thoughts, that makes the Hymn so very fearful.

I. The first line is taken from Zephaniah i. 15. "That day, 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." Return

II. See! once more the Cross returning. Because the Church believes that the "Sign of the Son of Man," of which our Lord speaks, will be some appearance of the Cross in the sky, such as we more than once read of in the history of the world. Return

XXI. When the just are mercy needing. This refers to that saying of S. Peter's: "If the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear ?" 1 S. Pet. iv. 18. Return

    These notes are Limited to Part I, Hymns 1-46.

Notes from The Words of the Hymnal Noted Complete With Scriptural References (London: J. A. Novello and J. Masters, no date, circa 1855), pp.  128-130.

a. Zeph. i. 15. Return

b. S. Matt. xxiv. 30. Return

c. 2 S. Pet. iii. 12. Return

d. Wis. v. 2. Isaiah viii. 22. Return

e. S. Matt. xxvi. 64. Return

f. Prov. xvi. 10. Return

g. 1 Cor. xv. 52. Return

h. S. John v. 25. Return

i. 2 Cor. v. 10. Return

k. Job xxviii. 22. Return

l. Nah. i. 5. Return

m Psalm l. 4. Return

n. Rev. xx. 12. Return

o. S. Matt. xxv. 31. Return

p. 1 Cor. iv. 5. Return

q. S. Matt. v. 26. Return

r. Job ix. 32, 33. Return

s. 1 S. Pet. iv. 18. Return

t. Mal. i. 14. Return

u. Eph. ii. 8. Return

v. Lam. iii. 22. Return

w. Is. ix. 6. Return

x. Psalm xxvi. 9. Return

y. S. John iv. 6. Return

z. Philip. ii. 8. Return

aa. Philip. i. 6. Return

bb. Psalm vii. 12. Psalm xciv. 1. Return

cc. S. Mark ii. 7. Return

dd. Heb. xii. 17. Return

ee. Dan. ix. 8. Return

ff. Job xxxi. 33. Return

gg Mal. iii. 17. Psalm lxv. 2. Return

hh. S. Luke vii. 50. Return

ii. S. Luke xxiii. 43. Return

kk. Acts xxiv. 15. Return

ll. Dan. ix. 18. Return

mm. Isaiah xxxiii. 14. Return

nn. S. Matt. xxv. 33. Return

oo. Ezek. xxxiv. 17. Return

pp. S. Matt. xxv. 34. Return

qq Dan. xii. 2. Return

rr. S. Mark ix. 44. Return

ss. Rev. xi. 12. Return

tt. Job xlii. 6. Return

uu. S. John xiii. 1. Return

vv. Zeph. i. 15. Return

ww. Gen. iii. 19. Isaiah xxvi. 19. Return

xx Psalm l. 1, 6.

yy. Joel ii. 17. Return

zz. 2 Tim. i. 18. Return

Note from Thomas Helmore, Accompanying Harmonies to the Hymnal Noted. Part I (London: Novello, Ewer and Co., and Masters and Son, 1852), Part II (London: Novello and Co., Joseph Masters and J. T. Hayes, 1858), p. v.

"The world-famous sequence of Thomas of Celano, the friend and biographer of S. Francis."

Sheet Music from Rev. John Mason Neale and Rev. Thomas Helmore, eds., Hymnal Noted, Part I. (London: Novello & Co., 1852), Part II (London: Novello & Co., 1856), #46, p. 90-92.

46-090.jpg (457304 bytes) 46-091.jpg (561664 bytes) 46-092.jpg (315137 bytes)

Sheet Music from Thomas Helmore, Accompanying Harmonies to the Hymnal Noted. Part I (London: Novello, Ewer and Co., and Masters and Son, 1852), Part II (London: Novello and Co., Joseph Masters and J. T. Hayes, 1858), #46, pp. 162-169. "In Commemoratione omnium fidelium defunctorum. Sequentia." A Sequence Harmonized by Charles Child Spencer.

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Note: The Charles Child Spencer harmonization dates to the separate 1849 publication of this hymn which also contained notes from Dr. Irons. The melody used was that which Dr. Irons heard in Paris in 1848. I have not yet found a copy.

Sheet Music "The Original Melody, Harmonized by Charles Child Spencer" from J. H. Hopkins, ed., Great Hymns of the Church Compiled by the Late Right Reverend John Freeman Young (New York: James Pott & Company, 1887), #40, pp. 57-63

Sheet Music From Arthur Henry Brown, ed., The Altar Hymnal. London: Griffith, Farrar, Okeden & Welsh, 1885, # 103.

"Dies Iræ," First Tune, Ratisbon

"Dies Iræ," Second Tune, Arthur H. Brown

Sheet Music by the Rev. Henry E. Havergal from J. H. Hopkins, ed., Great Hymns of the Church Compiled by the Late Right Reverend John Freeman Young (New York: James Pott & Company, 1887), #43, pp. 68-9.

Sheet music "St. Cross" by J. B. Dykes from The Church Hymnary (1903), #120, pp. 156-158.

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Editor's Note.

Of the over 150 translations of "Dies iræ, dies illa," this one is among the most popular. According to Dr. John Julian, it was second only to the 3-verse adaptation by Sir Walter Scott. The following is an excerpt from the very long Dictionary of Hymnology article concerning Dies irae, concerning this translation only:

Day of wrath, O Day of mourning, By W. J. Irons, from the Paris Missal. It is well known that the Revolution in Paris in 1848 led to many scenes of terror and shame. Foremost was the death of Monseigneur D. A. Afire, the Archbishop of Paris, who was shot on June 25 on the barricades on the Place de la Bastille whilst endeavouring to persuade the insurgents to cease firing, and was buried on July 7. As soon as it was safe to do so his funeral sermon was preached in Notre Dame, accompanied by a religious service of the most solemn and impressive kind. Throughout the service the Archbishop's heart was exposed, in a glass case in the Choir, and at the appointed place the Dies Irae was sung by an immense body of priests. The terror of the times, the painful sense of bereavement which rested upon the minds of the people through the death of their Archbishop, the exposed heart in the Choir, the imposing ritual of the service, and the grand rendering of the Dies Irae by the priests, gave to the occasion an unusual degree of impressiveness.

Dr. Irons was present, and deeply moved by what he saw and heard. On retiring from the Church he wrote out this translation of the Dies Irae. The surrounding circumstances no doubt contributed greatly to produce this, which is one of the finest of modern renderings of the grandest of mediaeval hymns.

It was first issued in the privately printed Introits and Hymns for Advent, issued, without date [ca. 1849], for the use of Margaret Street Chapel, London, where it bears the initials "W. J. I." It was also published in 1849 (London, Masters), with historical notes by Dr. Irons, and with the music to which it was sung in Notre Dame, harmonized by Charles Child Spencer. Dr. Irons also included it in his Appx. to the Brompton Met. Psalter, in his Hymns, &c, Brompton, 1866, No. 82, and in the new and enlarged ed. of his Ps. & Hp., 1873-1883, No. 60. In popularity and extensiveness of use this translation of the Dies Irae is surpassed only by Sir Walter Scott's, That Day of Wrath, That Dreadful Day.

A few important changes have come into use which must be noted. The opening stanza is:—

"Day of wrath, O day of mourning.
See once more the Cross returning—
Heav'n and earth in ashes burning:"

This is given in J. A. Johnston's English Hymnal, 1852, as " Day of wrath, O day dismaying," Aic.; in Thrupp's Ps. & Hys., 1853, as " Day of Judgment, day of mourning "; and in Kennedy, 1863, as "Day of anger, day of mourning."

The second line of stanza 1 has also undergone these changes:—in the Salisbury H. Bk., 1857, the Sarum, 1868, and others, to "See! the Son's dread sign returning." In this there is a change in the wording of the line only, and not a change of thought.

The thought, however, is changed in the H. Comp. and Snepp, where we read, "See the Crucified returning." In H. A. & M. the reading of the Roman Missal is adopted in spirit although not in word, "See fulfilled the prophet's warning," and this has been repeated in several hymn-books. The concluding lines which read :—

"Lord, who didst our souls redeem.
Grant a blessed Requiem!"

were changed in the Hymns and Introits, 1852, and the Cooke and Denton Hymnal, 1853, to the tr. by I. Williams:—

"Lord all-pitying, Jesu blest!
Grant them Thine eternal rest."

This, with "Grant us," for "Grant them," has been repeated, sometimes with and sometimes without the change, in most hymn-books which have adopted Dr. Irons's translation. Thring's Coll. is an exception in favour of:—

"Jesu, Saviour ever Bleat,
Grant us then eternal rest."

Source: John Julian, ed., Dictionary of Hymnology (1892), p. 298-299.

The following excerpt was from an article originally published in the North British Review. The anonymous author wrote:

We have reserved until now, as the copestone of our quotations, a sequence which stands unequaled among sacred metrical compositions—we refer to the “Dies Irae" of Thomas de Celano. Unearthly in its pathos—magnificent in its diction — thrilling in its versification — it comes upon our souls with the sweep of a rushing wind, lifting them up on its breast of swelling might until they seem to be already hearing the first note of the archangel's trump as it echoes up from the realms of infinity, and momently expecting it to ring fully through the abodes of quick and dead. If we seek for an instance of the force of subjectivity, we find it in its fullness here; if we seek to know the power of words, we have here the very limit of expressiveness, and these two are welded together firmly and indissolubly by a meter which will serve at once as the best apology for the renunciation of classicalism, and the best example of the heart-felt significance of Christian Latinity. Until Dr. Irons' version appeared in the Hymnal Noted, English readers had been entirely without a translation which gave even a tenth-rate lithograph (if we may use the expression) of this gorgeous picture, and we regret that it is only popularly known through such corrupted media. The version of which we speak has, however, left little to be desired, since it faithfully represents not merely the language, but also the meter, and what is more, the rhyming triplet of the original.

Source: "Early Christian Songs in the East and West," in reprinted in W. H. Bidwell, ed., The Eclectic Magazine of Foreign Literature, Science, and Art, Volume 42, No. 4, December, 1857 (New York: Leavitt, Trow, & Company, 1857), pp. 475-486.

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