The first melody set to these words, a Gregorian chant, is one of the most quoted in musical literature, appearing in the works of many composers. The final couplet, "Pie Jesu", has been often reused as an independent song.
In the reforms to the Catholic Church's Latin liturgical rites ordered by the Second Vatican Council, the "Consilium for the Implementation of the Constitution on the Liturgy", the Vatican body charged with drafting and implementing the reforms (1969-70), eliminated the sequence as such from funerals and other Masses for the Dead. A leading figure in the post-conciliar liturgical reforms, ArchbishopAnnibale Bugnini, explains the rationale of the Consilium:
They got rid of texts that smacked of a negative spirituality inherited from the Middle Ages. Thus they removed such familiar and even beloved texts as "Libera me, Domine", "Dies irae", and others that overemphasized judgment, fear, and despair. These they replaced with texts urging Christian hope and arguably giving more effective expression to faith in the resurrection.
The Latin text below is taken from the Requiem Mass in the 1962 Roman Missal. The first English version below, translated by William Josiah Irons in 1849, albeit from a slightly different Latin text, replicates the rhyme and metre of the original. This translation, edited for more conformance to the official Latin, is approved by the Catholic Church for use as the funeral Mass sequence in the liturgy of the Anglican ordinariate. The second English version is a more formal equivalence translation.
Once the cursed have been silenced,
sentenced to acrid flames,
Call me, with the blessed.
[Humbly] kneeling and bowed I pray,
[my] heart crushed as ashes:
take care of my end.
Tearful [will be] that day,
on which from the glowing embers will arise
the guilty man who is to be judged:
Then spare him, O God.
Merciful Lord Jesus,
grant them rest. Amen.
Because the last two stanzas differ markedly in structure from the preceding stanzas, some scholars consider them to be an addition made in order to suit the great poem for liturgical use. The penultimate stanza Lacrimosa discards the consistent scheme of rhyming triplets in favor of a pair of rhyming couplets. The last stanza Pie Iesu abandons rhyme for assonance, and, moreover, its lines are catalectic.
In the liturgical reforms of 1969-71, stanza 19 was deleted and the poem divided into three sections: 1-6 (for Office of Readings), 7-12 (for Lauds) and 13-18 (for Vespers). In addition "Qui Mariam absolvisti" in stanza 13 was replaced by "Peccatricem qui solvisti" so that that line would now mean, "You who absolved the sinful woman". This was because modern scholarship denies the common medieval identification of the woman taken in adultery with Mary Magdalene, so Mary could no longer be named in this verse. In addition, a doxology is given after stanzas 6, 12 and 18:
O tu, Deus majestatis,
alme candor Trinitatis
nos conjunge cum beatis. Amen.
O God of majesty
nourishing light of the Trinity
join us with the blessed. Amen.
You, God of majesty,
gracious splendour of the Trinity
conjoin us with the blessed. Amen.
The text of the sequence is found, with slight verbal variations, in a 13th century manuscript in the Biblioteca Nazionale at Naples. It is a Franciscan calendar missal that must date between 1253 and 1255 for it does not contain the name of Clare of Assisi, who was canonized in 1255, and whose name would have been inserted if the manuscript were of later date.
A major inspiration of the hymn seems to have come from the Vulgate translation of Zephaniah 1:15-16:
Dies iræ, dies illa, dies tribulationis et angustiæ, dies calamitatis et miseriæ, dies tenebrarum et caliginis, dies nebulæ et turbinis, dies tubæ et clangoris super civitates munitas et super angulos excelsos.
That day is a day of wrath, a day of tribulation and distress, a day of calamity and misery, a day of darkness and obscurity, a day of clouds and whirlwinds, a day of the trumpet and alarm against the fenced cities, and against the high bulwarks. (Douay-Rheims Bible)
From the Jewish liturgy, the prayer Unetanneh Tokef appears to be related: "We shall ascribe holiness to this day, For it is awesome and terrible"; "the great trumpet is sounded", etc.
A number of English translations of the poem have been written and proposed for liturgical use. A very loose Protestant version was made by John Newton; it opens:
Day of judgment! Day of wonders!
Hark! the trumpet's awful sound,
Louder than a thousand thunders,
Shakes the vast creation round!
How the summons will the sinner's heart confound!
Jan Kasprowicz, a Polish poet, wrote a hymn entitled "Dies irae" which describes the Judgment day. The first six lines (two stanzas) follow the original hymn's metre and rhyme structure, and the first stanza translates to "The trumpet will cast a wondrous sound".
The American writer Ambrose Bierce published a satiric version of the poem in his 1903 book Shapes of Clay, preserving the original metre but using humorous and sardonic language; for example, the second verse is rendered:
Ah! what terror shall be shaping
When the Judge the truth's undraping -
Cats from every bag escaping!
The Rev. Bernard Callan (1750-1804), an Irish priest and poet, translated it into Gaelic around 1800. His version is included in a Gaelic prayer book, The Spiritual Rose.
The words of "Dies irae" have often been set to music as part of the Requiem service. In some settings, it is broken up into several movements; in such cases, "Dies irae" refers only to the first of these movements, the others being titled according to their respective incipits.
The earliest surviving polyphonic setting of the Requiem by Johannes Ockeghem does not include "Dies irae". The first polyphonic settings to include the "Dies irae" are by Engarandus Juvenis (1490) and Antoine Brumel (1516) to be followed by many composers of the renaissance. Later, many notable choral and orchestral settings of the Requiem including the sequence were made by composers such as Mozart, Berlioz, Verdi, and Stravinsky.
The traditional Gregorian melody has been used as a theme or musical quotation in many classical compositions, film scores, and popular works, including:
^McKenna, Malachy (ed.), The Spiritual Rose, Dublin: School of Celtic Studies - Scoil an Léinn Cheiltigh, Institute for Advanced Studies - Institiúid Ard-Léinn Bhaile Átha Cliath, F 2.22, archived from the original on April 6, 2007