‘Dies irae’ for the corrupt
All Saints’ and All Souls’ will remain among the Filipinos’ favorite feast days. Only Filipinos can celebrate these feasts with so much fun and laughter. Until the West introduced the grossly macabre into our feasting, these feasts were religious and ethnic in nature, solemn but family-oriented and fun, too.
As we observe these feasts on Nov. 1 and 2, our thoughts turn to our dear departed, even as our view of the afterlife has changed somewhat over the years. The Catholic Church has erased limbo from the landscape of the afterlife. But there is still heaven and hell and purgatory. You either believe or you don’t.
Let us remember not just the special human beings in our lives who have gone ahead; let us remember, too, the nonhumans, the other creatures that have enriched our lives and this planet. We are all part of a web, of a cycle of life.
I also remember our Benedictine school days when Nov. 1 and 2 were marked as special liturgical days. As college boarders (synonymous with brats), we would listen to the nuns singing the Latin “Dies irae, dies illa” at Mass on All Souls’ Day, even when English was already the liturgical language of the day.
It was very neo-monastic, and I would picture the squarish Gregorian notes swimming in space while I tried to keep my thoughts from wandering. The organ roared and the voices soared, shaking the rafters of the neo-Romanesque, Germanic chapel which, I must say, is the only one of its kind in this country.
Gregorian was part of our music appreciation class (part of our expansive liberal arts education!), and we were taught how to read those square-shaped notes on four lines and sing them with the mouth correctly shaped. No beat or time, just rhyme and roundish strokes in the air from the conductor. One was supposed to go with the swelling and the receding of the waves, the ebb and the flow of the sound of the spirit.
It takes time and hindsight for one to get to appreciate all these. Today, I can still sing some of the lines from the “Dies irae,” particularly the soaring “Lacrimosa dies illa,/ Qua resurget ex favilla…” toward the end. (It translates as, um, “Full of tears and full of dread,/ Is the day that wakes the dead.”) It is as lachrymose as Mozart’s “Lacrimosa” and “Rex tremendae majestatis” are grand and tremendous.
“Dies irae,” with its arresting tone and somewhat terrifying but hopeful message, will certainly remain a liturgical musical classic.
“Dies irae, dies illa,/ Solvet saeclum in favilla,/ Teste David cum Sibylla…” (That day of wrath,/ That dreadful day,/ When heaven and earth will pass away,/ Both David and Sybil say…) The theme was derived from the prophet Zephaniah’s words, which should strike fear in the hearts of the corrupt leaders of this land.
Zephaniah’s biblical wrath is for those who remain incorrigible: “Jerusalem is doomed, that corrupt, rebellious city that oppresses its own people. It has not listened to the Lord or accepted his discipline. It has not put its trust in the Lord or asked for His help. Its officials are like roaring lions, its judges are like hungry wolves, too greedy to leave a bone until morning… But the Lord is still in the city…”
But he ends with a song of joy. And I think of the millions of Filipinos toiling abroad. “I will bring your scattered people home, I will make you famous throughout the world and make you prosperous once again.”
But as to striking fear in our hearts, this much-admired translation of the “Dies irae” by Dr. W.J. Jones should do the job. Nature is very much a part of the scenario, so those who defile our world with their foul words and evil deeds, hearken.
“Day of wrath and doom impending,/ David’s word and Sibyl’s blending!/ Heaven and earth in ashes ending!
“Oh, what fear man’s bosom rendeth,/ When from heaven the judge descendeth,/ On whose sentence all dependeth!
“Death is struck, and nature quaking,/ All creation is awaking,/ To its judge an answer making…”
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