Saturday, November 02, 2019

Dies irae, dies illa.

As is my annual custom, for All Souls' Day I am reposting a translation of the Latin sequence for All Souls that I made a few years ago. Typically attributed to the thirteenth-century Franciscan Thomas of Celano and long prescribed as part of the Latin Requiem Mass, the Dies Irae enjoys a special place in Western musical culture thanks to the memorable settings of the Requiem text by composers ranging from Mozart to Verdi to Britten, among many others. For All Souls, I typically avoid any 'classical' setting of the Dies Irae in favor of the traditional Gregorian setting, because sometimes only Gregorian chant will do.

Below you can find the Latin text of the Dies Irae followed by my own English translation. I decided to translate the text myself out of a sense of dissatisfaction with the various translations that I found online, as a spiritual exercise for All Souls' Day - and, finally, to practice my Latin. The translation was made in haste and could certainly be improved - indeed, I have sometimes thought of starting from scratch and doing a new one - and I welcome comments and criticism; my goal was to convey the meaning of the original faithfully without trying to reproduce the poetic meter of the original. So here goes:

Dies irae! Dies illa
Solvet saeclum in favilla:
Teste David cum Sibylla!

Quantus tremor est futurus,
Quando iudex est venturus,
Cuncta stricte discussurus!

Tuba mirum spargens sonum
Per sepulchra regionum,
Coget omnes ante thronum.

Mors stupebit, et natura,
Cum resurget creatura,
Iudicanti responsura.

Liber scriptus proferetur,
In quo totum continetur,
Unde mundus iudicetur.

Iudex ergo cum sedebit,
Quidquid latet, apparebit:
Nil inultum remanebit.

Quid sum miser tunc dicturus?
Quem patronum rogaturus,
Cum vix iustus sit securus?

Rex tremendae maiestatis,
Qui salvandos salvas gratis,
Salva me, fons pietatis.

Recordare, Iesu pie,
Quod sum causa tuae viae:
Ne me perdas illa die.

Quaerens me, sedisti lassus:
Redemisti Crucem passus:
Tantus labor non sit cassus.

Iuste iudex ultionis,
Donum fac remissionis
Ante diem rationis.

Ingemisco, tamquam reus:
Culpa rubet vultus meus:
Supplicanti parce, Deus.

Qui Mariam absolvisti,
Et latronem exaudisti,
Mihi quoque spem dedisti.

Preces meae non sunt dignae:
Sed tu bonus fac benigne,
Ne perenni cremer igne.

Inter oves locum praesta,
Et ab haedis me sequestra,
Statuens in parte dextra.

Confutatis maledictis,
Flammis acribus addictis:
Voca me cum benedictis.

Oro supplex et acclinis,
Cor contritum quasi cinis:
Gere curam mei finis.

Lacrimosa dies illa,
qua resurget ex favilla
Judicandus homo reus.
Huic ergo parce, Deus:

Pie Iesu Domine,
dona eis requiem. Amen.


O day of wrath, that day
when the earth will be reduced to ashes,
as David and the Sibyl both testify!

What great fear there will be,
when the judge comes
to judge all things strictly.

A trumpet casts a wondrous sound
into the realm of the tombs,
calling all [to come] before the throne.

Death and nature will both marvel
as the [human] creature rises
to answer its judge.

A book will be brought forth
in which all things are recorded –
all that for which the world will be judged.

When, therefore, the judge appears,
all that is hidden will appear,
and no ills will remain unavenged.

As miserable as I am, what am I to say?
whose protection may I invoke,
when even the just lack security?

O most majestic King,
who freely saves those to be saved,
save me, source of mercy!

Remember, merciful Jesus,
that I am the one for whom you came:
may I not be lost on that day!

Seeking me, you sat down tired:
to redeem me, you suffered the Cross –
may your toil not be in vain!

Just and avenging judge,
may you grant remission [of sins]
before the day of reckoning.

Guilty, now I sigh,
my face red with shame:
save thy petitioner, o God!

Having absolved Mary [Magdalene],
and heard the plea of the thief,
may you give me hope as well.

Though my prayers are not worthy,
be kind to me, o Good One,
that I may be spared the eternal fire!

Place me among the sheep,
and separate me from the goats,
setting me at your right hand.

When the wicked are confounded
and given over to bitter flames:
call me among the blessed.

Meek and humble, I pray,
with a heart contrite as ashes:
Help me reach my final end.

How tearful that day will be,
when from the ashes will arise
the guilty man for judgment.
Therefore spare him, O God!

Merciful Lord Jesus,
grant them rest. Amen.

To some modern ears, some of the above lines may seem a bit harsh; the familiarity of the Latin text and the beauty of its poetic form can easily distract us from the admonitory content of the Dies Irae. As stern as these words may be, though, they also remind us that God is merciful - indeed, the very source of mercy - and they call on us to pray: first for our beloved dead and for our own repentance, but also that we may offer to others the same mercy that we seek for ourselves. May all of us who celebrate this Feast of All Souls take these words in the right way, and take them to heart. AMDG.

Thursday, October 31, 2019

"The Exorcist" on Halloween.

For Halloween, here is a repost of something I wrote years ago about The Exorcist, a great Georgetown and Jesuit Halloween tradition. I regret to say that I've fallen out of the habit of re-watching The Exorcist each year since I moved to Paris, but that doesn't keep me from nostalgically remembering a film with a special place in my personal history.

Georgetown has at least two great Halloween traditions. One of these is the "Healy Howl," a midnight gathering of undergraduate students for the purpose of howling at the moon like wolves. When I was on the Hilltop, the Healy Howl took place at the gates of the Jesuit cemetery on campus, an appropriately spooky setting under the circumstances. As an undergrad, I used to wonder what the Jesuit priests, brothers and scholastics buried in Georgetown's cemetery would make of this yearly ritual. I finally came to suspect that, given their centuries of accumulated experience teaching undergraduates, most of the Jesuits buried at Georgetown probably had good senses of humor and would chuckle amusedly at a superficially transgressive but ultimately harmless ritual like the Healy Howl.

Georgetown's second great Halloween tradition is the screening of The Exorcist in Gaston Hall. Scripted by Georgetown alumnus William Peter Blatty and shot on and around the university campus, The Exorcist is the Georgetown movie; Gaston Hall viewings of The Exorcist can take on a sort of Rocky Horror Picture Show quality, with many students applauding whenever the Georgetown campus appears in the film and some coming in costume and offering shouted responses to the film's dialogue. Hoyas viewing The Exorcist would respond to the film as only Hoyas could: for example, a scene in the film in which dialogue between two characters is drowned out by the sound of plane flying overhead was greeted with uproarious laughter by the Gaston Hall audience for the simple reason that Georgetown students could relate to the experience given that their university sat below the flight path for planes taking off and landing at Washington National Airport.

The Exorcist is also a quintessentially Catholic film that takes a sober look at the reality of evil and offers a challenging representation of sacrificial love. The heart of the film's message comes in a quiet scene between Jesuit priests Damien Karras (Jason Miller) and Lankester Merrin (Max von Sydow), who have been called upon to perform an exorcism on twelve-year-old Regan McNeil (Linda Blair). Having wrestled throughout the film with a deepset crisis of faith, Father Karras ponders a profound question and gets a sage answer from Father Merrin:
KARRAS: Why this girl? It makes no sense.

MERRIN: I think the point is to make us despair - to see ourselves as animal and ugly, to reject the possibility that God could love us.
This exchange was cut from the film's 1973 theatricial release by director William Friedkin, who regarded it as "a commercial for the Catholic Church." Restored to the film nearly thirty years later, this brief bit of dialogue gives The Exorcist a crucial context that is missing from most contemporary horror films. The possession of Regan McNeil isn't a random event, but part of a larger battle between good and evil. As Father Merrin observes, the presence of evil in the world tempts us to deny the essential truth about ourselves - that we are human beings with a transcendent destiny, made in the image and likeness of the loving God who desires eternal union with us. The Christian response to despair is to reaffirm our belief in the loving God and to follow the example of self-sacrificing love offered by Jesus Christ. Father Karras does this in a particularly striking (and even shocking) way, giving up his life to save Regan's.

Though I will not watch The Exorcist again this evening, I will reflect again on the struggle between good and evil captured in the film. Though the evils we encounter in the world may tempt us to despair, we must always be mindful of the joy and love offered by the God who is with us even in the darkest hours of night.

Monday, September 30, 2019

The retirement of Archbishop Chaput.

Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput turned 75 last Thursday, reaching the age at which Roman Catholic bishops are required to present their resignation to the pope. Now, in the words of a recent Philadelphia Inquirer headline, "the countdown to Philadelphia's next Catholic archbishop begins", though it's unclear exactly how long the countdown will last; episcopal resignations are not always accepted immediately, and Chaput's two immediate predecessors in Philadelphia remained in office beyond retirement age (Cardinal Justin Rigali left office at age 76, and Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua did so at age 80).

Regardless of when his successor arrives, the retirement of Archbishop Chaput represents the end of an era. As Archbishop of Denver from 1997 to 2011, Chaput established himself as one of the emblematic figures of the American Church under Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI. A forthright defender of Catholic doctrine and a frank voice in debates about public policy, Chaput was also a leading American exponent of the New Evangelization called for by John Paul II. Under Chaput's leadership, the Archdiocese of Denver became known as a place where Catholicism was vibrant, where new ecclesial movements were particularly welcome, and where priestly vocations were plentiful. In difficult times for the American Church, challenged from without by an increasingly secular culture and shaken from within by the crisis of clerical sexual abuse, Denver under Chaput appeared as a harbinger of better days to come.

Named Archbishop of Philadelphia in 2011, Chaput found himself in a very different ecclesial environment. Long home to a robust Catholic culture that was institutionally rich and socially influential, Philadelphia was also a diocese where religious practice had been in steady decline for decades and where the sexual abuse crisis had dealt a particularly sharp blow to the local church. Writing here the day after Chaput's installation as Archbishop of Philadelphia, I sounded a hopeful note: the new archbishop was sober and determined in the face of the various challenges facing the Archdiocese, emphasizing the centrality of faith in Christ and fidelity to the Church and exhorting the faithful to be courageous in difficult times. In the months and years that followed, Archbishop Chaput was forced to make hard and often painful decisions, cutting archdiocesan staff and programs in the face of falling revenues and making plans to sell the Archdiocese's iconic seminary in suburban Wynnewood. Despite Archbishop Chaput's enthusiasm for the New Evangelization, he could seemingly do little to reverse an erosion in Mass attendance, baptisms, and Catholic marriages that had begun long before he arrived in Philadelphia.

In another era, Archbishop Chaput might well have become a cardinal; he would have been a worthy choice, given his personal qualities and his status as a leader among the U.S. Catholic bishops. It may be that he simply arrived too late: given changing demographics, Philadelphia, like Detroit or St. Louis, is no longer the cardinatial see that it once was. Some think that Archbishop Chaput was deliberately "passed over," in some sense, intentionally deprived of a red hat, but they miss a more important point: Charles Chaput has always preached Christ in and out of season, choosing fidelity to the deposit of faith over passing trends. Hopefully, it will be for this that he will be most remembered, long after his tenure in Philadelphia comes to an end.

Friday, August 16, 2019

Au petit matin.

J'ouvrirai la bouche pour les paraboles, je publierai ce qui fut caché depuis la fondation du monde (Mt 13, 35).

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Lourdes on St. Ignatius' Day.

For the second year in a row, I'm spending St. Ignatius' Day at the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes. Having spent two fine weeks here as a confessor last summer, I decided to repeat the experience. Among other things, this means celebrating today's feast in relative isolation. Last year, I marked St. Ignatius' Day in Lourdes by dining in a local pizzeria with a Jesuit scholastic who happened to be working as a volunteer at the sanctuary during the same weeks that I served as a confessor. This year I'm the only Jesuit around, so I'll be celebrating the feast a bit more quietly, though I do expect to go out for drinks later tonight with some French diocesan priests whom I've gotten to know here. Spending the feast of the Jesuit founder far from other Jesuits lends itself to a certain introspection, as I ponder again the mystery of the Jesuit vocation and its particular exigences. My good wishes go to all who celebrate this feast, and to all who read these lines. AMDG.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Remembering Tom King, ten years on.

Today is the tenth anniversary of the death of Father Thomas M. King, S.J. Having written a lot about Tom King over the years and finding little new to say, today I will content myself to refer interested readers to three items published here previously: a post on the Eucharist and Tom King, the text of a homily I gave once on this date, and a piece on a quiet memorial to Tom King on the Georgetown campus. AMDG.

Thursday, May 30, 2019


For the Feast of the Ascension (which necessarily occurs on Thursday; none of this 'Ascension Sunday' business), here is some non-liturgical but undeniably sacred music: Olivier Messiaen's L'Ascension, an orchestral work in four movements written in 1932/33 and premiered in 1935. I am a fan of Messiaen, and perhaps I should post his music here more often. The performance heard here is taken from a concert of the Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of Hugo Wolff, recorded on January 15, 2016. For those of us who mark the Ascension today, may the music of Messiaen help us to enter more fully into the mystery that we celebrate.