Updated: Nov 22, 2022
(Very long hymns
German: Es ist gewisslich
Latin: Dies irae
Norwegian: Det snart forvist på Tiden er,
Swedish: En dag skall uppgå för vår syn
Tune: Bartholomeaüs Ringwaldt (1530-1599) Tune: Martin Luther (1483-1546)
1 The day is surely drawing near When Jesus, God's anointed, In all His power shall appear As judge whom God appointed. Then fright shall banish idle mirth, And flames on flames shall ravage earth As Scripture long has warned us.
2 The final trumpet then shall sound And all the earth be shaken, And all who rest beneath the ground Shall from their sleep awaken. But all who live will in that hour, By God's almighty, boundless pow'r, Be changed at His commanding.
3 The books are opened then to all, A record truly telling What each has done, both great and small, When he on earth was dwelling, And ev'ry heart be clearly seen, And all be known as they have been In thoughts and words and actions.
4 Then woe to those who scorned the Lord And sought but carnal pleasures, Who here despised His precious Word And loved their earthly treasures! With shame and trembling they will stand And at the judge's stern command To Satan be delivered.
5 My Savior paid the debt I owe And for my sin was smitten; Within the Book of Life I know My name has now been written. I will not doubt, for I am free, And Satan cannot threaten me; There is no condemnation!
6 May Christ our intercessor be And through His blood and merit Read from His book that we are free With all who life inherit. Then we shall see Him face to face, With all His saints in that blest place Which He has purchased for us.
7 O Jesus Christ, do not delay, But hasten our salvation; We often tremble on our way In fear and tribulation. O hear and grant our fervent plea; Come, mighty judge, and make us free From death and ev'ry evil.
Text: Thomas of Celano (1200-1265) or Latino Malabranca Orsini (d. 1294)
Tune: Gregorian Chant
Day of wrath! O day of mourning! See fulfilled the prophets' warning, Heaven and earth in ashes burning! Oh, what fear man's bosom rendeth, When from heaven the Judge descendeth, On whose sentence all dependeth. Wondrous sound the trumpet flingeth; Through earth's sepulchres it ringeth; All before the throne it bringeth. Death is struck, and nature quaking, All creation is awaking, To its Judge an answer making. Lo, the book, exactly worded, Wherein all hath been recorded, Thence shall judgement be awarded. When the Judge his seat attaineth, And each hidden deed arraigneth, Nothing unavenged remaineth. What shall I, frail man, be pleading? Who for me be interceding, When the just are mercy needing? King of Majesty tremendous, Who dost free salvation send us, Fount of pity, then befriend us! Think, kind Jesu! – my salvation Caused Thy wondrous Incarnation; Leave me not to reprobation. Faint and weary, Thou hast sought me, On the Cross of suffering bought me. Shall such grace be vainly brought me? Righteous Judge, for sin's pollution Grant Thy gift of absolution, Ere the day of retribution. Guilty, now I pour my moaning, All my shame with anguish owning; Spare, O God, Thy suppliant groaning! Through the sinful woman shriven, Through the dying thief forgiven, Thou to me a hope hast given. Worthless are my prayers and sighing, Yet, good Lord, in grace complying, Rescue me from fires undying. With Thy sheep a place provide me, From the goats afar divide me, To Thy right hand do Thou guide me. When the wicked are confounded, Doomed to flames of woe unbounded, Call me with Thy saints surrounded. Low I kneel, with heart's submission, See, like ashes, my contrition, Help me in my last condition. Ah! that day of tears and mourning, From the dust of earth returning Man for judgement must prepare him, Spare, O God, in mercy spare him. Lord, all-pitying, Jesus blest, Grant them Thine eternal rest. Amen.
Images of the Day of Wrath were well known in the Middle Ages, especially after the Black Death of the 14th century which wiped out at least 50% of the population of Eurasia (some estimate as many as 200 million worldwide). Since there was no cure or treatment for it, people greeted it by fleeing the cities for the country, trying to laugh in the face of death as in Giovanni Boccaccio’s Decameron tales (1353), or flagellating themselves until their flesh ran with their own blood. It was a terrible time which we can see and hear in the Dance of Death or Danse Macabre popular at the time. The Luke passage for the first Sunday in Advent is filled with apocalyptic warnings from Jesus before his passion.There will be distress in the cosmos, the sun and moon and stars showing signs of the end. The seas roaring, people fainting with fear and foreboding, the heavens shaken. Still we should look up and gain comfort from the fact that our redemption is drawing near. Heaven and earth will pass away, but God’s word will never fail.
In times of trouble, people want to hear the truth, no matter how hard, not untruths that leaders may use to comfort or control them. After every pandemic we know about, leadership loses its authority as people lose trust in them. Then chaos can break out. It is not hard in these days to think the end is near. Things seem to be falling apart and the very foundations of our lives seem to have been shaken. The virus is still causing panic, now with its new variant known as Omnicron which the scientists are scurrying to analyze.
"We often tremble on our way,”Ringwaldt writes. Any thought of our own end calls for an accounting of our life and deeds. Christians greet their end with these words "My Savior paid the debt I owe/And for my sin was smitten..." For this, Christ says, we can be joyful.
Because we are in Christ Jesus, we are ultimately safe. Sometimes I find that hard to live on. But I know it is true. Especially when we feel forsaken, nothing shines stronger and brighter than the promises of God. When everything seems to be going well, the things of this world may seem dependable and solid, but when those assurances have melted away, we can see more clearly that there is only one thing that lasts: the Word of the Lord which is the truth. As Bartholomaeüs Ringwaldt reminds us "I will not doubt, for I am free,/And Satan cannot threaten me...”
Ringwaldt lived in a time filled with pestilence and wars. His version of Dies Irae became a beloved hymn after his death during the Thirty Years War when the end seemed imminent. These words gave comfort and balm. They still do. We have always been just a heartbeat away from destruction, but have maybe felt secure in the structures around us that we now see are fragile. Even facing the Day of Wrath, we can feel safe. Because of Jesus, we can pray, “O hear and grant our fervent plea;/Come, mighty judge, and make us free/From death and ev'ry evil.”
So take heart, good Christian, and face the future with courage. Death does not have the last word: Jesus does. He died on the cross and rose again to show us he is the one who can give victory. For that we can rejoice.
Bartholomaeüs Ringwaldt was a pastor in Brandenburg. A strong defender of the Lutheran faith, he wrote many hymns to comfort his people. This hymn, a German version of the old Latin hymn, dies irae, was probably not the first German version of the hymn, which Ringwaldt probably used for this version.
One of the most well known hymns of the Medieval church, it was part of the Requiem Mass liturgy. Thoroughly biblical, its major source is Zephaniah 1:15-18. It was removed after Vatican II because its dark judgmental language was deemed too medieval for moderns. It, however, remains one of the most well known tunes in Christian tradition. It has been used many times by composers to signal judgment and terror—such as Berlioz Symphonie Fantastique, Hayden’s 103rd Drumroll Symphony, Mahler’s Symphony 2, Liszt' Totentanz, Rachmaninoff's Symphony No. 1. Its last stanza became the text for the lovely Pie Jesu in Andrew Lloyd Weber's Requiem. It is also a favorite of film composers, like John Williams, Home Alone, and in Frozen II where it is used in the song “Into the Unknown.”
Gregorian chant of dies irae
Bach’s organ prelude on Es ist Gewisslich
Augsburg Cathedral Boys’ Choir
The Day is Surely Drawing Near, The Concordia Singer’s Library
Liszt Totentanz Martha Argerich
Pie Jesus Andrew Lloyd Weber
"Into the Unknown"/Frozen II