Rorate Caeli

Sophia launches “Benedictus Books” imprint with reprint of Nicholas Gihr’s 1927 classic meditations on the Dies Irae

Finally republished in gorgeous hardcover, this newly typeset edition of Msgr. Nicholaus Gihr’s 1927 classic elucidates the Dies Irae, “the giant among the hymns,” for devotional reading and meditation. As an acclaimed dogmatic theologian whose great treatise on the Holy Mass remains among the most important sources in the formation of any traditional seminarian or priest, Msgr. Gihr is the perfect guide to the spiritual exercise of meditating on our final end.
Here is an excerpt from Gihr’s Dies Irae, highly appropriate for this Friday of Passion Week when many traditional chapels and churches will have celebrated the Seven Sorrows of the Blessed Virgin Mary and recited or sung the Sequence Stabat Mater…

Like the Stabat Mater, the Dies Irae was originally intended for private devotion — a sort of pious meditation on the Last Judgment, whose appeal lay in the graphic portrayal of the emotions that fill the soul of man when, conscious of his guilt, he is reminded of the all-knowing and just Judge. Its excellence caused its adoption as a Sequence in the Mass for the Dead as early as the second half of the fourteenth century, but it was not until the sixteenth cen­tury that its use became universal through a rubric of the Missale Romanum as revised by Pius V.

The world, as we know it, will come to an end; the curtain will fall at last upon the historical drama of man and the world in which he lives. The end of the world, “the end of all things” (see 1 Pt 4:7) which is to be accompanied by an extraordinary manifestation of divine omnipotence, by no means includes the annihilation of matter, but merely marks the transition of the world to the final consummatio sæculi predicted by Jesus Christ (Mt 28:20). This consummation consists in an elevation of the creature to a higher degree of existence, in the supernatural renewal and transfiguration of the whole universe.

The world will be destroyed by fire — it will be judged by fire. Over and over again the Church repeats this truth in her liturgical prayers: Christus venturus est iudicare vivos et mortuos, et sæculum per ignem. Fire is, therefore, the means that will be employed by God to judge, punish, and renew things at the consummation of the world. Of all the catastrophes and momentous changes that have ever visited the earth, surely there is none so stupendous as the destruction of the world by fire. This may be gathered from the description which is given of it by the Prince of the Apostles and which forms perhaps the best commentary on that brief passage of our sequence.

We are, therefore, admonished in the Dies Irae never to lose sight of the return of Christ as Judge (both at death and at the end of the world) and to consider His coming as ever near at hand. Our entire life should be an Advent — a period of expectation and preparation for death and judgment. We should always look forward eagerly to the day when the Savior will come back in the fullness of His power to judge mankind and to bring His Kingdom to a glorious consummation.

Our Sequence in its description of the Last Judgment stresses its serious and terrifying aspect, as shown especially by the inexo­rable strictness and justice of God in punishing the wicked; for this reason, it emphasizes only one aspect of the process of perfect retribution, namely that “nothing shall remain unpunished.” Nil inultum remanebit. God rewards goodness and avenges evil. Every offense against His Divine Majesty must be atoned for. His supreme authority as Judge of all creation is clearly shown in the punishment of evil. The penalties which He imposes for sin are usually designated in Holy Scripture as just measures of retribution. They are meet and just, and it is a holy revenge which God, for the sake of His honor and glory, must take for every offense committed against Him. “Revenge not your­selves, my dearly beloved; but give place unto wrath, for it is written: Revenge is mine, I will repay, saith the Lord” (Rom 12:19; see Dt 32:35).

Though the picture of the Last Judgment in the first part of the Dies Irae is purposely designed to inspire fear, the second part brings out in bold relief the penitent sinner’s confident hope of pardon. Aside from the special content of the different stanzas, the entire second part gives expression to a cheerful confidence in God by the very fact that it contains a whole series of humble and confident petitions, for which the foundation and motive are not only divine faith but also Christian hope. The prayer of petition has ever been the flower and the fruit of hope — especially of a living, strong, powerful hope.

The book thoughtfully provides both a beautiful rhyming and metered version of the Sequence and a slavishly literal translation. It is the first in a new imprint from Sophia called “Benedictus Books,” which will focus on newly typeset editions of venerable works of theology and spirituality.

As part of the launch of Benedictus Books, Sophia Institute Press has put this new hardcover on sale for $17.99. Visit their website here.