Day of Wrath? Or Day of Mercy?

It is therefore a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they may be loosed from sins.

2 Mac. 12:46

Sacred music can play an important role in helping us to digest the wisdom contained in sacred texts. By evoking passions befitting the truths of faith, music can help the intellect gain a better grasp of these principles, and assist us in regulating our passions (and hence our lives) in accordance with right reason.

During the month of November, the Church urges us to pray for the souls of the faithful departed. The supreme form of and model for such prayers is the Requiem Mass. From Gregorian chant to Mozart’s unfinished but justly celebrated masterpiece, Christian culture has given us many musical aids to the fulfilment of this holy and wholesome duty.

Praying for the dead, we are reminded that “all flesh shall come to thee, (O God)” (Ps. 64:3). At the heart of the traditional Requiem Mass is the Dies Irae, a liturgical sequence that prompts us to reflect at length on our own inevitable demise.

In recent times, the Dies Irae has been rejected on the grounds that it “overemphasize[s] judgment, fear, and despair.” Meditation on the text itself rebuts this claim.

The hymn indeed begins with a depiction of Judgment Day as a “day of wrath.” As the world we know dissolves into ashes, the earth quakes and a miraculous trumpet awakens the dead to face their Judge. Confronted with a book in which each of our hidden deeds is recorded, even the just soul is at a loss to defend himself before this fearsome King of majesty.

At this point, the song takes a crucial turn. Reflecting that Christ freely (gratis) saves those who are saved, the accused soul reminds Christ that he died on the cross to redeem his soul. Admitting his guilt, and acknowledging God’s justice, the contrite soul finds hope in comparing himself to Mary Magdalen and the forgiven thief.

Far from emphasizing despair, the Dies Irae points us to the precise grounds of our hopes. Though we must strive always for virtue, our own efforts always prove unworthy. Only a sincere confession of our sins, and acceptance of God’s gracious pardon, can win us a place among the sheep as opposed to the goats.

There is one catch to this message of hope: our confession and collaboration with divine grace must take place “ante diem rationis”—before the day of reckoning. To the extent that our modern sensibilities cause us to recoil from the fearful opening lines of this sequence, they also rob us of the cure that can turn that inevitable day from one of wrath to one of mercy.

“And the Light Shines in Darkness”

These are dark times. The public sphere seems dominated by fear, violence, vitriol, cynicism, and contempt for one’s fellow man.

Words of comfort are sorely needed. Words cannot make our troubles disappear, or relieve us of the responsibility of confronting them. They can help us to develop the wisdom to know what is good, the prudence to see what good we can do, and the strength to persevere amidst the struggles and setbacks we will inevitably face in the attempt.

Una Voce is an international federation of lay organizations dedicated to preserving and promoting the treasures of the Catholic faith. One local chapter, inspired by how others are responding to this spiritual crisis, decided to bring a message of peace and hope to our fellow citizens.

Let us pray that this billboard will remind or inform those who see it that Christ has given us his mother as our own. When we turn to her, she opens to us the treasury of her Immaculate Heart, in which is kept all the riches of God’s Eternal Word.

The only true peace is that offered to us by “the true light, which enlightens every man” who receives him, even in a world that knows him not (Jn. 1:9-12).

Delighting in the Wisdom of the Lord

Photo by Wendy van Zyl on

This blog takes its name from Psalm 36, which speaks of the relationship between justice and wisdom. “The mouth of the just shall meditate wisdom,” we read, “and his tongue shall speak judgment (loquetur judicium).”

How can a mouth meditate? Here the mouth is an image of the mind. The words we speak with our tongues originate in our minds. Just as the mouth takes in food and breaks it down for the body’s nourishment, so does the mind receive and process wisdom. Only a mind nourished on wisdom can formulate words that reflect a sound judgment.

Where do we find wisdom? The Psalm begins by warning us not to be “emulous of evildoers.” To emulate is to imitate in hopes of attaining what another has. When we see the all-too familiar sight of a “man who does unjust things” and yet “prospers in his way,” we may conclude that prosperity is the fruit of “iniquity,” and that wickedness is therefore wise. This is the wisdom of the world, whose folly the Psalm exposes.

The world is full of men who “prosper” through various forms of fear, fraud, and exploitation. Though the fruits of iniquity are evident, however, the Psalm assures us that they are of slight value. “Better is a little to the just, than the great riches of the wicked.”

The emptiness of the evildoer’s prosperity is most evident from the vantage point of eternity. For the wicked “shall shortly wither away as grass,” and vanish from his “highly exalted” place in society. Even if he prospers for a lifetime, that lifetime will end. And “the Lord shall laugh at him: for he foresees that his day shall come.”

Does this imply that the wicked enjoy a true if temporary happiness in this world, and that justice entails a lifetime of misery, sustained only by an expectation of otherworldly recompense?

Not so. “Trust in the Lord,” the Psalm bids us, “and do good, and dwell in the land, and thou shalt be fed with its riches.” When we live in hope of entering the promised land, we are already dwelling there in our hearts, and already able to taste its fruits. “Delight in the Lord,” even in this vale of tears, “and he will give thee the requests of thy heart.”

Our hearts truly desire what is eternal and supremely good. The passing things of this world cannot satisfy us. “A little” of the world’s goods is sufficient for the just, because his heart is set on riches far greater than those hoarded by the wicked.

How can we enjoy the riches of heaven while still on earth? If eternal life is to know “the only true God” (Jn. 17:3), then whatever we can know of God now is a foretaste of heaven. Though by faith we see God “through a glass in a dark manner” (1 Cor. 13:12), faith gives us the “substance of things to be hoped for” (Heb. 11:1) by giving us a taste of God himself (Ps. 33:9).

The just man (or the man seeking justice) meditates wisdom so as to fulfill the requests of his heart by delighting in the Lord. He speaks judgment in hopes of sharing the joy that comes from distinguishing true from false riches in this life and the next.

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