"Pie Iesu" (Merciful Jesus)

December 21, 2018

 

There is something in songs and hymns in Latin that often catches the interest even of people who do not have much familiarity (or none at all) with the revered official language of the Catholic Church for centuries.  

 

Recently a close relative of mine who has left the Church suddenly started singing the first couple of lines of "Pie Iesu" and ended with "sempiternam." I was pleasantly surprised. I figured he felt the beauty of the music but without necessarily going into the lyrics' translation, history and meaning. 

 

"Pie Iesu" definitely is beautiful music.  It was composed in fairly recent years by Andrew Webber, someone who is obviously steeped in the traditional language of the Church in its liturgies -- especially the Mass and funeral rites.  It is one such musical composition.

 

"Pie Iesu" are the two words that end the hymn "Dies Irae, Dies Illa" (Day of Wrath, That Day), another Latin hymn composed in the 13th century and which used to be chanted at funeral or requiem Masses in the Church for centuries until the Second Vatican Council allowed use of the vernacular in the mid 1960s.

 

But even with this language change in the Church liturgies, especially the Holy Mass, the traditional Mass using Latin entirely in its prayers, Scripture readings, and blessings, many of which are chanted, called "Gregorian Chant," is still celebrated, although rarely, nowadays. And many prefer it to the Mass in English because the Latin language exudes a sense of the sacred, which helps in worshiping with greater reverence and devotion.

 

Unfortunately, even Catholics who still profess the Faith but grew up in the Novus Ordo Mass (New Mass in the vernacular) do not have a proper appreciation and understanding of the Latin prayers. The same is true for some of those who, for one reason or another, have left for groups that do not believe in the Holy Eucharist. Worse, some have gone to the extent of unwittingly making fun of the chanted parts of the Latin Mass, probably without realizing this is offensive and is in poor taste.

 

The prayers at Mass, chanted or not, belong to the sacred because they are prayers directed to Almighty God by those who believe and worship Him.

 

Like the Prayers in the Latin Mass, the "Pie Iesu" derives its beauty from the fact that they are prayers, and their sacredness is enhanced by that language, Latin, which is the language of the Church now substituted by the vernacular at Mass for better understanding by the faithful.

 

The "Pie Iesu," whose lyrics are translated in English below, is a prayer that is sung to ask God for mercy and the eternal peace of souls:

 

"Pie Iesu," -- Merciful Jesus, 
"Qui tollis peccata mundi" -- who takes away the sins of the world
"Agnus Dei" -- Lamb of God
"Dona eis requiem" -- Grant them rest
"Sempiternam" -- Forever. 

 

The "Dies Irae, Dies Illa," from where "Pie Iesu " is taken, is chanted below, with English translation.
 
​​

 
The Latin prayers of the Holy Mass, which is the source and summit of the lives of Catholics, help bring us to the realm of the sacred . . . and to the most Holy One: God Himself.

 

Here is the Traditional Catholic Latin Mass of the Angels (De Angelis):

 

 


 

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