Office of the Dead, with a putto playing with ermines. 1517-1520



             Lessons 1 – 6

As early as the ninth century, Amalarius remarked the similarity between the dirge and the Office which commemorates the death of our Lord. There is the same lack of hymns, doxologies, absolutions, and blessings; the same suppression of the customary introduction Domine labia men aperies, Dens in adjutorium meum intende. There is this difference however: that the Office of Holy Week has no Invitatory; while that of the Dead has either always kept it, or long ago taken it up again. This Invitatory, like the first Psalm of Vespers, is a song of love and hope: Come, let us adore the King, to whom all things live. Beyond the tomb, as well as on this side of it, all men are living in the sight of him who is one day to raise them up again. In the language of the Church, the grave-yard is the cemetery, that is the dormitory where her children sleep; And they themselves are defuncti, labourers who have finished their task and are awaiting their recompense. Rome has been better inspired than some other churches, where the Antiphon chosen as refrain to the joyous Venite exmltemus was: Circumdederunt me gemitua mortis; dolores inferni circumdederunt me. Were we to make an historical study of the Office of the Dead, which however is beyond the limits of the present work, we should find innumerable instances of such variations, always to the advantage of the mother-church.


Ant. Come, let us adore the King, to whom all things live.

Come let us rejoice in the Lord, let us make a joyful noise to God our Saviour: let us approach his presence in praise, and let us sing joyfully in psalms to him. Come, let us adore the King, to whom all things live. Because the Lord is a great God, and a great King above all gods: because the Lord repels not his people, for in his hands are all the bounds of the earth: and he beholds the heights of the mountains.

Ant. Come, let us adore.

Because the sea is his, and he made it, and his hands formed the dry land: come, let us adore, and fall down before God: let us lament before the Lord that made us: because he is the Lord our God: and we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.

Ant. Come let us adore the King, to whom all things live*

To-day, if you shall hear his voice, harden not your hearts, as in the provocation, according to the day of temptation in the wilderness: where your fathers tempted me, they proved, and saw my works.

Come, let us adore. Forty years was I nigh to this generation, and said, they always err in their hearts: and have not known my ways, to whom I swore in my wrath, that they should not enter into my rest.

Ant. Come, let us adore the King, to whom all things live.

Grant them eternal rest, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine on them.

Ant. Come, let us adore.

Ant. Come, let us adore the King, to whom all things live.

This opening of the Office shows us what prominence the Church gives to thanksgiving and praise in her prayers for the dead.


The first Psalm expresses the overflowing gratitude and praise of the soul escaped from the snares of sinners, at that first dawn of her eternally secured salvation, when she took her place among the holy ones in Purgatory. With what confidence she entrusts to our Lord the care of directing her along the painful and purifying way, which is to lead her to the very entrance of God’s house!

Ant. Direct, O Lord, my God, my way in thy sight.

    Psalm 5 – Verba mea

Give ear, O Lord, to my words: hearken to my cry. Attend to the voice of my prayer: my King and my God.

Because I will pray to thee: O Lord, in the morning thou wilt hear my voice. In the morning I will stand by thee and will see: for thou art not a God that wiliest iniquity. Neither shall the wicked dwell near thee: nor the unjust abide before thy eyes. Thou hatest all that work iniquity: thou wilt destroy all that speak lies.

The bloody and deceitful man the Lord will abhor: but I, in the multitude of thy mercies, Will enter into thy house:

I will adore at thy holy temple in thy fear. Conduct me, O Lord, in thy justice: because of my enemies, direct my way in thy sight. Because there is no truth in their mouth: their heart is vain. Their throat is a gaping sepulchre, they dealt deceitfully with their tongues: judge them, O God. Let them fail in their designs: according to the multitude of their impieties expel them, for they have provoked thee, O Lord. And let all be glad that hope in thee, they shall rejoice for ever: and thou wilt dwell in them. And all that love thy name shall glory in thee, because thou wilt bless the just.

Lord, as with a shield of thy good-will thou hast crowned us.

Grant them eternal rest, O Lord: And let perpetual light shine on them.

Ant. Direct, O Lord, my God, my way in thy sight.

The soul has been heard: the time of mercy being at an end, justice has laid hold of her. Under the terrible grasp of this her new guide, and placed in the irresistible light of God’s infinite purity, which lays open her most secret recesses, the flaws in her virtues and every remaining trace of ancient stains, the poor soul feels all her strength fail her. Trembling, she beseeches God not to confound her, in his wrath, with those cursed for ever, whose proximity increases her torment. But her supplication and her fear are still full of love: Lord, save me; for there is none in that death who will be mindful of praising thee.

This Psalm is the first of the seven Penitentials.

Ant. Turn, O Lord, and deliver my soul: for there is none in death who will be mindful of thee.

             Psalm 6

Lord, rebuke me not in thy fury, nor ohastise me in thy wrath. Have mercy on me, O Lord, because I am infirm: heal me, O Lord, because my bones are disordered. And my soul is very much troubled: but thou, 0 Lord, how long P Turn, O Lord, and deliver my soul: save me for thy mercy’s sake.

Because there is none in death that is mindful of thee, and in hell who will praise thee? I have laboured in my sighing, every night I will wash my bed: I will water my couch with my tears. My eye is troubled with fury; I am grown old among all my enemies. Depart from me, all ye that work iniquity: because the Lord has heard the voice of my weeping. The Lord has heard my petition: the Lord has received my prayer.

Let all my enemies blush, and be troubled exceedingly: let them be turned back and ashamed very speedily.

Grant them eternal rest, O Lord: And let perpetual light shine on them.

Ant. Turn, O Lord, and deliver my soul: for there is none in death who will be mindful of thee.

In the following Psalm, David accused by his enemies cries to the Lord against their calumnies. The fear, which causes the soul in Purgatory to prostrate with a holy trembling before God’s justice, has no more shaken her hope than her love; nay, she trusts to the very sentence of her Judge and to the help sought from him, that she may be able to cope with the infernal lion, who pursues her with his roaring in the midst of her poverty and desolation.

Ant. Lest at any time the enemy snatch my soul as a lion, whilst there is none to redeem, nor to save it.

              Psalm 7 – Domine, Deus meus.

O Lord my God, I have hoped in thee: save me from all that persecute me, and deliver me. Lest at any time he snatch away my soul as a lion: whilst there is none to redeem, nor to save it. O Lord my God, if I have done this: if there be iniquity in my hands: If I have repaid to them that returned me evils: let me deservedly fall empty before mine enemies. Let the enemy persecute my soul, and seize it, and tread down my life on the earth; and bring down my glory into dust. Arise, O Lord, in thy wrath; and be exalted in the borders of my enemies. A d arise, O Lord my God, in the precept which thou hast commanded: and an assembly of people shall encompass thee. And for this return on high: the Lord judges the people. Judge me, O Lord, according to my justice: and according to my innocence upon me. The wickedness of sinners shall be consumed, and thou wilt direct the just: who searohest the hearts and reins, O God. My just help is from the Lord: who saves the right of heart. God is a just judge, strong and patient: is he angry every day? Except ye be converted, he will shake his sword: he has bent his bow, and prepared It: And in it he has prepared weapons of death: he has made his arrows with fiery points. Behold he has bred injustice: he has conceived sorrow, and brought forth iniquity. He has opened a pit and digged it up: and he is fallen into the ditch which he made. His sorrow shall be turned upon his head: and his iniquity shall descend upon his crown. I will praise our Lord according to his justice: and will sing to the name of the most high Lord.

Grant them eternal rest, O Lord: And let perpetual light shine on them.

Ant. Lest at any time the enemy snatch my soul as a lion, whilst there is none to redeem, nor to save it.

From the gates of hell. Deliver their souls, O Lord.

After this cry has escaped from the maternal heart of the Church, the whole assembly prays in silence, offering to God the Lord’s Prayer for the departed, who are struggling with the powers of hell. And now, from the midst of this recollected silence rises the single voice of the lector. He receives no benediction, for he is speaking in the name of the holy souls, who have no longer the same right as we have to ask a blessing from the Church. He borrows the accents of the afflicted Job, in order to relate their overwhelming sufferings, their invincible faith, their sublime prayer.

As in the ancient tragedy, the choir intervenes after each Lesson with a Responsory, whose melody is marvellously in keeping with these echoes from beyond the tomb. At one time it is man taking up the words of the dead and making them for his own, or supporting their prayers with his own supplications; at another, terrified at God’s rigour towards souls that are so dear to him, and that are sure of loving him eternally, he trembles for himself a sinner, whose judgment is still uncertain. According to St. Antoninus and Demochares quoted by Gavanti, some of these admirable Responsories were composed by Maurice de Sully, the Bishop of Paris who began to build the Cathedral of Notre-Dame; the greater number, however, were already to be found in earlier Gregorian manuscripts. Other Books of Holy Scripture, besides that of Job, and also the works of St. Augustine, were long used in various places to furnish the Lessons of the Dirge; and it was customary in divers churches to conclude them with the formula: Beati mortui qui in Domino moriuntur. Blessed are the dead, who die in the Lord.

Lesson one – Job 7

Spare me, O Lord, for my days are nothing. What is man, that thou magnifiest him? or why settest thou thy heart towards him? Thou dost visit him early, and suddenly thou provest him: how long dost thou not spare me, nor suffer me to swallow my spittle? I have sinned: what shall I do to thee, O keeper of men? Why hast thou set me contrary to thee, and I am become burdensome to myself? Why dost thou not take away my sin, and why dost thou not take away my iniquity? Behold now I shall sleep in the dust, and if thou seek me in the morning, I shall not be. I believe my Redeemer liveth, and that in the last day I shall rise from the earth, and in my flesh I shall see my Saviour.

I believe my Redeemer liveth, and that in the last day I shall rise from the earth, and in my flesh I shall see my Saviour.

Whom I myself shall see, and not another, and my eyes shall behold. And in my flesh.


Lesson Two – Job 10

My soul is weary of life, I will let my speech loose against myself, I will speak in the bitterness of my soul. I will say to God, Condemn me not; show me why thou judgest me so. Does it seem good to thee, if thou calumniate me, and oppress me, the work of thy hands, and help the design of the impious? Hast thou eyes of flesh; or as a man sees, shalt thou also see? Are thy days as the days of man; and are thy years as the times of men, that thou shouldst seek my iniquity, and search my sin? And thou mayst know that I have done no impious thing; whereas there is no man that can escape out of thy hand.

Thou who didst raise Lazarus fetid from the grave. Thou, O Lord, give them rest, and a place of pardon.

Who art to come to judge the living and the dead, and the world by fire.  Thou, O Lord.

Lesson Three – Job 10

Thy hands have made me, and framed me, wholly round about; and dost thou thus suddenly cast me down headlong? Remember, I beseech thee, that as clay thou didst make me, and into dust thou wilt bring me again. Hast thou not milked me like milk, and curdled me like cheese? With skin and flesh hast thou clothed me: with bones and sinews hast thou bound me. Life and mercy thou hast given me, and thy visitation has kept my spirit.

O Lord, when thou shalt come to judge the earth, where shall I hide myself from the face of thy wrath? * For I have sinned exceedingly in my life.

I dread my misdeeds, and blush before thee: do not condemn me, when thou shalt come to judge. For I have sinned exceedingly in my life.

Grant them eternal rest, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine on them.

For I have sinned exceedingly in my life.

            SECOND NOCTURN

Our astonishment at finding the following Antiphon in the Office of the Dead might elicit from the dear souls the reply: “I have meat to eat which you know not.” And, being just and holy, they might add with our Lord: “My meat is to do the will of my Father.” Seen from such a height in the light of our Antiphon, what a place of pasture is Purgatory! O Lord, who guidest me, who by thy grace deignest to be with me in the midst of this shadow of death; thy rod, by striking me, comforts me; my resignation to thy justice is the oil which flows from my head, and, anointing all my members, strengthens them for battle; my heart, thirsting for submission, has found its inebriating cup. St. John Chrysostom informs us that in his time this Psalm was chanted at Christian funerals, together with the Dilexi our first Psalm of Vespers.

Ant. In a place of pasture, he has put me there.

Commemoration for all the faithful departed - R.I. P.

Psalm 22 – Dominus regit me. 

The Lord rules me, and I shall want nothing: in a place of pasture, he has put me there. Near the refreshing waters, he has brought me up: and has converted my soul. He has conducted me in the paths of justice, for his name’s sake. For though I shall walk in the midst of the shadow of death, I will not fear evils: because thou art with me. Thy rod and thy staff: they have comforted me.

Thou hast prepared in my sight a table: against them that afflict me. Thou hast anointed my head with oil: and my inebriating cup, how excellent is it! And thy mercy shall follow me: all the days of my life.

And that I may dwell in the house of the Lord: for length of days.

Grant them eternal rest, 0 Lord: And let perpetual light shine on them.

Ant. In a place of pasture, he has put me there.

The sins of my youth and my ignorances remember not, O Lord. Would to God that we now examined our conscience as seriously as we shall be forced to do in the place of expiation, in order to repair our present negligence in that respect! Ignorance, which is now considered so excusable, will be a sad thing for those, whose neglect to seek instruction has darkened their faith, lulled their hope to sleep, cooled their love, and falsified on a thousand points their Christian life. Then too must be paid, to the last farthing, the debts of penance accumulated by so many sins, which have been forgiven, it is true, as to the guilt, perhaps long ago, and as long ago entirely forgotten. O God, see my humiliation and my labour!

Ant. The offenses of my youth, and my ignorances remember not, O Lord.

         Psalm 24 – Ad te, Domine.

To thee, 0 Lord, I have lifted up my soul: my God, in thee I put my trust, let me not be ashamed. Neither let my enemies insult over me: for all that hope in thee shall not be confounded. Let all be confounded: who vainly do unjust things. Show me thy ways, O Lord: and teach me thy paths.

Direct me in thy truth, and teach me: because thou art God my Saviour, and thee I have expected all the day. Remember thy compassions, O Lord: and thy mercies that are from the beginning of the world.

The sins of my youth: and my ignorances, remember not.

According to thy mercy do thou remember me: for thy goodness’ sake, 0 Lord.

The Lord is sweet and righteous: for this cause he will give a law to them that sin in the way. He will direct the mild in judgment: he will teach the meek his ways. All the ways of the Lord are mercy and truth: to them that seek his testament and his testimonies. For thy name, 0 Lord, thou wilt be propitious to my sin: for it is great. Who is the man that fears the Lord? He appoints him a law in the way he has chosen. His soul shall abide in good things: and his seed shall inherit the land. The Lord is a support to them that fear him: and that his testament may be manifested to them. My eyes are always towards the Lord: because he will deliver my feet out of the snare.

Look upon me: and have mercy on me: because I am alone and poor. The tribulations of my heart are multiplied: deliver me from my necessities. See my humiliation and my labour: and remit all my sins. Look upon my enemies, for they are multiplied: and with unjust hatred they hated me. Keep my soul, and deliver me: I shall not be ashamed, because I have hoped in thee, The innocent and righteous have adhered to me: because I have expected thee. Deliver Israel, O God, out of all his tribulations.

Grant them eternal rest, O Lord: And let perpetual light shine on them.

Ant. The offenses of my youth, and my ignorances, remember not, O Lord.

On Good Friday the 26th Psalm was sung, to express the unfailing confidence of the Messias throughout his Passion. It was repeated at the Matins of the morrow, to announce his approaching deliverance; and on this latter occasion it was accompanied by the very Antiphon we are now about to sing. As the dwellers in Limbo on the great Saturday when our Saviour was among them, so the souls in Purgatory unite themselves to their divine Head in his expectation of a return to light and life. Their prayer, which the Church also makes her own, is such as may well touch the Heart of our Lord.

Ant. I believe I shall see the good things of the Lord, in the land of the living.

Psalm 26 – Dominus illuminatio.

The Lord is my light and my salvation: whom shall I fear? The Lord is the protector of my life: who shall make me tremble? Whilst the wicked approach to me: to devour my flesh. My enemies that afflict me: themselves are weakened and are fallen. If camps stand against me: my heart shall not fear. If battle rise up against me: in this will I hope. One thing have I asked of the Lord, this will I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life. That I may see the delight of the Lord: and visit his temple. Because he has hid me in his tabernacle: in the day of evils he has protected me in the secret of his tabernacle. On a rock he has exalted me: and now he hath exalted my head above my enemies. I have gone round, and have immolated in his tabernacle a host of loud acclamation: I will sing and say a psalm to the Lord. Hear my voice, O Lord, wherewith I have cried to thee: have mercy on me, and hear me. My heart has spoken to thee, my face has sought thee out: thy face, O Lord, I will seek. Hide not thy face from me: turn not away in wrath from thy servant.

Be thou my helper: forsake me not, nor despise me, O God my Saviour.

Because my father and my mother have forsaken me: but the Lord has received me. Set me a law, O Lord, in thy way; and direct me in the right paths, because of my enemies. Deliver me not to the will of them that afflict me; because unjust witnesses have risen up against me, and iniquity has lied to itself. I believe I shall see the good things of the Lord in the land of the living. Expect the Lord, do manfully: and let thy heart take courage, and expect thou the Lord. Grant them eternal rest, O Lord: And let perpetual light shine on them.

Ant. I believe I shall see the good things of the Lord in the land of the living.

May the Lord place them with the princes. With the princes of his people.

The Choir having echoed in the Versicle the desire of the holy souls, the Pater noster is once more recited in secret. It was at the commencement of the following Lesson, that took place the terrifying scene immortalized by the pencil of Le Sueur in his Life of St. Bruno. According to a tradition preserved in his Order, St. Bruno, while yet a secular, was assisting in Notre Dame at Paris at the funeral service of a renowned Doctor, Raymund Diocres; when at the words:

Responde mihi, quantas habeo iniquitates et peccata, the dead man raised himself upon the bier and uttered the words: “I am accused by the just judgment of “God. So great was the universal consternation, that the Office was deferred to the following day; when in answer to the same question, the dead man again sat up and said: “I am judged by the just judgment “of God.” The interrupted service was begun again on the third day; when at the same juncture, the voice of the unhappy man was heard once more, petrifying the assembly with terror by the awful words: “l am condemned by the just judgment of God.”

Lesson Four – Job 8

Answer me; how many iniquities and sins I have: my crimes and my offenses show me. Why dost thou hide thy face, and esteem me thy enemy? Against the leaf that is carried away with the wind, thou showest thy power, and pursuest a dry straw. For thou writest bitter things against me, and hast a mind to consume me for the sins of my youth. Thou hast put my feet in the stocks, and hast observed all my paths, and hast considered the steps of my feet. Who as rottenness am to be consumed, and as a garment that is eaten by the moth.

Remember me, O God, because my life is but wind: nor may the sight of man behold me.From the depths I have cried to thee, O Lord: Lord, hear my voice. Nor may the sight of man behold me.

Lesson Five – Job 14

Chapters 1-12

Man born of a woman, living a short time, is filled with many miseries. Who as a flower comes forth, and is destroyed, and flies away as a shadow, and never abides in the same state. And dost thou count it a worthy thing, to open thy eyes on such a one, and to bring him with thee into judgment? Who can make him clean that is conceived of unclean seed? Is it not thou who only art? The days of man are short, the number of his months is with thee; thou hast appointed his limits, which cannot be passed. Depart a little from him, that he may rest, till his wished-for day comes, even as that of the hired man.

Woe is me, O Lord, because I have sinned exceedingly in my life: O wretch, what shall I do, whither shall I fly but to thee, my God? Have mercy on me when thou comest at the latter day.

Lesson Six – Job 14

Chapters 13 – 16

My soul is greatly troubled; but thou, O Lord, succour it. Have mercy on me. Who will grant me this, that in hell thou protect me, and hide me till thy fury pass away, and appoint me a time wherein thou wilt remember me? Shall a man that is dead, thinkest thou, live again? All the days, in which I am now in warfare, I expect till my change comes. Thou shalt call me, and I shall answer thee: to the work of thy hands thou shalt stretch out thy right hand. Thou indeed hast numbered my steps, but spare my sins.

Remember not my sins, O Lord, when thou shalt come to judge the world by fire.

V. Direct, O Lord my God, my way in thy sight. When thou shalt come to judge the world by fire.

Grant them eternal rest, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine on them: When.

Here the Lands are recited, when the second Nocturn only is said.

The Liturgical Year – Very Ven. Dom Prosper Gueranger, O.S.B.


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