“Quaerens me sedisti lassus”
I can never read or hear today’s Gospel about the exchange between Jesus and the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well without recalling the beautiful stanza of the Dies irae:
Quaerens me sedisti lassus,
Redemisti crucem passus:
Tantus labor non sit cassus.
[Literally translated: In search of me you sat down weary; / you redeemed me by suffering the Cross. / May so great a labor not be in vain.]
The stanza is preceded by one that is just as beautiful:
Recordare, Iesu pie,
quod sum causa tuae viae;
ne me perdas illa die.
[In your mercy, Jesus, remember / that I am the reason for your journey. / Do not permit me to be lost on that fateful day.]
I find the two verses infinitely consoling. The “I” and the “me,” of course, are not only the poet, but every reader or singer of this great hymn.
Here are two paragraphs about the hymn, taken from a Lutheran site:
Thomas de Celano, friend and biographer of Francis of Assisi, is generally credited with the authorship of this great medievel sequence, the opening lines of which are taken verbatim from the Vulgate version of Zeph. 1:15. Julian, writing of the general acceptance of this hymn, declares:
The hold which this sequence has had upon the minds of men of various nations and creeds has been very great. Goethe uses it, as is well known, in his Faust with great effect. It also furnishes a grand climax to Canto VI in Sir Walter Scott’s Lag of the Last Minstrel. It has been translated into many languages, in some of which the renderings are very numerous, those in German numbering about ninety and those in English about one hundred and sixty. In Great Britain and America no hymn-book of any note has appeared during the past hundred years without the “Dies Irae” being directly or in directly represented therein. Daniel, writing from a German standpoint, says:
“Even those to whom the hymns of the Latin Church are almost entirely unknown, certainly know this one; and if any one can be found so alien from human nature that they have no appreciation of sacred poetry, yet, as a matter of certainty, even they would give their minds to this hymn, of which every word is weighty, yes, even a thunderclap.”
From another standpoint, Archbishop Trench says:
“Nor is it hard to account for its popularity. The meter so grandly devised, of which I remember no other example, fitted though it has here shown itself for bringing out some of the noblest powers of the Latin language—the solemn effect of the triple rime, which has been likened to blow following blow of the hammer on the anvil, the confidence of the poet in the universal interest of his theme, a confidence which has made him set out his matter with so majestic and unadorned a plainness as at once to be intelligible to all,—these merits, with many more, have given the Dies Irae a foremost place among the masterpieces of sacred song.”—Sac. Lat. Poetry, 1874, p. 302.
The hymn was dropped from funeral Masses after Vatican II, and I wonder how familiar it is to most Catholics today.