This Time of Year and the Dies Irae

This Time of Year and the Dies Irae

Funny how some times are more pronounced than others. What are they for you? Is it Spring’s freshness? Or Summer’s sparseness (for those living in the summerless lands!)? What season does what to you? Autumn turning into Winter speaks of the end of life.

Once upon a time an old professor, who’d seen enough exam papers to last a lifetime, decided to change things around. Students weren’t what they were when he was a lad. Back then the entrance exam to the Classics department was to translate sections of the day’s London Times into Homer’s Greek, and Cicero’s Latin. The students had no prior knowledge of the texts presented to them – they simply had to know how to do the task. This was even before they started university. Today his former university doesn’t even have a Classics department. He decided to give his dear students grades based on talent rather than nothing.

Being an old traditional kind of chap, who was eventually buried according the ancient rites of Holy Mother Church, he set them a challenge – if they could sing the Dies Irae for him they would pass the course.

They did so, and they sung it as a choir. Fortunately, the class had a trained singer among them – she guided them to a reasonable standard.

When they came to perform, however, there were more than a few who used the heart rather than the head. Memorization was not a virtue that had been encouraged among a younger generation. They had not cultivated a basic human skill. The old professor tried to encourage it as best he could.

The heart, however, as it often does, won out over the head – and the professor smiled as more than a few mimed their way through the piece.

Years later, shortly before he passed away, he bumped into one of that illustrious band of would be monks and nuns. He smiled, remembering the performance from the heart. And his heart was warmed when the student – now more mature and wise than when he had been as a student said: “You know, Professor, whenever Autumn comes around I find myself singing the Dies Irae. It just seems to be there.”

The old professor smiled. He died a happy man – and the students sang at his funeral for the repose of his soul.


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