“Let my soul die the death of the just, and my last end be like to them.” (Numbers 23, 10.)
Those who recite the Office of the Dead (Officium Defunctorum) will have been struck by the fact that most of its antiphons and responsories are in the first person singular, as if one is preparing for one’s own death, fearing the ineluctable judgement of God and the uncertain fate of one’s soul.
For this reason, it may be appropriate as a private devotion to recite this Office, suitably modified in a few particulars, precisely as a meditation on and prayer for a merciful judgement, as follows:
1. Replace the Invitatory Antiphon Regem cui omnia vivunt with the following (once used in the churches of the Netherlands):
Invit. Aña. Circumdedérunt me gémitus mortis, * Dolóres inférni circumdedérunt me.
(Ps. 17, 5a. 6a; cf. Ps. 114, 3; cf. 2 Reg. 22, 5a. 6a)
2. In every place, omit Requiem æternam… Et lux perpetua… (This better parallels the Office of the Paschal Triduum, upon whose model the Office of the Dead was drawn up in Carolingian times.)
3. Replace the versicle before the lessons of each Nocturn with those from the Carthusian Office of the Dead, which better match the other Matins antiphons and responsories, which are all in the first person singular, rather than the third person plural used in the corresponding versicles in the Roman Office of the Dead:
V. Convértere, Dómine, et éripe ánimam meam.
R. Salvum me fac propter misericórdiam tuam. (Ps 6, 5)
V. Custódi ánimam meam, et érue me.
R. Non erubéscam, quóniam sperávi in te. (Ps. 24, 20)
V. Ne perdas cum ímpiis, Deus, ánimam meam.
R. Et cum viris sánguinum vitam meam. (Ps. 25, 9)
4. Replace the 2nd Responsory Qui Lazarum resuscitasti (the only one explicitly praying for the dead) with the shorter 9th Responsory Libera me Domine de viis (which is appointed to be used when only one Nocturn is said).
5. In the 3rd and 6th Responsories, having omitted Requiem, repeat the whole of the response instead. (This is already the case for the longer 9th Responsory Libera me Domine de morte, appointed to be used when all three Nocturns are said, and better parallels the Office of the Paschal Triduum.)
6. Pro pia devotione, after the last Responsory at Matins, insert the Dies iræ as a further meditation on the last judgement, but omitting its last three verses from Lacrimosa onwards (which have a different metre and tune, and whose last verse, Pie Jesu, is a prayer for the dead), and replacing them with a doxology sometimes found in older sources that fits the metre of the piece, and appointed in the modern Divine Office (reading Nos not Me) for use with the Dies iræ, which is therein chopped into three parts for use at the Hours in the last week before Advent:
O tu, Deus majestátis,
Alme candor Trinitátis,
Me conjúnge cum beátis. Amen.
(The length of this is approximately the same as that of the Te Deum used at this same position in festal Matins.)
7. In the preces, replace the versicle A porta inferi (which is in the third person plural) with the following, using the exact text of the antiphon for the Canticle of Isaias (which is in the first person singular):
V. A porta ínferi.
R. Erue, Dómine, ánimam meam. (Cf. Is. 38, 10 & 17)
8. Replace the versicle Audivi vocem at Lauds and Vespers (which is in the third person plural) with the following (which is in the first person singular):
V. Non intres in judícium cum servo tuo, Dómine.
R. Quia non justificábitur in conspéctu tuo omnis vivens. (Ps. 142, 2)
9. At Vespers, instead of reciting Psalm 145, Lauda, anima mea, Dominum, as part of the preces, it seems more appropriate to use Psalm 141, Voce mea ad Dominum clamavi, which St Francis prayed with his dying breath, and which is used together with Psalm 129 at Lauds in the Carmelite Office of the Dead.
10. Simply omit the versicle Requiésca(n)t in pace (which is in the third person) in its position before the Collect, but replace it after the Collect with the following (which is in the first person singular, and has exactly twice as many syllables):
V. In te, Dómine, sperávi, non confúndar in ætérnum. (Ps. 30, 2)
11. Replace the Collect(s) for the dead with the following Collect for a Good Death:
Omnípotens et miséricors Deus, qui humáno géneri et salútis remédia et vitæ ætérnæ múnera contulísti: réspice propítius nos fámulos tuos, et ánimas réfove, quas creásti; ut, in hora éxitus eárum, absque peccáti mácula tibi Creatóri suo per manus sanctórum Angelórum repræsentári mereántur. Per Dóminum nostrum Jesum Christum Fílium tuum, qui tecum vivit et regnat in unitáte Spíritus Sancti, Deus, per omnia sǽcula sæculórum. R. Amen.