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a. A funeral hymn or lament.
b. A slow, mournful musical composition.
2. A mournful or elegiac poem or other literary work.
3. Roman Catholic Church The Office of the Dead.
[Middle English, an antiphon at Matins in the Office of the Dead, from Medieval Latin dīrige Domine, direct, O Lord (the opening words of the antiphon), imperative of dīrigere, to direct; see direct.]
Word History: The Office of the Dead is a traditional ecclesiastical office (a cycle of prayers) of the Roman Catholic Church that is sung or recited for the repose of the soul of a deceased person. Although the form of this ancient ritual has varied through the ages, in medieval times it consisted of a vespers service, a requiem mass, and a following service of matins and lauds. The traditional liturgical language of the Roman Catholic Church is Latin, and the first antiphon of the matins service of the Office of the Dead consists of the Latin words "Dīrige, Domine," "Direct, O Lord," a shorter version of a phrase occurring later in the liturgy, "Dīrige, Domine, Deus Meus, in cōnspectū tuō viam meam," "Direct, O Lord, my God, my way in thy sight." In Middle English, the matins of the Office came to be called dirige, after the opening word of the service. Dirige could also be used to refer to the entire Office of the Dead, not just the matins service, and the word was often shortened to dirge. Later, in the 1500s, dirge began to take on the more general senses of "a funeral hymn or lament" and "a mournful poem or musical composition."
American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition. Copyright © 2016 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.