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Thursday, 2 April 2015

Tenebrae Again

I love Tenebrae, and started it already, as it begins on Wednesday, if you desire, and moves through Thursday, and Friday, anticipating, if sung at night, the Matins and Lauds of Thursday, Friday and Saturday of Holy Week. In the monasteries, one waits until early Thursday morning, Matins and Lauds.

I do the Matins on Wednesday night and then continue with the Lauds on Thursday, but I am alone and can change the order. The rest I do as indicated, Friday Matins and Lauds together, and Saturday Matins and Lauds together. If I start on Wednesday, I feel as if I am preparing more reflectively for Holy Thursday.

My first introduction to Tenebrae was in 1980 at Notre Dame. The singing and presentation were spectacular and extremely prayerful. Then, when I lived in England, I attended Tenebrae, as several parishes where I lived held the Wednesday night anticipation. Because I am in the States, I have no idea where Tenebrae could be occurring outside of the Benedictine Monasteries, so I just do it on my own.

If you have the Baronius Press publication of the 1962 Missal, Tenebrae may be found there.

I know Tenebrae is held in England, the Netherlands, Italy, and in other European countries. I have no idea why Americans have not continued the custom. It is supposed to begin two hours before dawn on Thursday in monasteries, or the night before on the Wednesday in parishes. A bare altar with a 15 candelabra fills the sanctuary, and after each Psalm, (and these are all sung), a candle is extinguished, until the church is dark. Sometimes one candle is left lit as the choir processes out with that candle.

When all is dark in the parish version, the people in the pews pick up their song books and bang them on the pew fronts, making the sound of the earthquake when Christ died, or, as some want to state the sound of the Resurrection.

From YouTube, one version. A sublime composition, and the Benedictus is wonderful! One can hear the choir processing out, and I can imagine that happening with the one candle leading them away, leaving all the rest in the congregation in darkness.

My post from 2012

Wednesday, 4 April 2012


If you are fortunate enough to live near a church which has Tenebrae, I encourage you to go. I miss this special Holy Wednesday service, which begins with a procession of lit candles and proceeds through the singing of theLamentations of Jeremiah, with a candle being extinguished until the entire church is in darkness. Then, the congregation takes the hymnals and bangs them on the pews to create the sound of the earthquake which happened when Christ died.

Tenebrae means shadow or darkness. The ancient form was, as this note from Catholic Encyclopedia states,  On the three days before Easter", says Benedict XIV (Institut., 24), "Lauds follow immediately on Matins, which in this occasion terminate with the close of day, in order to signify the setting of the Sun of Justice and the darkness of the Jewish people who knew not our Lord and condemned Him to the gibbet of the cross."

The simplicity of the service, which is only a meditation on the Death of Christ, is a fitting beginning to the grand liturgies of the Triduum.

"How doth the city sit solitary that was full of people; How is the mistress of the Gentiles become as a widow; the princess of provinces made tributary! Weeping she hath wept in the night, and her tears are on her cheeks. There is none to comfort her among all them that were dear to her: all her friends have despised her, they are become her enemies."

Several of the Psalms are also sung, with some readings from St. Augustine on the Psalms.

"Think not, therefore, that the wicked are in this world without a purpose, and that God worketh no good out of them. Every wicked man liveth, either that he many himself be corrected, or that through him some good man may be exercised."