For those who may be new to our parish, or new to the Traditional Latin mass and its related liturgical traditions, or even if you have been a parishioner for awhile but never ventured to attend Tenebrae, I encourage you to read this post about it, and try attending!
The following notes on Tenebrae come from commentary on the liturgical readings of the year, by Fr. Leonard Goffine:
What is Tenebrae, and what is its meaning?
It is the divine office which the clergy say on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday nights in Holy Week, accompanied by the lamentations of the Prophet Jeremiah, and other ceremonies. The word Tenebrae means darkness, and represents the prayers formerly said in the dark hours of the morning. In the Tenebrae the Church mourns the passion and death of Jesus and urges her children to return to God; she therefore makes use of those mournful words of Jeremiah: “Jerusalem! Jerusalem, be converted to the Lord, thy God!”
Why is Tenebrae said in the evening?
In memory of that time when the early Christians spent the whole night preceding great festivals in prayer, but later, when zeal diminished, it was observed only by the clergy on the eves of such festivals; also in order that we may consider the darkness, lasting for three hours, at the crucifixion of Christ, hence the name Tenebrae; and lastly to represent by it that mourning, of which darkness is the type.
Why, during the prayers of the clergy/choir, are the lights in the triangular candlestick extinguished one after another?
Because the Tenebrae, as has been already remarked, in the earliest times of the Church, were held in the night, the candles were extinguished one after another, as the daylight gradually approached they were no longer necessary; again, at the time of the passion and death of Jesus, His apostles whom He calls the light of the world, one after another gradually left Him; at the death of Christ the earth was covered with darkness. The Jews, blinded by pride, would not recognize Christ as the Savior of the world, and therefore fell by His death into the deepest darkness of hardened infidelity.
What is meant by the last candle which is carried lighted behind the altar, and after prayers are finished, is brought back again?
This candles signifies Christ, who on the third day came forth from the grave, by His own power, as the true light of the world, though according to His human nature He died and lay in the grave until the third day.
Why is the noise made with clattering at the end of the Tenebrae?
This was formerly a sign that service was over; it also signifies the earthquake which took place at Christ’s death.
Some other practical notes about Tenebrae at our parish:
If you plan on attending, please take note that the choir members sit in the front two pews on both sides of the nave, women/men on separate sides, and we alternate chanting the verses of the psalms. The priests attend “in choir” in the sanctuary, and chant the lessons that separate the psalms during Matins. The candle “hearse” is at the front, shaped like a triangle, with 15 candles.
When you come, there will be Tenebrae booklets available near the doors, for you to follow along with the choir, and meditate on the psalms/readings. If booklets become scarce, don’t worry! You can also find the service of Tenebrae in Latin/English toward the back of the missals that are at the ends of all the pews. It likely will be located somewhere after the Masses for the Dead.
As each psalm is completed, 1 candle is extinguished, until only the lone candle at the top is left. The candles on the high altar are extinguished when the Benedictus is chanted, and then the famous “Christus Factus est” chant is sung at the end, while the candle representing Christ is hidden, so there is total darkness. Then, the clattering noise (the strepitus) is made by banging our books for only several seconds, until the “Christ candle” is returned to view again. Then all commotion ceases, and all depart in silence & darkness.
Personally, I wanted to urge you to consider coming if you haven’t before, and experience this deeply moving, and prayerful part of Holy Week at Mater Dei. When I first encountered Tenebrae, I was struck by its intensity to help lay faithful enter into Holy Week with a greater degree of contemplation. It is like a mini religious retreat for lay people. And so I made it one of my first priorities to make the richness of Tenebrae available to my fellow parishioners at Mater Dei. It has also become the most treasured part of Holy Week for many choir members as well.
This year, on both Wednesday and Friday evenings, members of Schola Marianum will sing some of Tomas Luis de Victoria’s polyphonic settings of the responsories between the lessons.
Victoria was a devout Catholic priest, and prolific composer of Catholic music. He is considered probably the greatest Spanish composer of the Renaissance, and is known widely for his musical works during Holy Week, and requiems. You will hear many other selections composed by him during the liturgies of Holy Week, and look for a coming post on the schedule of music for next week.
Kimberly Walters – Music Director