Tenebrae

Tenebrae

It’s Holy Week, and so last night we walked over to the Priory at the Dominican House of Studies last night at 7pm for Tenebrae. Dr. John Grondelski writes that Tenebrae is a “treasure hidden in shadow:”

Tenebrae, or a Service of Shadows, was once part of the Church’s Divine Office during Holy Week. It is a service of psalms and readings, primarily from the Book of Lamentations. As the service progressed, the 15 candles on a special candelabrum (a “hearse”) would be progressively extinguished, until the last candle was removed from the sanctuary, leaving the church in darkness. The departure of the last candle was accompanied by a strepitus, a “great noise” that alluded to the earthquake when Jesus died, accomplished by the pounding of breviaries, hymnals, or stamping of feet. …

Tenebrae reinforces the Passiontide character of Holy Week. It reintroduces Catholics to the anticipation of the Passion already found in the Book of Lamentations, accompanied by the “sacramental/sensible” element. In one sense, it is a “bookend” to the Paschal Vigil that leads into Easter: just as the rising light in the church from the newly kindled Paschal candle illumines the faithful, so the vanishing light in the church from the extinguished candles reminds us that we, as sinners, without Christ, “dwell in darkness” (see John 12:35,46). Some of us would fault the reformed liturgy for imbalance, focusing on Resurrection and light without giving sufficient emphasis to the fact the path to Resurrection led through Calvary because of the darkness of sin.

Tenebrae is powerful. It was a warm and slightly windy night on our walk home.