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Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Tenebrae Wednesday
So tomorrow night is one of my favorites in the Church's liturgical year, the Wednesday of Holy Week which means: Tenebrae.

Tenebrae is the name given to the service of singing lamentations belonging to the last three days of Holy Week. Originally, Matins on these days, like Matins at all other seasons of the year, were sung shortly after midnight, and consequently if the lights were extinguished the darkness was complete. On Friday the candles and lamps were gradually extinguished during the three Nocturns, while on Saturday the church was in darkness from beginning to end, save that a single candle was kept near the lectern to read by. All this suggests, as Kutschker has remarked, that the Office of these three days was treated as a sort of funeral service, or dirge, commemorating the death of Jesus Christ.

The noise made at the end of Tenebrae undoubtedly had its origin in the signal given by the master of ceremonies for the return of the ministers to the sacristy. But at a later date others lent their aid in making this knocking. For example Patricius Piccolomini says: "The prayer being ended the master of ceremonies begins to beat with his hand upon the altar step or upon some bench, and all to some extent make a noise and clatter." This was afterwards symbolically interpreted to represent the convulsion of nature which followed the death of Jesus Christ.

I went to the Tenebrae service at the Church of the Sepulchre in Jerusalem my first year in Israel and it was distracting to say the least. First of all because of the infighting between Christian sects, the Church closes every day by about sundown (a respected Muslim family of Jerusalem opens and closes the Church every day, so as to minimize infighting between the sects). All this means that you can't have a traditional Catholic Tenebrae service at its appropriate time of the day. It was held in the afternoon, in Latin, and there was just too many tourists crawling all over the Church in 400 different languages.

The Tenebrae services at Notre Dame were always very spiritual experiences for me, so I hope tomorrow night's service at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle lives up to the ND standard.

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