Thursday, March 24, 2016

An Episcopal Service of Tenebrae, 2016

I LOVE the service of Tenebrae and this is the third year we have held it at St. Paul's Episcopal in New Orleans! We used to be the only ones who did it in our area, but now there are more....YAY!! 
It is so lovely and is a highlight of Holy Week. The 40 pages of mostly plainsong includes wrenching passion from the psalms and poignant readings. It is also quite special to have a service of prayer and meditation under cover of darkness. It can be stunning. Last year, I wrote a post about Tenebrae itself. HERE, you can read that. For this post, I simply wanted to share some photos I took last night and say that if you can attend this service next year, DO IT! 
The Origins of Tenebrae
The liturgy offered this night is the full, ancient form of Tenebrae. Tenebrae is a Latin word signifying “darkness,” “shadows,” and “obscurity.” It is a word that pointedly calls our attention to the scriptural accounts of our Lord’s crucifixion: The name of this service is taken from the opening words of the fifth responsory: “Tenebrae factae sunt”—“darkness came over the whole land” (Mark 15:33; also, Matthew 27:45; Luke 23:44).

It is a moving descent into the darkest days of the church year as we descend into darkness and await the ascension into light at The Great Vigil of Easter. The Medieval offices of Matins and Lauds which were combined to create Tenebrae were the usual morning offices recited by the monastic communities ministering in the Roman basilicas and collegiate churches of Europe. At Matins the morning is greeted with prayer even before the sun rises and they developed out of the nocturnal times of prayer and watchfulness (vigiliae) that were common in the early church. Matins traditionally included three distinct sections called Nocturns (meaning “divisions of the night”). The office of Lauds, which in Tenebrae follows the Third Nocturn of Matins, is the traditional morning prayer of the church in the western world. The word “laud” means “to sing or speak the praises of” and originally implied a formal act of worship.
The union of the two liturgies produced a ritual greater than the sum of its parts. Through their correlation with the systematic extinguishing of candles unique to Tenebrae, those who originated the ceremony gave a new and greater interpretive task to the psalms and canticles. As noted, in their new liturgical context these poignant scriptural laments serve as commentary upon the darkness that gradually enshrouds the church and ominously envelops Jesus’ life during Holy Week.

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