St. Cecilia Schola Cantorum St. Cecilia Schola Cantorum
Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Discovering the "Tenebrae," or liturgy of the shadows, has been quite an education for us. Information is not easy to come by. The most important resource we found only after having mined the books mentioned here: it is Ceremonies of the Liturgical Year by Msgr. Peter J. Elliott (Ignatius Press, 2002), pp. 208-214.

As the author explains, the preconciliar reform of the Triduum meant that the Tenebrae took on a new status as a "para-liturgy," and the postconciliar reform meant that further flexibility was added to this rite. In modern times, he recommends the evening of Good Friday for the liturgy, following the celebration of the Lord's Passion and the Veneration of the Cross.

Msgr. Elliott provides two broad options: the traditional rite or an adapted form of the Office. In either case, the clery do not wear stoles and copes but rather choir dress. He further confirms that the most notable aspect of the liturgy is the gradual extinguishing of the candles leading to total darkness followed by a loud sound to symbolize the earthquake at the time of our Lord's death. (Other sources makes mention of the symbolism of the closing tomb.)

The loud sound is called the "Strepitus" which this dictionary renders as "destruction." Msgr. Elliott says that the traditional method of hitting choir books on the rail is "less effective" to a more elaborate method, which would involve a hammer and wood.

Our own Tenebrae is adapted to parish needs, includes a brief Gospel and two Psalms, the first of which is read in ten parts and the second is read total, after which the final candle is extinguished. The entire congregation says the Lord's Prayer in darkness. This is followed by the Strepitus and a period of meditation. The lights again rise dimly and people leave.

This first parish Tenebrae we expect to last no more than twenty minutes. Next year and following we hope to add more traditional aspects as the congregation becomes more familiar with the liturgy.

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