The Rite Note – A Blog from the Balcony Part II – From the Shadows

Blog from the Balcony Part II – From the Shadows

In Part I, I mentioned that the solemn processions of Holy Week are one of the key features that set it apart from the other major feasts and celebrations of the Church’s liturgical year.  Well, a second key feature of Holy Week’s uniqueness is TENEBRAE.

The Church’s official public prayer (as opposed to private devotions) is the LITURGY – which consists of the

Tenebrae 2011

EUCHARIST (its ultimate expression), the other SACRAMENTS and sacramentals, and the DIVINE OFFICE (or the LITURGY OF THE HOURS).  The Liturgy of the Hours marks periods of time throughout each day with prayer and readings from scripture to help us focus on God in a meditative dialogue that helps sanctify us and what we are otherwise doing.

On Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday of Holy Week, we have the special and beautiful celebration of the “Morning Prayer” period of the Hours.  Called TENEBRAE for these 3 special days, which comes from the Latin for “from the shadows”, it was originally celebrated after midnight to really mark the morning or beginning of the new day.  Today, of course, “Morning Prayer” has been moved to the more convenient daylight start of each day, but in Tenebrae special symbolism is used to try to regain the real darkness of the former early hours so that a “shadowy” sacred and sober mood is presented.  The intent is to remind us of the events in Christ’s life from Holy Thursday’s Last Supper, through His suffering and death, to His entombment during Holy Saturday.  The lighting of the church is diminished and a large candelabra of from 7 to 15 candles is placed at the center of our gathering to symbolically provide our only light.  Throughout each morning’s liturgy the candles are gradually extinguished, representing the fleeing of the Apostles, until there is only one lit candle left, the “Christ candle.”  And on Saturday during the final canticle of the morning, that “Christ candle” is taken away signifying the burial of Jesus.

The gloom of our surroundings is meant to unite our prayers to the suffering Christ, as well as to all those experiencing darkness in their lives.  The prayers are penitential in tone.  Each psalm or canticle, and especially the day’s lessons taken from the prophet Jeremiah’s Book of Lamentations, recalls the Israelites’ mournful plight over the Babylonian destruction in 587 B.C. of the Temple in Jerusalem and their subsequent exile into captivity.  These events were foreshadowings of Christ’s “destruction” and temporary “exile” from our presence.

The drama of these Hours is further enhanced in the Dominican tradition by the beautiful chanting of Jeremiah’s Lamentations.  The powerfully mournful, if haunting, tone of these chants can connect us with those moments in our own lives when we have fallen.  By making these psalms and lamentations our own, we can seek pardon for our own sins, as well as those of the whole world.  We can reflect on any of the ways in which we as human beings have turned away from being the image and likeness of God.  And we can especially unite ourselves and our suffering with the suffering of Christ and those in physical, emotional and spiritual need, turning again to God as the source of our life, our sweetness and our hope.

Tenebrae begins at 8:15am Thursday through Saturday of Holy Week, and lasts around 20 minutes.  Hopefully you’ll join us, even before going into work, as another way to immerse yourself in the wonderful and powerful mysteries of Holy Week.

More to come – stay tuned!

Jim Guinasso, Liturgical Singer