10 April 2020


Tenebrae is a haunting and unique liturgy in the Church year.  It is a combination of the Office of Readings and Morning prayer.  During the recitation of Psalms, readings, canticles, responsories, and intercessions, candles are extinguished from the Tenebrae candle hearse, a candelabra made specifically for the occasion.


Born from a time when Churches were lit by candlelight, and the Triduum Services took place in the day time, before electric lights.  Tenebrae took place at night, often ending around midnight.  Throughout the service, everyone was cast into darkness.

Tenebrae factae sunt, Darkness fell over earth, was, traditionally, the eighth responsory for Holy Week and the fifth responsory of Matins for Good Friday.

Towards the end of the service, the last candle would be placed behind a sheet, to represent Christ going into the tomb, and then extinguished.  At that time, a loud ruckus would be made. The crotalus is a fairly traditional method for this noise.  The crotalus is also used to replace bells during the Easter Triduum.  I have seen two versions.  One is more of a gavel on a hinge, the other more of a rachet noisemaker.

from iccorsicana.org

This year seems a perfect time to celebrate Tenebrae at home to commemorate Good Friday.  While we do not have a Tenebrae candle hearse, we arranged the candles on the altar in an appropriate fashion.

There are six of us, and six psalms (three for the Office of Readings, three for Morning Prayer) so each person will get to extinguish a candle after a psalm.  At the end, I'll take the Easter candle from last year into the adjoining room, and extinguish it.  The kids will then go to bed in silence.

While our home celebration does not use the same responsories and rubrics that would have been used in antiquity, it is an opportunity to descend into the tomb and help all of us participate more fully in the mysteries of the Easter Triduum.

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