For those who might not be familiar (as I was not!), the Tenebrae service – Latin for ‘shadow’ – is a traditional way of entering into the Sacred Triduum. The church is minimally lit, with a ‘hearse’ of 15 candles placed in front of the altar in the sanctuary. There are fifteen psalms that are chanted, and after each one concludes one of the candles is extinguished. Between sets of the psalms, readings taken from the Scriptures and Church Fathers are read.
The fifteenth candle, after the final psalm is chanted, is taken out of the sacristy. The Christus Factus Est is chanted by the leader or a cantor, followed by all quietly reciting the Our Father together. The closing prayer is offered and the strepitus – a loud noise – marks the closing of the tomb of Christ, the close of Lent, and our entrance into the Triduum.
Tenebrae captures the imagination and heart – as one works their way through the chanting of each psalm, the prayer works its way into those present. This year was our parish cluster’s introduction to the tradition and despite ordering 50 books, many of us ended up sharing with the person next to us (including the priest & altar server!).
After the service no small number of parishioners expressed how touched they were to be part of this prayer. I daresay we will be making this a staple of our Triduum celebrations!