This Holy Week, all are invited to enter more deeply into the mystery of Christ’s Passion by attending the ancient service of Tenebrae. Led by the St. John Vianney Vesper Choir under the direction of Dr. Michael Ging, this liturgy features psalms, canticles, and the mournful Lamentations of Jeremiah, all sung by candlelight.
In addition to the Mass there are other liturgies that make up the Catholic Church’s cycle of public worship, including Matins, Lauds, Vespers, and Compline. These form the Liturgy of the Hours, also known as the Divine Office, which mark the hours of each day with specific prayers, readings, and psalms. Tenebrae is the Latin word for “darkness” or “shadows,” and refers to the celebration of Matins and Lauds during Holy Week. Celebrated after sundown, a salient feature of the ancient liturgy is the gradual extinguishing of candles to the point of complete darkness, foreshadowing the bleakness of Good Friday. The service consists of singing hymns, psalms and canticles. The scriptural readings are the mournful and evocative Lamentations of Jeremiah the Prophet, which draw a parallel between the apostasy of Israel and the destruction of the temple with the abandonment and betrayal of Christ by his disciples. Perhaps the most familiar aspect of the Tenebrae service is the singing of King David’s penitential Psalm 51, “Have Mercy on Me, O God,” set by some of the greatest Western composers beginning in the Renaissance.