April 12, 2017

Tenebrae: Why is it Important to the Easter Triduum?

Lamentation over the Dead Christ
Lamentation over the Dead Christ, Sandro Botticelli, c. 1481.

Tenebrae, the Latin word for “shadow,” is the name of the ancient liturgy that engages our senses to help us understand the anguish of our Lord Jesus Christ as He was preparing to die for the sins of the whole world. It entails the public recitation (in a church) of Matins and Lauds, the first two hours of the Divine Office, on the evening before or early morning of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday. One of the most conspicuous features of the service is the gradual extinguishing of candles until only a single candle remains, considered a symbol of our Lord. As the church gets darker and darker, we sense the great emotional and physical pain that was very real for Jesus as His hour approached. Toward the end of the service, the Christ candle is hidden, typifying the apparent victory of the forces of evil over good. At the conclusion of the liturgy a loud noise is made, symbolizing the earthquake at the time of His death on the cross.

Prayer to Jesus Christ Crucified

Lord Jesus, I thank You, who laid down Your life for me so meekly. You bore the nails so patiently, You were raised upon the cross so mercilessly, You hung there so painfully, You wept so bitterly, You cried aloud piercingly, You shed Your blood plentifully, and for me, a sinner, You suffered death unquestionably. 

Now, Lord Jesus, I commend myself to Your love, to the power of Your passion, to the depths of Your endless mercy. Jesus Christ, in Your immeasurable pity, keep alive within me the memory of Your bitter death, of Your holy wounds, so that in sickness and in health, I may remember always Your abounding mercy. Amen.

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