I have been trying to find a Tenebrae service to attend this Holy Week but to no avail. Most churches do not have them and those that do seem to hold them just before or just after I can get near to them (grrrrr).
Tenebrae (Latin for 'shadows') is a service going back to the Mediaeval period. It originally took place very early in the mornings over Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday (it was moved to the evenings of the previous days - Wed-Fri - by about 15th C).
During the service there are set readings from the Psalms (9 Psalms per day), Lamentations (3 readings per day), Augustine's commentary on the Psalms (3 readings per day) and the NT (3 readings per day).
After each of the 9 Psalm readings a candle is extinguished (Tenebrae was traditionally followed by Lauds during which a further 5 candles were extinguished). By the end of the service a single candle is left to illuminate the building. This candle is then taken and placed in a side chapel until it is brought back on Easter Sunday ... and light comes back into the world.
The whole service has the feel of a funeral as the events of the Last Supper, Gethsemane, Golgotha and the burial of Christ are recalled (often indirectly via OT texts).
During the Renaissance the Lamentations readings were set to music and one can find a vast range of beautiful and haunting vocal renditions of the text of Lamentations (check out Spotify now if you'd like to hear one. I even found a modern setting in English on an album called "The American Spirit").
There is a lot that I appreciate about this service. Two things deserve mention now:
1. I appreciate the suggestive and unexpected juxtaposition of certain biblical texts reframed within a Christian liturgical setting. The connections made by placing these texts side by side opens up new vistas for interpretation. I could wax lyrical about this for a long time - especially on how Lamentations is opened up for reappropriation (so I won't).
2. I appreciate the space created for darkness (metaphorical and literal) in the liturgical calendar. Being a charismatic we 'walk in the light' all day every day so we never get to see darkness (a touch of light sarcasm there [plus a bad pun in this little note]). For this reason I perhaps welcome such worshipful spaces more then other who possibly take them for granted.
The tradition made space for the darkness but, by locating it within the narrative framework of Holy Week, does not allow it the last word. It is given space to breath and to be itself - there is no premature collapsing of sorrow into happiness - but in the end sorrow lasts for a night but joy comes in the morning. The grave has its victories but they are never God's last word. God's last word comes on Sunday.
- Robin Parry
- Robin Parry is the husband of but one wife (Carol) and the father of the two most beautiful girls in the universe (Hannah and Jessica). He also has a lovely cat called Monty (who has only three legs). Living in the city of Worcester, UK, he works as an Editor for Wipf and Stock — a US-based theological publisher. Robin was a Sixth Form College teacher for 11 years and has worked in publishing since 2001 (2001–2010 for Paternoster and 2010– for W&S).