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Tenebrae | Catholic Life

Tenebrae

This is a short clip from last week’s Tenebrae service at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross. Forgive all quality issues, I was trying to pay attention to the service.

Even though Tenebrae is an ancient tradition, I only learned about it a few years ago. My current parish does not have Tenebrae so I was quite happy that I do not live far from the cathedral.

Tenebrae is about entering into darkness. You can check out the Sisters of Carmel for a longer explanation if you like. The service I attended was held after dark on Holy Wednesday; it can also be held very early in the morning, especially on Holy Saturday. It consists of sung or chanted prayers which are taken from sad Psalms, Lamentations etc. The church is gradually darkened after each section. Candles are extingushed until the last candle is hidden and church is entirely dark. It is amazingly sad, dark, and lonely.

I suspect that to some of you it must seem like beautiful heresy. Why seemlingly celebrate darkness when Jesus came as light?

The celebrant’s homily provided a suscint answer: Tenebrae gets at the essence of Christianity through rememberance. It stands against a culture of amnesis (forgetting) which insists on pretending that everything must be happy to be valuable. Jesus Christ did not live victoriously by this world’s standards. He suffered greatly, not only on the cross, but also alone in a garden at night.

The Catholic Church does not require her children to observe Tenebrae, or even Good Friday services. We are expected to take part in Mass on Easter Sunday¬† to celebrate the Resurection (this is required every Sunday), but the only specific requirment for observing the suffering of Christ is to fast on Good Friday. And even that is pretty minor compared to other religions’ fasting requirements.

Even though the Catholic Church does not require participation in services which mark the sadness of Christ’s suffering, I am increadably greatful that she offers them as an opportunity for people like me who need help with suffering with Christ so that we may also be glorified with Christ (Romans 8:17).

It is good to have an innocent faith. I have friends who can happily trust God as an almost overprotective father who gives them every good thing and wipes away every tear. I am happy for them as it is good to have childlike faith and innocent entitlement. But God has not seen fit to protect me from trial. As many times I tried to simply “have more faith” the result was the same: God does not protect me from suffering. God lets me bleed. God allows me to suffer physically. God allows me to suffer in relationships. God allows me to suffer financially. God allows me to struggle with no support from friends. God allows me to feel as though there is no child who is protected from abuse. Thankfully God has not required me to suffer from those simultanously! But there is enough to make me so very greatful for a God who does not simply offer us a happy Easter story. Jesus did not merely die and rise again for us. He suffered for us, and in his suffering he offers us Life.

My plan is to cultivate this lesson during Easter (we Catholics celebrate Easter until Pentecost, so Easter lasts for 50 days!) by memorizing 2 Corinthians 1:3-7

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and God of all encouragement, who encourages us in our every affliction, so that we may be able to encourage those who are in any affliction with the encouragement with which we ourselves are encouraged by God.
For as Christ’s sufferings overflow to us, so through Christ does our encouragement also overflow.
If we are afflicted, it is for your encouragement and salvation; if we are encouraged, it is for your encouragement, which enables you to endure the same sufferings that we suffer.
Our hope for you is firm, for we know that as you share in the sufferings, you also share in the encouragement.

I would be thrilled to read any thoughts you have on Christ’s suffering, Easter, etc!

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9 Responses to “Tenebrae”

  1. Kathleen 15. Apr, 2009 at 2:04 pm #

    I really love this. I couldn’t have said it better than you did: “Jesus did not merely die and rise again for us. He suffered for us, and in his suffering he offers us Life.”

    And regarding the 101 goals, I’m still not finished coming up with mine! I have about 75 and I’m getting stuck. I want them to be realistic, yet stretching, and varied in difficulty and subject. But it’s doable! I’m excited you’ll be doing it as well. :)

  2. Kaycee 16. Apr, 2009 at 2:13 pm #

    That was absolutely beautiful. Thank you for sharing the video.

    I’m still just researching Christianity and will admit that the concept of Christ suffering and dying for our sins is over my head. I loved reading your take on it.

    • Rae 16. Apr, 2009 at 8:47 pm #

      Good luck with your research. I believe that anyone who thinks that they fully understand God clearly does not!

      Thank you for your kind comments.

  3. Kacie 16. Apr, 2009 at 5:12 pm #

    Great comment on my site! Indeed, I struggle with the “low church” lack of tradition, and the beauty of history in the Catholic church is something that I love. I’m angered when evangelical friends of mine brush aside Catholicism as dead history, because I know many who take their faith very, very seriously…. and many evangelicals who do not.

    I believe the true state of our hearts and beliefs is known only by God, so who are we to judge? In any case, beautiful, beautiful video.

    • Rae 16. Apr, 2009 at 8:46 pm #

      You are so very right, but sometimes it seems that judging is just our nature. I think that it comes back to humility in my case. It is so hard to honestly realize and remember that I do not know what others are going through, much less actually feeling/thinking.

  4. Taryn 18. Apr, 2009 at 7:25 pm #

    Oh neat! I think us “Evangelicals” have lost something buy giving up so much tradition and ritual. I really think we, as humans, need it. I understand why we moved away from the traditions, but I think we moved too far.

    Anyway- I love this idea – sitting in total darkness. I can imagine it would be scary and yet safe- and lonely and yet totally full. Were the psalms and texts in English? I thought most Mass was now taught in English right? No more Latin? But what about songs/chants and sacraments? Did you wish you could sing with them? Maybe because I come from “the other side” I feel the need to sing too. I could feel the emotion as they were singing and I really just wanted to jump in and sing too.

    Thanks for posting about this. I wish I had my childlike faith back- but it is gone. Too much school. I don’t really want to go back to it I guess- but I miss the ease and security that came with it. I am sorry that God has allowed you to suffer so much.

    • Rae 24. Apr, 2009 at 9:32 pm #

      Balance is so difficult.

      The Psalms and lamentations were in English. Here is another clip.

      Some priests celebrate mass in Latin, but that is fairly rare. It is more of a special thing that some people particularly seek out rather than standard practice. I also agree with you on singing together. Almost all the music during mass is joint (I don’t know the correct terms). Tenebrae was different with the music alternating between a soloist, the choral group, and everyone. I do not know whether this is part of the design, but now that you mention it, I realize that this actually furthers the feeling of solitude/isolation.

      Sometimes I feel as though I never had childlike faith.

      Thanks so much for your comment!

  5. Strahlen 19. Apr, 2014 at 4:54 am #

    Thank you for this article. One of my boys will be serving Tenebrae Mass this morning, and I wasn’t sure what it was all about. Being able to explain to them about the darkness will make it more understandable and less scary and “weird.” I’m really looking forward to seeing how our church will celebrate the darkness and am so thankful for the Lord’s suffering for us.
    God Bless…

  6. Matilda 08. May, 2014 at 7:33 pm #

    This design is incredible! You certainly know how to keep a reader entertained.
    Between your wit and your videos, I was almost moved to start my own blog
    (well, almost…HaHa!) Excellent job. I really enjoyed what you had to say, and more than that,
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