Friday, April 18, 2014

Tenebrae

It has been a long time since I have posted. Schoolwork has and will continue to get in the way, among other reasons, but I would like to post something short for the days of the Sacred Triduum, those days in which we liturgically join Our Lord in His ascent of Calvary, towards the Cross, upon which He is lifted up for the salvation of the world.

Now for a brief history lesson. For many years, the offices of Matins and Lauds on Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday were anticipated during the evening prior so that the liturgies of the Triduum could be celebrated in the morning. By the 19th century, few people in Europe were allowed to leave work at the factories so the priests in churches and especially monasteries moved the services to the morning (this is how I understand it, anyways, from prior reading...). In 1951, the Easter Vigil could only be celebrated in the night, and in 1955 the other liturgies followed suit: the Divine Office could no longer be anticipated, and the obligation of the Divine Office was modified with respect to the evening liturgies.

Tenebrae is Latin for "shadows" or, as in John 1, "darkness." The light is moving away from our sight. For Passion Sunday two weeks ago, the images of Christ were veiled in the Church, since He had to hide from the Pharisees in the Gospel reading. To emphasize this, at the second antiphon for the Psalms of the offices the candles are extinguished one-by-one, and any lights left at the end are put out at the end, before the singing of Psalm 50, the Miserere.

"And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” Christ must take up the Cross and die for those who believe in Him, so that they might not perish but have life eternal. He must be buried, hidden from our sight entirely as He lies in the tomb, very much dead. Just as God, in the hypostasis of the Son, was incarnate by the Holy Spirit, of the Virgin Mary, so too did He truly suffer and die on the Cross. Enough Hosts must be consecrated both for the Mass of the Lord's Supper and the Solemn Liturgy of the Passion, and Adoration follows the Mass at the Altar of Repose, but must end by midnight. The altar and the sanctuary are stripped bare. We may receive Communion at the Good Friday Liturgy and if we are sick, but on Holy Saturday Our Lord may be received only in the form of Viaticum. Thus, the Church dies liturgically in commemoration of the death of Our Lord.

Matins is composed of three nocturns, with three Psalms and three readings each. The first is the most famous, featuring the Lamentations of the Prophet Jeremiah on the destruction of the holy city, Jerusalem at the time of the Babylonian Exile. Note well, that from the exile until Christ came, Israel would never be free from foreign oppression. The Babylonians, the Persians, the Hellenes, and the Romans each took their turn in ruling over the Promised Land. Christ is the New Promised Land, in which we worship truly and freely, in every time and every place as members of His Mystical Body, the Church. Our Lord did not come to restore the Davidic Kingship, and in fact, the only time He is really referred to as "King" is by Pontius Pilate! (Ratzinger points this out in Introduction to Christianity, and I'm not sure he was precisely correct, but the point mostly holds.) Christ came to show us the interior life of the Divine, that is to say the Trinity, so that we might participate in it, and He elevates every idea of the Old Testament for He is not only the Messiah, not only a priest, prophet and king. Above all, He is the Son!

At the end of Lauds, a loud noise is made, whether by the stomping of feet or slamming shut of the choir books, whatever (in Christ the King Wednesday, the altar servers slammed the door on the side and then pounded on the metal shelves). The strepitus, thunder, signals the coming calamity in the life of Christ marked by the Church in the Triduum. The Son is not supposed to die! But He does, and I didn't even know how I could go to class the next morning after the singing of Tenebrae (and we only had time to sing an English setting of Matins plus Allegri's Miserere).

Here is Tallis's setting of the Lamentations.

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