Thursday, April 04, 2019

A Home Tenebrae Service

After returning to the Church in 1998 I found that I couldn't get enough of the beauty and rituals.  I
loved the "smells and bells" so to speak. 

One of my favorite liturgical seasons has always been Lent.  I love the austerity and penitential nature.  I'm convicted by the Stations of the Cross, the deep readings chosen for Sundays, and parish missions.

Of all of the observances of Lent, by far my favorite is the Tenebrae service.  It is far more difficult to find a Tenebrae service today but done well, it's power stays with you forever.

Imagine if you will the evening of Good Friday.  You have been fasting and abstaining.  Perhaps you attended the Stations of the Cross or the Good Friday Liturgy, kissing the Cross and receiving Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament at 3PM.  You return to the Church in the evening and see that the Church remains bare.  The statues are covered, hiding and mourning.  The altar is stripped as Jesus was.  The Church, in the waning hours of sunlight is growing darker, no lights are on and the Church reminds you more of a tomb than a womb.

Upon the altar stands a candelabra (a hearse) holding 15 candles in the shape of a pyramid.  This is the only day it is used.  The glow of the candles illuminates the sanctuary and the cold altar supporting it.  As you sit in the silence of the ever-growing darkness the form of a fellow parishioner rises and proceeds to the Ambo.  From there he or she reads from Sacred Scripture.  When finished, the parishioner walks to the hearse, extinguishes a single candle and returns to the pew.  A moment of silence follows until another parishioner repeats this process.  The church grows darker and darker.

Finally, the parish priest, who's outline you recognize, approaches the Ambo.  He reads the final reading.  He removes the last candle from the top of the hearse and carries it out of the sanctuary. 

The church is now in total darkness and silence.  Your eyes have grown accustomed to the darkness and you see the outline of the hearse on the altar, you can hear fellow parishioners around you breathing softly.  Suddenly, three loud, powerful knocks fill the Church as though the very walls are coming down and the hairs on your head and arms stand on end.  You see the shadow of the priest return to the altar, returning the last candle to it's position, unlit.  All depart in silence, it is finished.

Our Home Tenebrae Service "altar".
It truly is a moving and powerful service and I have often been brought to tears by it.  It's a great final meditation on the Passion of Christ and funeral service of sorts.

Unfortunately, it's presentation and observance has fallen into disuse.  So, wanting to give my family some sense of the impressive nature of the service, I designed a similar Tenebrae service for use in the home.  It consists of 7 candles instead of 15 and uses readings focused on the Last Supper, Crucifixion, and Death of Jesus.

Feel free to download it here and use it with your family!  I hope you enjoy it.  Feel free to share your experience with us in the comment section or send us an email.

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