By Virginia Vollmer, OFS

Tenebrae is the Latin word for darkness, and the Tenebrae service comes at the end of Lent. It marks the end of forty days of fasting, prayer and alms giving. The Tenebrae service is one of pause from one season to the next; a pause from Lent to the Triduum to Easter. During Tenebrae, the lights and candles are slowly extinguished between periods of prayer and meditation on the Passion of Jesus Christ.

The Tenebrae service was held at St. Elizabeth Seton on Wednesday, March 27th at 7pm. At the start of the service, the Tabernacle and altar candles were lit as well as the Paschal candle. Father Williams began the service with the opening dialogue as it is prayed in Liturgy of the Hours: “God come to my assistance”, with the congregation responding “Lord, make haste to help me”. The congregation then sang “Wondrous Love” as we pondered the mighty love of the Lamb of God. Psalm 54 guided us as we pondered the antiphon “The arrogant have risen against me; the ruthless seek my life”. Men and women alternated the reciting of the psalm’s stanzas.

Two candles near the tabernacle were then extinguished, as were a bank of lights.

Forty days of Lenten observances can be difficult. To call us back to our intentions, Chapter One of the Book of Lamentations was proclaimed. Between the stanzas the refrain “Return, return to the Lord, your God” was sung.

Two more candles at the tabernacle were then darkened along with another bank of lights.

The church then moved into a deeper meditation of the Passion. A soloist then led the church in singing Psalm 22: “My God, My God, why have You abandoned me?”

Then the last set of tabernacle candles and another bank of lights were extinguished. Darkness nearly reigned.

Christ’s suffering is brought to the forefront as the congregation listened to the proclamation from the first Letter of Saint Peter: Jesus Christ suffered for us, leaving us an example as we walk in His footsteps.

Two more candles on the altar and another bank of lights were darkened.

To continue pondering upon Christ’s suffering, the church sang the hymn “O Sacred Head Surrounded”.

This was followed by the extinguishing of the next set of candles and bank of lights.

The church was now almost completely darkened; Lent was almost at completion. We prayed “Save us, O Lord, in our waking, and guard us in our sleep, that we may keep watch with Christ, and rest in His peace.”

Finally, the last set of candles on the altar and the last overhead lights were extinguished. All was dark except for the Paschal candle. The service concluded by reciting the Lord’s Prayer and receiving a blessing. In silence and darkness, the Paschal candle was removed from the church.

The pause between Lent and Easter had begun.


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