The Paschal Triduum – Tenebrae
As well as its three liturgical high points – the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, the Liturgy of the Passion, and the Easter Vigil – these three days of the Triduum building up to Easter also see the continuation of the regular round of daily prayers which we call the Divine Office (or Liturgy of the Hours). The public celebration of the Office punctuates the days of monastic and religious communities such as Blackfriars, and during the Triduum it takes a special form – stark, austere, capturing something of the horror of Christ’s suffering, and our response to it. During these days, the morning offices of Matins and Lauds are celebrated together and called Tenebrae (which means ‘darkness’ in Latin): no lights are used other than the altar candles and a special candlestick, on which the candles are gradually extinguished as the office progresses (though for the sake of those who wish to join us for its celebration, it’s not as dark outside as it could be!).
This office gives us a chance to explore, especially in the psalms which form the heart of the Divine Office, but also in the readings and the meditative responsories sung after them, the truths of a Passion not so much in the dramatic form of the chief liturgies, but in a more reflective way. Below is a recording of one of the responsories sung in Blackfriars this morning, accompanied by images of the celebration of Tenebrae, as well as illustrations of the themes of the text:
In English translation, the text being sung, based on Matthew 26: 57-58, is as follows:
The wicked man handed Jesus over to the chief priests and elders of the people: Peter, for his part, followed from a distance to see how this would end. And Peter entered the courtyard of the high priest: to see how this would end.