Thursday, April 2, 2015

Episcopal Tenebrae Service

Last night, for the second year in a row, St. Paul's Episcopal had a very moving and lovely Tenebrae liturgy. The service is found in the Book of Occasional Services on p. 75. While a stunningly beautiful service, it's not done in every church. I believe that in 2014, we were the only ones in EDOLA to do one and this year, St. George's Episcopal had a Tenebrae service as well. If you haven't tried it at your church, do it if you can! 
The hearse on the epistle side of the altar             
We used the book In the Shadows of Holy Week: The Office of Tenebrae by Frederick C. Elwood and John L. Hooker, eds. for help with the liturgical format and plainsong. It's actually about 40 pages of plainchant on very similar tones! Since it's rather taxing, I decided to involve several cantors and I also invited any of our choir members to come and join in singing the canticles. I also asked both priests last year to chant and this year, our rector and director of formation chanted. The chants are simple, but they are lengthy. One thing I will say about worship with the potential for length: don't shy away from it. Worship "takes as long as it takes" in my opinion.
Our service was candlelit and absolutely beautiful! I cried at the end. It was just so intense and the times when we sat together in prayer in the darkness of the night - well, it can be overwhelming! We NEED to be overwhelmed, especially during Holy Week. Again, my opinion, but having worship that doesn't stretch us or move us or challenge us to remember, imagine, feel, be moved, to feel God's love or to share God's love.....what is that truly worth?

The origins of Tenebrae are below, shared as an excerpt from In the Shadows of Holy Week: The Office of Tenebrae

The Origins of Tenebrae
The liturgy offered this night is the full, ancient form of Tenebrae. Tenebrae is a Latin word signifying “darkness,” “shadows,” and “obscurity.” It is a word that pointedly calls our attention to the scriptural accounts of our Lord’s crucifixion: The name of this service is taken from the opening words of the fifth responsory: “Tenebrae factae sunt”—“darkness came over the whole land” (Mark 15:33; also, Matthew 27:45; Luke 23:44).
It is a moving descent into the darkest days of the church year as we descend into darkness and await the ascension into light at The Great Vigil of Easter. The Medieval offices of Matins and Lauds which were combined to create Tenebrae were the usual morning offices recited by the monastic communities ministering in the Roman basilicas and collegiate churches of Europe. At Matins the morning is greeted with prayer even before the sun rises and they developed out of the nocturnal times of prayer and watchfulness (vigiliae) that were common in the early church. Matins traditionally included three distinct sections called Nocturns (meaning “divisions of the night”)The office of Lauds, which in Tenebrae follows the Third Nocturn of Matins, is the traditional morning prayer of the church in the western world. The word “laud” means “to sing or speak the praises of” and originally implied a formal act of worship.
The union of the two liturgies produced a ritual greater than the sum of its parts. Through their correlation with the systematic extinguishing of candles unique to Tenebrae, those who originated the ceremony gave a new and greater interpretive task to the psalms and canticles. As noted, in their new liturgical context these poignant scriptural laments serve as commentary upon the darkness that gradually enshrouds the church and ominously envelops Jesus’ life during Holy Week.

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