Tenebrae at St Jude’s, Vancouver

On Saturday morning at 9AM, the men’s schola will sing at the Tenebrae Service for Holy Saturday. What is a Tenebrae service? Tenebræ is the name given to the service of Matins and Lauds belonging to the last three days of Holy Week. One of the striking features of this service is the hearse with fifteen candles. During the singing of the service, the candles are extinguished one by one until the last candle on the top of the hearse is removed and hidden behind the altar. Then there is a loud bang, and the candle is replaced to the top position of the hearse. Originally Matins on these days, like Matins at all other seasons of the year, were sung shortly after midnight, and consequently if the lights were extinguished the darkness was complete. That this putting out of lights dates from the fifth century, so far at least as regards the night Office, is highly probable.
The progressive extinguishing of the candles commemorates the death of Christ on the cross. It is from this symbolic “darkening” of the church that the service gets its name “tenebrae” which, in Latin, means darkness or shadows.
The loud bang at the end of the service symbolically represents the convulsion of nature which followed the death of Jesus Christ.
The re-appearance of the candle after the loud bang symbolizes the Christ return to the world after the resurrection.

The service on Saturday morning also commemorates Christ’s descent among the dead, traditionally called the Harrowing of Hell. In the Apostles’ Creed we profess: “He descended into hell.” By “Hell” in this context, we do not refer to the Hell of eternal damnation, but rather to that state in which the souls since the beginning of the world, destined for eternal salvation, were held captive awaiting Christ’s saving sacrifice on the cross to open up the gates of heaven. The phrase “harrowing of hell” is an Old English term for Christ’s triumphant descent to these holy souls, which took place between his death on the cross and his resurrection, to free them from their captivity.

Here at Saint Jude’s, the psalms and the readings will be sung in English using the Gregorian tones. The beautiful responsories and the Gospel canticle, the Benedictus, will be sung on Gregorian chant. Booklets are provided so that all may join in the singing as they wish and translations provided for the parts in Latin.


Following the Tenebrae service, there will be the Easter Blessing of Food. This tradition comes from a time when the Lenten fast and abstinence was generally more vigorous when foods like fleshmeat, mild products and eggs were forbidden during the penitential season. With the coming of Easter, these foods were again allowed. The people showed their joy and gratitude by first taking this food to the church for a blessing. Also, they hoped that the Church’s blessing on these foods would bring benefits to both soul and body.


About Didobonaparte

A Roman Catholic priest of the Archdiocese of Vancouver, I am the parish priest of Saint Joseph's Catholic Church, Langley.
This entry was posted in The Main Blog. Bookmark the permalink.

Feel free to comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s