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The word Tenebrae is Latin for "shadows" or "darkness." It can also be translated as "night" or "death." The Tenebrae service is an ancient tradition in Christian history that took place on one of ...
The Tenebrae, meaning 'Shadows,' is a Catholic service dating back to the 7th century performed during the last three days of the Catholic Holy Week (the Week designated as symbolizing Jesus' final week before the crucifixion.) It is still practiced by some Catholic and Lutheran churches, but it's use and popularity fell sharply after 1955 when Catholic reforms made it impossible to continue as it formerly had. It used to be held in the evening or the middle of the night, but now is usually held in the early morning, and is separated into two main sections. The first part is readings (Matins,) usually ones designed to be read on the Catholic Holy Thursday or from the Liturgy of the Hours. The second section is a number of elements arranged in devotional form (Lauds,) such as readings from Lamentations, Gregorian chants, the Benedictus from Lauds, the Lord's Prayer, Psalm 50 (Miserere,) etc. Psalm 50 was prohibited from being read at the end of Lauds in 1956, which severely impacted the Tenebrae service. The service is candlelit with 14 candles, and after each Psalm a single candle is put out to symbolize a growing darkness, an attempt to recreate the emotions brought up by the thought of Jesus' approaching death, the suffering of Christ, and the hopelessness of man without God. You can find details on the exact order here: https://www.jeffgeerling.com/articles/religion/tenebrae At the end a 15th candle, the 'Christ Candle' is either hidden behind the altar or may be carried out. This is meant to reflect John 8:12 and symbolize the light of the world, Christ, being hidden. This is followed by the 'bang' of a closing book, or even many books banging on pews, or another loud thud to symbolize either Jesus being shut in or the Earthquake at the crucifixion. Some services end here, leading everyone to reflect on this state of darkness yet also looking forward to the Resurrection. Other services reinstate the Christ candle as a symbol of the resurrection, and then everyone leaves. The Tenebrae service was designed many centuries after the death of Christ, and so it is not a requirement for any Christian to keep or not. There can be both pros and cons to doing so. As an event, the Tenebrae service actually has a lot in common with various Pagan mysteries and passion plays of the ancient world. Parishioners would come and watch a play, or re-enact an event, in an attempt to connect to the emotions of the gods that were represented as dying and living again. Various symbols throughout the passion play would be explained, inducting those who participated into the 'mysteries' of the gods. As Christians, we do not need these Mysteries or similar to remember Christ since we have the Spirit who speaks the words of Christ. We do not need Mysteries to get close to Christ, since we have a personal relationship with Christ. We do not need Mysteries to understand Christ, since we have the mind of Christ. The greatest 'Mystery' in the Christian faith is no longer a Mystery, for it is Christ revealed. (I Tim 3:16, Eph 1:7-10, etc.) That said, God in the Old Testament instituted many rituals and symbols in the Temple as types, hinting towards their antitype fulfillments in Christ, the New Covenant, and Heaven. Throughout the centuries the church has sometimes used symbols and images to act as a gateway for explanation or as a shorthand for remembrance, such as symbols on stained glass windows, the shape of many sanctuaries, or cut-out sheep on a felt board. This use of imagery can be taken too far (and in some extremes can boarder on idolatry,) but visual aids themselves can help people learn and recall scripture. Whether to attend a Tenebrae service is a matter of conscience. For some, it mind remind them of truths and bring them closer to God. To others, it might become a stumbling block. Whatever one chooses to do, do in faith and do not bind others to your own conscience (Rom 14:22-23.)
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