Friday, March 21, 2008


Last night Eric and I attended the Tenebrae service at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart (tenebrae means 'darkness in Latin). The first time I had heard of Tenebrae was last year soon after Easter. My chiropractor had attended one and filled me in, and I was intrigued and made a point to go this year.

I had heard the basilica was filled to capacity last year, so we went half an hour early and eventually found a couple of the last free seats. With so many people in one place, it was slightly disconcerting to have the pervading silence until the service began.

The service is solemn, consisting of Psalms and Lamentations and excerpts in Latin. Candles were regularly extinguished until there was only one, the Christ candle, remaining lit. Then all house lights went out.

The candle is carried out, leaving complete darkness, and everyone begins pounding on the pews to represent the earthquake after Christ's death. After some time of this, the candle reappears, and everyone departs in silence.

I found the symbolism welcoming, because however much I would like to think otherwise, I'm not very good about taking time to be reflective and this made me be so. There were two scenes that I especially enjoyed. First, the two cantors were singing from Lamentations, and their voices would join for the mournful plea, "Jerusalem, Jerusalem, return to the Lord, your God." Second, the ache caused by the departing candle, and how its appearance erased the despondency.

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