St. John Cantius Choir, Chicago, Illinois
On the evening of Spy Wednesday, Wednesday in Holy Week, Matins and Lauds is sung in a special form known as Tenebrae.
During the late afternoon of Spy Wednesday (following the practice in Rome), or in the early evening, the service of Tenebrae is sung. Tenebrae is Matins and Lauds, as usual anticipated, of the following liturgical day but the Office of the Triduum shows signs of antiquity and has developed a ceremonial extinguishing of candles that mimetically represent the desertion of the LORD by his disciples and the days of darkness – hence the name.
The altar is vested in violet antependia and the Blessed Sacrament removed if It is present on the choir altar. The altar cross is veiled in violet and the candlesticks, the plainest set used on Good Friday, bearing six lighted candles of unbleached wax.
In Rome Tenebrae in the Papal Chapel was celebrated very early so the rays of the setting sun would pass through a window of the Sistine Chapel. The Caeremoniale Episcoporum mentions Tenebrae starting progressively later each day of the Triduum. In practice the service ‘works best’ if it at least ends in near darkness.
In the sanctuary in about the place where the Epistle is sung is placed the Tenebrae hearse. The hearse, for the Roman rite, bears fifteen lighted candles of unbleached wax. The choir enters, seniores ante inferiores, take their places and kneels to say Aperi, Domine. When the choir rises the sign of the Cross is made as the cantors intone the first antiphon of Matins, Zelus domus tuae. This is sung in full and then the first psalm Salvum me fac, Deus intoned. At the end of the psalm (there is no Gloria Patri during the Triduum) the lowest candle on the Gospel side of the hearse is extinguished. Before the 1911-13 reform the chant books had a special cadence at the end of each psalm, a drop of a fourth, which presumably was an audible indication for the acolyte to extinguish a candle. Then the next antiphon is sung with its psalm etc. After the first three psalms there is a versicle and response and then all stand for a silent Pater noster. During the Triduum there are no absolutions and blessings at Mattins. The psalms of Mattins for Tenebrae on Mandy Thursday are really the first nine of the twelve ferial psalms from the pre-Pius X Breviary for Mattins. In the reformed Breviary they appear ‘proper’ but are in fact the ancient practice. They are: I nocturn, 68, 69, 70; II nocturn, 71, 72, 73; III nocturn, 74, 75, 76.
The follows the Lamentations of Jeremy the Prophet as first nocturn lessons. These are from the OT book and have verses based on a Hebrew acrostic. The first verse thus begins with ‘Aleph’. The verses have several special tones in plainsong and have been set to polyphony by various composers. The lessons are sung from a lectern medio chori. A responsory follows the first lessons as usual at Mattins. After the third responsory the second nocturn begins and has lessons from St. Augustine on the psalms. The third nocturn has lessons from St. Paul to the Corinthians on the foundation of the Holy Eucharist. At Tenebrae the Hebodomadarius does not chant the ninth lesson. At the end of Mattins the Tenebrae Hearse has five candles exstinguished on the Gospel side and four on the Epistle side with six remaining lit candles.
Lauds follow immediately. The psalms sung at Lauds are Pss. 50, 89, 35, Cantemus Domino, 146. After each psalm of Lauds a further candle is extinguished so that after the last psalm only the candle on the summit of the hearse is still alight. After the last antiphon is repeated a versicle and response follow. Then the antiphon on the Benedictus is intoned, for Maundy Thursday this is Traditor autem dedit eis signum, dicens: Quem osculatus fuero, ispe est, tenete eum. The concept of the betrayal of Judas is key to the day. The plainsong for the Benedictus is the haunting tone 1g. During the last six verses each of the altar candles is exstinguished beginning with the outside candle on the Gospel side. All other lamps in the church are now also extinguished. During the repetition of the antiphon the MC takes the candle from the hearse and places it on the mensa at the Epistle corner of the altar. All kneel and the choir now sings Christus factus est pro nobis obediens usque ad mortem. During this antiphon the MC hides the lit candle behind the altar. A Pater noster is now said in a low voice by all and then psalm 50, the Miserere is chanted in a subdued voice. This has been adapted by many composers into polyphonic masterpieces, perhaps the most famous being by Allegri. The Miserere was part of the ferial preces of Vespers until 1911-13. After the Miserere the collect Respice is chanted by the Hebdomadarius, still kneeling. Then a strepitus or noise is made traditionally by banging books against the stalls.
After the strepitus [the noise that symbolizes the earthquake that took place at Christ’s death, which is made by banging books on the choir stalls. While this symbolism maintains, it is also as if, with the strepitus, we’re begging Christ to come out of the tomb, especially on Holy Saturday. While the strepitus is still going on, the Christ candle–the Light which the darkness cannot overcome–is brought back out and replaced in the hearse, and all depart in silence.source: Michael E, Lawrence, NLM.org] the MC brings forth the candle and returns this symbol of the light of Christ to the top of the hearse. It either remains there or is taken by the MC ahead the procession as the choir processes out of the sanctuary.
In the ‘liturgical books of 1962’ following the ‘Restored’ order of Holy Week dalmatic and tunicle are worn by the deacon and subdeacon rather than folded chasubles. No commemorations are allowed and there is no second collect in the Masses. Any text read by a lector, subdeacon or deacon is not read by the celebrant (extended throughout the year in the 1962 books). OHSI of 1955 orders the Orate fratres to be said in an audible voice and all present to respond. Ferial preces are sung only on Wednesdays at Lauds and Vespers only. The Passion according to St. Mark on Tuesday is shortened: Mark 14: 32-72; 15: 1-46 as is the Passion according to St. Luke on Wednesday: Luke 22: 39-71; 23: 1-53.
Editor’s Note: Thank you to ethicalgop’s You Tube channel for the St. John Cantius videos.
In addition, thank you to The Saint Lawrence Press Ltd for the information above for the Tenebrae on spy Wednesday evening.
The term “Spy” Wednesday probably is an allusion to Christ’s betrayal by Judas.
Deus, qui pro nobis Filium tuum
crucis patibulum subire voluisti,
ut inimici a nobis expelleres potestatem,
concede nobis famulis tuis,
ut resurrectionis gratiam consequamur.
This prayer was the Collect for this same day in the 1962 Missale Romanum. It was also in the ancient Gregorian Sacramentary in both the Hadrianum and Paduense manuscripts.
The impressive and informative Lewis & Short Dictionary informs us that patibulum (deriving from pateo) is “a fork-shaped yoke, placed on the necks of criminals, and to which their hands were tied; also, a fork-shaped gibbet”. In turn, English “gibbet” means “an upright post with a projecting arm for hanging the bodies of executed criminals as a warning”.
The verb subeo in its basic meaning is “to come or go under any thing” and by logical extension “to subject one’s self to, take upon one’s self an evil; to undergo, submit to, sustain, endure, suffer”. The L&S explains that “The figure taken from stooping under a load, under blows, etc.)” There are other shades of meaning, including “to come on secretly, to advance or approach stealthily, to steal upon, steal into”. Keep this one in mind.
Consequor is very interesting. It signifies “to follow, follow up, press upon, go after, attend, accompany, pursue any person or thing” and then it extends to concepts like “to follow a model, copy, an authority, example, opinion, etc.; to imitate, adopt, obey, etc.” and “to reach, overtake, obtain”. Going beyond even these definitions, there is this: “to become like or equal to a person or thing in any property or quality, to attain, come up to, to equal (cf. adsequor).” I know, I know – mentio non fit expositio. Still it is interesting to make connections in the words, which often have subtle overlaps. Remember that interesting meaning of subeo, above? There is a shade of “pursuit” and “imitation” in the prayer’s vocabulary.
SLAVISHLY LITERAL RENDERING
O God, who willed Your Son to undergo
on our behalf the gibbet of the Cross
so that You might drive away from us the power of the enemy,
grant to us Your servants,
that we may obtain the grace of the resurrection.
This is an austere prayer, razor like, cutting to the heart of the matter. By our sins we are in the clutches of the enemy, who mercilessly attacks us. Christ freed us from dire consequences of slavery to sin by His Passion.
LAME-DUCK ICEL VERSION
in your plan of salvation
your Son Jesus Christ accepted the cross
and freed us from the power of the enemy.
May we come to share in the glory of his resurrection.
The ancient Romans would have their conquered foes pass under a yoke (iugum), to show that they were now subjugated. Their juridical status changed. Christ went under the Cross in its carrying and then underwent the Cross in its hideous torments. In his liberating act of salvation, we passed from the servitude of the enemy to the service of the Lord, not as slaves, but as members of a family.
We are not merely household servants (famuli), we are according the status of children of the master of the house, able to inherit what He already has.
A Blessed Holy Week to all!.