Posts Tagged Sacred Music

Spy Wednesday of Holy Week – Tenebrae

12 April 2017

Tenebrae Service
St. John Cantius Choir, Chicago, Illinois

Part I

Part II

Part III

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,] 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.

Image Credit: A Catholic Life: Luke 22:1-71; 23:1-53

From the blog of Father John Zuhlsdorf,

What Does The Prayer Really Say?

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.

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.

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!.

Holy Week Begins: Pueri Hebraeorum – Tomás Luis de Victoria for Palm Sunday

9 April 2017

Christine Westhoff’s “HARK”: Sacred #CHRISTMAS Music MUST HAVE for THIS Season!

12 November 2016

Hello Readers,

Once in a great while I come across something I feel very strongly about. I usually come to you for prayer intentions and I also love to share beautiful people and things with you. Right this moment in Little Rock, Arkansas; Christine Westhoff is stocking her second CD and first Christmas CD, aptly named “Hark!”.

I am a musician and have a particular love of sacred music and, of course, Christmas music. I am letting you, my readers know about this fabulously talented young woman. Her voice, truly a gift from God, has been given back to Him as a humble gift from Westhoff. She could have embraced a secular career of opera and, in my humble opinion, would go far for sure. Instead, Christine gives her voice to the sacred.

In this time in history, there are few people who understand this kind of selflessness. What you are about to find out is what type of person she is, from this following article and then you will hear the best version EVER of “O Holy Night”. Best. Version. Ever.

A Blessed Christmas Season to all: ALL FORTY Days,





Lyric Soprano Christine Westhoff and her Christmas CD, “Hark”

christine hark

For information on Christine Westhoff, her concert schedule, to purchase her music or schedule a master class with Christine, please visit , or at iTunes search “Christine Westhoff” album: Hark.




Classically trained as a lyric operatic soprano, Christine Westhoff is becoming one of the leading American artists in the area of oratorio and sacred music, attracting the attention of a widening public including the United Kingdom, Canada, Italy, and the United States.

The 32-year-old singer is unique in that, although trained as an operatic singer, she has devoted her career to sacred music that was written some 500-700 years before her birth, “I assumed I was going to be an opera singer. I’d trained as one. I sounded like one. I just couldn’t figure out why the idea of having to sing opera for the rest of my career left me with a hollow feeling.” Westhoff says an accidental discovery changed her path, “One afternoon I stumbled onto an old oratorio book of music. Just as a priest is called to the collar, I instantly knew that God was showing me where he wanted me.”

As a Catholic, Westhoff’s 2013 concert tour kicked off in the city where faith is foremost–Rome, Italy, where she performed in the ancient and beautiful San Silvestro Chapel, with an audience that included various princes, priests, and prelates of the Church.

Christine Westhoff at Belleville Cathedral asking Saint Cecilia for her blessing

Christine Westhoff at Belleville Cathedral asking Saint Cecilia for her blessing

In addition to the sacred and oratorio pieces Westhoff performed, her 2013 tour included pieces by contemporary U.K. composer, Ash Madni. Qatar-born Madni, known for compositions that fuse Western and Eastern classical music, has high praise for Westhoff; “Christine’s singing is beautiful, pitch perfect, powerful and radiates passion, rare to find these days.” Westhoff sang his “An Aria for Fatimah,” which sets Percy Shelley’s poetry to music.After her premier in Italy, Westhoff continued with a concert schedule in the U.S.

When asked about how she views her job as a singer, Westhoff mused, “I feel blessed that I was chosen for this job. Humbled that this is my small part of His work. Grateful that I can call some of the great cathedrals of the world my office.”

All Christine Westhoff, All the Time: A Review & Interview via

13 January 2015

Tino Tarango from lends us this great post.

Album Reviews and an Interview with Lyric Soprano, Christine Westhoff

Christine Westhoff, a classically trained lyric operatic soprano, specializes in Oratorio and Sacred music. She is quickly capturing the hearts of music enthusiasts, from all over the world. She has performed in countries, on both the North American and European Continents.

As some of you may remember, the Always Catholic blog held a Christmas and Sacred music CD giveaway last November, of which I was the winner. I am very grateful to Sofia Guerra of Always Catholic, Elizabeth and Christine Westhoff, for having been selected as the winner at random. Ms. Guerra, asked if I would be so kind as to write reviews for both albums. It was my pleasure to oblige.

If I may, I would like to begin with Ora Pro Nobis, a repertoire of sacred hymns. The album also features Christine’s husband, Organist Timothy Allen. One of the musical numbers (which is also my favorite on the album), is a very beautiful rendition of Schubert’s Ave Maria. Christine’s voice, permeates the melody, almost sending the listener into another world.

Her latest release, a Christmas album entitled Hark!, includes well-beloved Christmas hymns and songs. Among them, is my personal favorite, “Once in a Royal David’s City”. It is a song, that I had never heard of before listening to the album. However, upon hearing the song, I fell in love with it instantly! Another fan favorite, is Christine’s rendition of “O Holy Night”. Christine’s sweeping voice and the beautiful melody, cause the listener to pause and meditate on the mystery, which took place on that o so holy night. The album also features Christine’s husband Timothy on the Organ, once again.

On January, 7th 2015, Christine agreed to do an interview with CatholicChatter, via email. The interview, took place on January 8th, 2015, In the interview, we also discuss her latest project, Te Deum.

christine westhoff

Now if you would like to read the interview with Christine and Tino you can click HERE to go to Tino’s site,
Thank YOU!

Interview with Christine Westhoff, Lyric Soprano For AlwaysCatholic… A Must See!

28 November 2014

Hello Readers!

Our Christmas CD Giveaway contest has ended and WE HAVE A WINNER!!!

Christine Westhoff at Belleville Cathedral asking Saint Cecilia for her blessing

Christine Westhoff at Belleville Cathedral asking Saint Cecilia for her blessing

First is our winning interview with Christine Westhoff, a truly talented lyric soprano who was generous to agree to an interview during her busy schedule. Christine has just debuted her 2nd CD and FIRST Christmas album on November 1st and things have been a whirlwind for this acclaimed soprano.

It took a traditional family Thanksgiving to catch up with her for the interview. Ms. Westhoff made time during this holiday of gratitude to show her gratitude for her gift from God: her voice!

Second Winner is the random drawing of our “Hark” Christmas Giveawa.The Giveaway Prize is a 2 CD set of both “Ora Pro Nobis” AND “Hark” to one of our lucky readers. Watch the interview to hear this wonderful story of Divine Providence and answering God’s call and to find out if you are the WINNER!


christine hark

Now go buy “Hark” and listen to the REAL REASON FOR THE SEASON! Also, try “Ora Pro Nobis” as perhaps a gift for yourself, your priest or for anyone who loves beautiful music.

Here is the link to purchase “Hark” in CD format through Paypal or to contact Christine for other forms of payment:


Both are available along with the digital versions here at CD Baby

Christine Westhoff is a new soprano for a new era in music. Hark AND Ora Pro Nobis available in digital format only on:

Amazon and Itunes

Now go do some shopping as I’m going to listen to O Holy Night for the 23rd time!

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