Tenebrae is a rare Lenten service that, most years, does not draw a large congregation, though I hope it will this year.
Tenebrae takes place at Notre Dame Cathedral, Ottawa, tonight – the Wednesday evening of Holy Week. It follows the solemn Chrism Mass on Tuesday of that week.
Those attending the service learn from the program booklet they receive that Tenebrae is a Latin word meaning shadows or darkness.
In the pageantry of Holy Week, which begins with Palm Sunday, the service of Tenebrae anticipates aspects of the Sacred Triduum, the three great holy days of Maundy (Holy) Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday that, taken together, bring the Christian community to the celebration and the joy of Easter.
As Lent draws to a close, the Tenebrae service invites a deeper degree of spiritual intensity and a closer look at your interior life. Much of the violence of Holy Week that comes to your attention in reading the Passion or making the Way of the Cross brings to light hatred and anger that can lie hidden in a broken and sinful heart. Acclamations and hymns give the heart outward expression.
But on the Wednesday in Holy Week, there is a more inward turn in Tenebrae. This greater degree of inwardness is expressed in the psalms and readings that Christians contemplate as, listening, they enter more fully into Christ’s Passion.
This office is composed of the Song of Lamentations over the devastation of Jerusalem by the prophet Jeremiah, in the poignant psalms, and through the powerful readings. Each of these evokes the figure of the suffering Christ. Yet, the cries of all who suffer the hurts of yesterday and today come to mind.
And we know that these people wounded in body, mind, and soul are numerous. This year, in particular, the sexual and physical abuse of minors and vulnerable individuals committed by priests and concealed by bishops surfaces in our consciousness. This scandal elicits tears of sorrow and shame, of anger and frustration. We are moved to pray and make amends for all who have been victimized.
This awareness has led me to dedicate this year’s Tenebrae service to prayer for the victims of abuse, in reparation for what they have suffered and in petition that they receive healing and justice.
I am also inviting priests and parishes in the dioceses of Ottawa and Alexandria-Cornwall to arrange prayers of atonement that might bring about the healing of wounded and broken relationships.
Parishes may do so on a day appropriate for their community. It is vital that we support victims and recognize our own need for healing.
Participants in Tenebrae will wish to acknowledge our collective engagement in the process of healing wounds and beginning anew, entering into the darkness which we will all have to face.
The ritual of Tenebrae involves the extinguishing of a candle after each series of psalms and Scripture readings. In today’s context, this can represent the light that was snuffed out of young lives by abuse. In some churches, the sanctuary falls into total darkness, which symbolizes the devastation so many lives still experience.
However, the story is not over. The darkness is broken by the bringing forth of a single light. In faith, it represents the Risen Lord Jesus Christ, the Light from God’s Light, the one whom no darkness can overcome.
If you can, come to Tenebrae at 7:30PM on Wednesday, April 17 or join in spirit as the Church of Ottawa expresses shame and sorrow for victims of sexual abuse. We pray for their healing and the renewal of the Church.