This is a short clip from last week’s Tenebrae service at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross. Forgive all quality issues, I was trying to pay attention to the service.
Even though Tenebrae is an ancient tradition, I only learned about it a few years ago. My current parish does not have Tenebrae so I was quite happy that I do not live far from the cathedral.
Tenebrae is about entering into darkness. You can check out the Sisters of Carmel for a longer explanation if you like. The service I attended was held after dark on Holy Wednesday; it can also be held very early in the morning, especially on Holy Saturday. It consists of sung or chanted prayers which are taken from sad Psalms, Lamentations etc. The church is gradually darkened after each section. Candles are extingushed until the last candle is hidden and church is entirely dark. It is amazingly sad, dark, and lonely.
I suspect that to some of you it must seem like beautiful heresy. Why seemlingly celebrate darkness when Jesus came as light?
The celebrant’s homily provided a suscint answer: Tenebrae gets at the essence of Christianity through rememberance. It stands against a culture of amnesis (forgetting) which insists on pretending that everything must be happy to be valuable. Jesus Christ did not live victoriously by this world’s standards. He suffered greatly, not only on the cross, but also alone in a garden at night.
The Catholic Church does not require her children to observe Tenebrae, or even Good Friday services. We are expected to take part in Mass on Easter Sunday to celebrate the Resurection (this is required every Sunday), but the only specific requirment for observing the suffering of Christ is to fast on Good Friday. And even that is pretty minor compared to other religions’ fasting requirements.
Even though the Catholic Church does not require participation in services which mark the sadness of Christ’s suffering, I am increadably greatful that she offers them as an opportunity for people like me who need help with suffering with Christ so that we may also be glorified with Christ (Romans 8:17).
It is good to have an innocent faith. I have friends who can happily trust God as an almost overprotective father who gives them every good thing and wipes away every tear. I am happy for them as it is good to have childlike faith and innocent entitlement. But God has not seen fit to protect me from trial. As many times I tried to simply “have more faith” the result was the same: God does not protect me from suffering. God lets me bleed. God allows me to suffer physically. God allows me to suffer in relationships. God allows me to suffer financially. God allows me to struggle with no support from friends. God allows me to feel as though there is no child who is protected from abuse. Thankfully God has not required me to suffer from those simultanously! But there is enough to make me so very greatful for a God who does not simply offer us a happy Easter story. Jesus did not merely die and rise again for us. He suffered for us, and in his suffering he offers us Life.
My plan is to cultivate this lesson during Easter (we Catholics celebrate Easter until Pentecost, so Easter lasts for 50 days!) by memorizing 2 Corinthians 1:3-7
- Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and God of all encouragement, who encourages us in our every affliction, so that we may be able to encourage those who are in any affliction with the encouragement with which we ourselves are encouraged by God.
- For as Christ’s sufferings overflow to us, so through Christ does our encouragement also overflow.
- If we are afflicted, it is for your encouragement and salvation; if we are encouraged, it is for your encouragement, which enables you to endure the same sufferings that we suffer.
- Our hope for you is firm, for we know that as you share in the sufferings, you also share in the encouragement.
I would be thrilled to read any thoughts you have on Christ’s suffering, Easter, etc!
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