"Tenebrae" is Latin for "darkness" or "shadows." Last night I went to the Tenebrae service at the Holy Cross Cathedral here in Boston. It was a wonderful and beautiful experience.
It's a special service of morning prayer for Holy Thursday that is celebrated the evening before. A special candelabra of 15 candles is lit, and after each psalm, chant and hymn, the candles are extinguished one by one. At the same time, a light in the church is put out, until finally everything is dark except for the most essential lights.
These past few weeks have been very hectic and stress-filled for me, but during the service, the power of this liturgy was like an ocean of peace rolling over me. It's hard to explain, but the music, the use of light, the darkness, the solemnity of it all just captured me and helped me experience in some way the Paschal mystery.
One candle stays lit after all the others are put out. This one represents Christ. Toward the end of the service, it is taken out of the sanctuary, symbolizing Christ's death. At that point, the streppitus begins. The organ plays sounds to symbolize the earthquake after Christ died. It was a great effect, almost like the Phantom of the Opera. Then the candle is brought back in to show our hope in the resurrection. Finally, everyone leaves in silence and darkness.
It made me realize more how powerful the liturgy is to bring us closer to God, especially when it is well done.