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St. Martha’s continues parish tradition of 7 Last Words


Tenebrae, meaning shadows or darkness, is a thousand-year tradition of Holy Week. Services often involve hymns and readings in a candlelit church. The Tenebrae tells of the actual passion and death of Jesus Christ.

Sharon Hottum, choir member at St. Martha Parish in Depew, leads the Tenebrae service remembering the Last Seven Words of Jesus Christ. An Easter tradition at the parish, the service was held on Good Friday, April 7. (Photo by Patrick J. Buechi)

St. Martha Parish in Depew has a Tenebrae tradition for a much shorter time. For about seven years, the parish has focused on the Seven Last Words of Jesus.

“The deacon (James Trzaska) that was here started it, and we built on it over the years until it became the meditation, the prayer and the song. It is a reflection of the passion and death of Christ, and the last seven words He spoke from the cross. It’s a beautiful reflection on that,” explained Jill Muise, St. Martha’s music director.

Held on Good Friday, April 7, the hourlong service involved hearing the seven last statements of Jesus, followed by a Scripture reading, meditation, silent prayer and song.

“It’s the most meditative,” Muise said. “Good Friday has always been very sacred to me. Over the years it has just gotten more sacred and more meditative and more reflective. The service in the afternoon is beautiful, but this takes it to another whole level. We try to put it together. Our readers are phenomenal. They really pray everything before we deliver it. We practice and rehearse everything, so it usually comes off without a hitch.”   

Piano and two guitars accompanied the choir.

The church was lit only by seven candles, with one being snuffed out after each statement until the church was in darkness.

The first statement made by Jesus on the cross asks for forgiveness for the criminals. “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

“They do not know what they are doing,” Father Bart Lipec, pastor of St. Martha’s, repeated. “They do not know? They who killed Jesus. Who is they? It is so easy to name others, to blame others – the Romans, the crowd, Pilate, Herod. They all played their part and conspired against Jesus, or simply followed orders to maintain the peace, to keep Jesus’ kingdom from infringing on theirs. 

“And where are we when Jesus’ kingdom infringes on ours? Our peace? Our order? On our prosperity? Our security? Where are we when the victims of our peace cry for justice? When those disenfranchised by our order call for compassion? When the hungry and the lonely beg us to share our prosperity? Our security? Our power? Where are we when Christ is crucified among us?”

Jill Muise, music director for St. Martha Parish in Depew, leads the choir in a Tenebrae service remembering the Last Seven Words of Jesus Christ. An Easter tradition at the parish, the service was held on Good Friday, April 7. (Photo by Patrick J. Buechi)

Father Lipec later pondered why Jesus, in His last breath, uttered “Father, into your hand I commit my spirit.”

“It is the end, the very end, the end of the ordeal, the end of the suffering. And Jesus alone on the cross, tortured, exhausted, abandoned by His friends, forsaken by God, gasps for the last breath, and gathered the strength for one last cry,” Father Lipec said. “Why would He choose to speak so close to the end? Why would He muster the last energy He had to cry out with a loud voice? Couldn’t God have heard His thoughts? Unless, God wasn’t the only one He wanted to hear. Unless His voice was pitched loud so that we too can hear this final dedication of His soul.”


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