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Audio Features Lent and Easter

Prayer, music and darkness. It’s how Tenebrae marks Good Friday


It’s known as Tenebrae, the Latin phrase for “the service of shadows.” While many Western New York parishes commemorate Good Friday by hosting Stations of the Cross or Veneration of the Cross services, a few parishes also host this nighttime service which puts emphasis on the darkness, just as the world went dark upon the death of Jesus Christ.

Music and darkness are the hallmarks of a Tenebrae service. (Photo by Nicole Dzimira)

Our Lady of Pompeii Church in Lancaster held such a service Friday night, April 7, to conclude its observance of Good Friday.

“It kind of gives the laity a chance to experience the close of how we prayerfully go into Holy Saturday, in anticipation of the Resurrection, which of course, the disciples didn’t have the pleasure of having foresight like we do of Jesus’s life,” said Father Aaron Kulczyk, parochial vicar at Our Lady of Pompeii. “When we come across what Tenebrae really means for us, it’s about really understanding what Jesus went through, not just for one day or two days, but three days as our creed says, of dying, and of course, rising again.”

Those attending the service witnessed a candelabra at the altar, with seven lit candles. Each candle represented one of the seven shadows: The betrayal of Christ, the desertion (Peter’s denial and the disciples fleeing after Jesus’ capture), the unshared vigil (the prayer in the Garden of Olives), Judas Iscariot’s embrace confirming Jesus’ identity to his captors, the crucifixion of Jesus, the death of Christ, and His entombment.

Upon the conclusion of prayer and song marking each individual shadow, one candle was extinguished, until, all are ultimately put out. After the seventh candle was extinguished, the monitors located along the church pillars displayed the simple message: “It is finished.”

“Here in America, we like to make faith very happy and very enlightening and very bright. Rainbows, unicorns and sunshine. But our roots, especially our European roots with the Catholic faith, are cemented in suffering and uniting our suffering with Christ,” said Mary Palmer, Our Lady of Pompeii’s music director. “The Catholic faith is unique in that it’s not just about ‘I believe in Jesus and it makes me feel good.’ We understand that life is coupled with suffering. And we need to unite our suffering with Christ in order to bear grace and to have prayers answered. Tenebrae is a beautiful opportunity to reflect on those moments we may have abandoned Christ, or we ourselves may feel abandoned and we are in our own tomb. This helps us acknowledge that Jesus and His humanity walks with us in that suffering.”

After additional song and silence, a bell tolled 33 times, and then those in attendance left in silence. Darkness is an important element to the Tenebrae service. So too, Palmer explains, is the music.

“I think the Tenebrae service brings that element of shadow, there’s hopelessness, that Christ is gone. But then we remember there’s always a resurrection. And the musical piece kind of makes the whole experience universal,” she said. “Some people can’t access prayer through just verbal response. Some can’t do prayer just by reading a book. But music becomes a universal language that is the language of the soul.”

Candles are extinguished one at a time marking the seven shadows Jesus felt at His crucifixion. (Photo by Nicole Dzimira)

Western New York Catholic asked Father Kulczyk why more local parishes aren’t holding a Tenebrae service. He admitted this was only his second time participating in such a service.

 “Sometimes in parishes, we stick to the tried and true methods of the liturgical season. But sometimes there are the old traditions you have to resurrect, especially around Holy Saturday, and of course, Good Friday,” he said.

Also utilized during the service was the paschal candle blessed in 2022. It would be the last use of that candle. It was to be replaced about 24 hours later by the paschal candle for 2023, which is blessed and lit for the first time at Easter Vigil to symbolize the light of Christ as He emerged from His earthly tomb for the resurrection.

Listen to Michael Mroziak’s report.


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