Today is the most somber and sorrowful day of the year. On this day we commemorate the sacrifice of Our Lord of His own life for our redemption and the unfathomable suffering, infinitely beyond any human trial, which He endured for us sinners. The Church in her sorrow fasts and abstains and maintains a spirit of the deepest solemnity.
No Mass is celebrated. The liturgy comprises readings from the Old Testament and the reading of St. John’s Passion, the praying of the Great Intercessions, the Adoration of the Cross, and the reception of the Holy Eucharist, reserved from the Mass of Holy Thursday. In some places the ceremonies of today are called the Mass of the Presanctified, the term “presanctified” signifying that the Sacrament was consecrated at an earlier time. The vestments worn are black, the color used by the Church for times of mourning.
After this Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the scripture), “I thirst.” A bowl full of vinegar stood there; so they put a sponge full of the vinegar on hyssop and held it to His mouth. When Jesus had received the vinegar, He said, “It is finished”; and He bowed His head and gave up His spirit.
– John 19:28-30
One of the most interesting aspects of the devotions of the Triduum is the office of Tenebræ, the combined celebration of the offices of Matins and Lauds in the early mornings of Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday. The office is stark and simplified, lacking any of the aspects of joy normally contained in these Hours, such as the Gloria Patri, and including readings from the soul-rending Lamentations of Jeremiah. The office is sung in darkness (tenebræ is Latin for “darkness” or “shadows”), by the light of six altar candles and fifteen candles mounted on a triangular candlestick known as a “Tenebræ hearse”. The hearse candles are extinguished one by one as the psalms are completed until the topmost candle only is lit, and the six altar candles too are extinguished. The last remaining candle is then hidden behind the altar or a curtain, leaving the church in total darkness and symbolizing the hiding of the Light of the World when He died and was buried. Those present make noise by banging books or knocking on pews or choir stalls, illustrating the consternation of nature at the death of its God. The candle reappears and the noise ceases, just as Christ completed His work of restoring order to Creation by reappearing on Easter Sunday.
The Church, then, keeps company with Our Lady in the solemn silence that followed the death of Christ, looking in faith and hope for the new dawn soon to come. +
The Masses and devotions of the Triduum can be viewed live at our online apostolate, LiveMass.
April 19, 2019