Lent Remembrance: Sister Ruth Gehres recalls her love of Tenebrae

As we prepare to begin the Triduum, Sister Ruth Gehres recalls a favorite Good Friday tradition from her youth. Here is her Lent Remembrance.

“The coming of Lent always takes me back to my childhood. Because I was in a Benedictine school (St. Benedict in Evansville, Ind.) and a choir girl, it seemed that the liturgy gathered intensity during Lent. Everything was in Latin, of course, and my favorite distraction was matching the Latin words – in red on the missal’s left-hand pages – with the English on the right. The choir sang every day. When there was no school (so no bus), as on Saturdays, I came on my bike. Holy Week and the Easter Triduum were especially intense and important. But I was most moved by the celebration of Tenebrae on Good Friday evening.

“Tenebrae (Latin, meaning “darkness”) dates back to the ninth century. This was originally a celebration of matins and lauds of the Divine Office of the last three days of Holy Week. At St. Benedict, Tenebrae took place on Good Friday evening. In the sanctuary, during the readings and singing, previously lighted candles were extinguished one by one. The most solemn part came after the last candle was snuffed out. (It seems that we were holding our breath for this.) In total darkness, after an empty time of waiting, we heard a mysterious noise – like pieces of wood being hit together. This symbolized the death of Jesus. Then, more silence. We waited in prayer, then people began to leave. There was no singing, and no words were spoken.

“All of this darkness and silence provided an inner space for the brightness of Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday. Alleluia! Jesus arises from the darkness and silence of the tomb!

“I still love the liturgies of Lent and Holy Week . . . and I’d love to experience Tenebrae one more time. It is still celebrated in some Christian churches.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *