Tenebrae 2021 takes on special significance at St Patrick’s Cathedral

By Christina Gretton, 30 March 2021
Candles are extinguished one by one during the Office of Tenebrae, in between nocturns, psalms, prayers and readings until only one candle remains. Image: Diocese of Parramatta.


After a dark 12 months of uncertainty and cancellation of Masses, Tenebrae 2021 was particularly signficant in the Diocese of Parramatta.

Held in St Patrick’s Cathedral on Monday 29 March 2021, the service Tenebrae, meaning ‘darkness’ or ‘shadows’ in Latin dates back to medieval times, and is an acknowledgment of the last three days of the events of Holy Week and Christ’s death and resurrection.

Related story: Easter Traditions: Holy Week 2021

The St Patrick’s Cathedral Schola choir led the service which revolves around a series of nocturns, based on psalms which reflect on the meaning of Christ’s death for humanity. In between the nocturns and readings 14 candles are extinguished one by one, with the 15th candle representing Christ, removed.

Another key feature of the service is the ‘Strepitus’ when the congregation makes loud noises, stamping feet and tapping the pews, representing the earthquake that occurred after the death of Jesus on Good Friday.

Following a period of darkness in the Cathedral, when the congregation reflected on the nature of darkness and evil in our lives, the Christ candle was brought back to the Cathedral.

Related story: A Palm Sunday procession like no other

The candle representing Christ is removed then restored to its place at the centre of the tenebrae stand. Image: Diocese of Parramatta.

Bishop Vincent Long OFM Conv, Bishop of Parramatta presided over the service which was also attended by Fr Peter Williams, Vicar General and the new Dean of the St Patrick’s Cathedral, Fr Robert Reidling. Seminarians from Holy Spirit Seminary, Harris Park and Sr Luka Juenemann issm, also participated alongside the St Patrick’s Cathedral Schola and the Ministry of the Cathedral.

The St Patrick’s Cathedral Schola led the congregation in singing throughout the liturgy, one of the first times this has been permitted since the start of COVID-19 restrictions. Image: Diocese of Parramatta.

For Bernard Kirkpatrick, Director of Music at St Patrick’s Cathedral, the event, while focused on the darkness, was another symbol of joy at being able to experience music and singing by all in the Cathedral, including the congregation, after the lifting of COVID restrictions last weekend. He enjoyed selecting the Responsories, sung by the Cathedral Choir. These reflect on the dark mysteries of sorrows we encounter whiles meditating on the suffering of Jesus as he enters into his passion before the joy of resurrection at Easter.

“Everyone is excited and relieved we are on track to having Easter back to normal,” he said.

The video of the livestream from St Patrick’s Cathedral, Parramatta can be viewed here.

Find the Holy Week and Easter Mass times in the Diocese of Parramatta here.

Photos from the Office of Tenebrae Service can be viewed by clicking through the links below.



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