Tenebrae celebrated at St Patrick’s Cathedral

By Mary Brazell, 16 April 2019
Candles during the Office of Tenebrae at St Patrick's Cathedral, Parramatta. Image: Diocese of Parramatta.


Bishop of Parramatta, Most Rev Vincent Long OFM Conv presided the Office of Tenebrae prayers and chanting on the evening of 15 April 2019 at St Patrick’s Cathedral, Parramatta.

The clergy-in-choir included Fr Peter Williams, Vicar General and Moderator of the Curia, Diocese of Parramatta, Fr Bob Bossini, Dean of St Patrick’s Cathedral Parish, Parramatta, Fr Walter Fogarty, parish priest, Sacred Heart Parish, Westmead, and Deacon Willy Limjap from St Patrick’s Cathedral Parish, Parramatta.

The name Tenebrae – the Latin word for ‘darkness’ or ‘shadows’ – has for centuries been applied to the combined Offices of Matins and Lauds on the last three days of Holy Week.

Last night’s service was based on the Office of Readings (Matins) and Morning Prayer (Lauds) of Tuesday in Holy Week in the present Divine Office, arranged into the structure of three nocturns.

The three responsory motets sung by the St Patrick’s Cathedral Schola, lead by Bernard Kirkpatrick, Director of Music, St Patrick’s Cathedral, Parramatta, included:

  • Tristitia et anxietas from Cantiones sacrae I (1589) 6-7 by William Byrd (1540-1623)
  • Ne irascaris Domine from Cantiones sacrae I (1589) 20-21 by William Byrd (1540-1623)
  • On the Mount of Olivesfrom Nine Tenebrae Responsories by Marco Antonio Ingegneri (1535-1592)

Members of the St Patrick’s Cathedral Choir during the Office of Tenebrae. Image: Diocese of Parramatta.

In addition to the psalms and readings, each nocturn drew upon traditional elements of the Office of Tenebrae, including the chanting of the Lamentations of Jeremiah, in which some of the verses are introduced by a letter of the Hebrew alphabet.

A unique feature of the Tenebrae service was the progressive extinguishing of 15 candles as the psalms and readings progressed, until only a single candle – a symbol of Christ – remained.

The final candle remaining is then removed from its stand and taken away as the Cathedral Schola sung the antiphon Christus factus est(Christ became obedient for us) by Johann Ernst Eberlin (1702-1762).

During the singing of the Benedictus, the candles on the altar are distinguished and the cathedral is cast in darkness.

The Cathedral remained in darkness until the assembly make loud noise (strepitus), which include stamping feet and tapping on the cathedral pews. This symbolises the earthquake at the time of the resurrection (Matthew 28:2).

After the strepitus, the single “Christ Candle” was restored to its place, and by its light, the gathered faithful prayed briefly before departing in silence.


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