Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Notes on Spy Wednesday.

Today the Church celebrates Holy Wednesday, sometimes called "Spy Wednesday" because this is believed to be the day on which Judas Iscariot made arrangements to betray Jesus in exchange for thirty pieces of silver. Spy Wednesday is also the last day in Lent; the Paschal Triduum begins tomorrow with the Church's commemoration of Holy Thursday. In anticipation of Christ's Passion, Spy Wednesday is often marked by the evening Office of Tenebrae, a musical setting of selections from the Psalms and the Book of Lamentations. Tenebrae means "darkness" in Latin, and over the course of the service the church grows darker and darker as all lights are gradually extinguished. At the climax of the service, a single candle - representing the light of Christ - remains lit. When this candle is carried out of the church, the nave is shaken by the strepitus - a loud noise, sometimes produced by banging on pews, that is meant to symbolize the earthquake that shook Jerusalem at the time of Jesus' death on the cross. After a few moments, the strepitus ends as the light of Christ returns to the church. The service of Tenebrae presents the Paschal Triduum in miniature, proceeding through the Passion on the way to Christ's Resurrection.

I had my first experience of Tenebrae as a college student, and this distinctive Holy Week service has grown on me over time. Few Catholic parishes incorporate Tenebrae into their Holy Week schedule, and I'd never even heard of the service before I encountered it at Georgetown. After attending Notre Dame's excellent Tenebrae services during each of my three years in law school, I came to regard the experience as an integral part of Holy Week. This year I participated in the Office of Tenebrae at St. Mary of Perpetual Help, a beautiful old Polish church in Chicago's Bridgeport neighborhood. St. Mary of Perpetual Help has a reputation for good liturgy, and tonight's service was all I had hoped for. It's too soon to tell where I'll attend Tenebrae services next year in the Bronx, but I look forward to continuing the tradition. AMDG.


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