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Tenebrae

Tenebrae (tĕn´ĕbrā) [Lat.,=darkness], in the Roman Catholic Church, ceremony performed on the Wednesday and following evenings of Holy Week. As the choir chants, a number of candles set on a hearse (a kind of candelabrum) are extinguished one by one until only one remains. The last candle is hidden behind the altar, and in the darkness a noise is made, symbolizing the convulsion of nature at the Crucifixion. The single lighted candle is then replaced on the hearse. The traditional plainsong for the ceremony is much esteemed.

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Tenebrae

Tenebrae in the Roman Catholic Church, matins and lauds for the last three days of Holy Week, at which candles are successively extinguished, in memory of the darkness at the Crucifixion. Several composers have set parts of the office to music. The word is Latin, and means literally ‘darkness’.

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Tenebrae

Tenebrae. The special form of mattins and lauds for the last three days of Holy Week. The name (Lat., ‘darkness’) comes from the practice of extinguishing fifteen candles, one at a time, during the service.

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tenebrae

tenebrae Holy Week devotion (matins and lauds) at which candles lighted at the beginning are successively put out. XVII. — L. (pl.) darkness.

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tenebrae

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Tenebrae

TENEBRAE

Latin for "darkness." Historically, the traditional name given to the combined Offices of Matins and Lauds on the mornings of Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday. Historically, the service was thus designated because during the Middle Ages it was celebrated in complete darkness. Ancient characteristics of the Office may be seen in Tenebrae. There were no hymns, and the old system of readings was followed in the use of the Old and New Testaments (Epistles, not Gospels) and commentaries of the Fathers. According to the medieval practice, at the end of each psalm, one of the 15 candles was extinguished on the triangular candlestick placed before the altar. At the conclusion of Psalm 146, only one candle, at the top of the triangle, remained lighted. When Benedictus was sung, the six altar candles were extinguished one by one after every second verse; and when the antiphon Traditor autem was repeated after the canticle, the one lighted candle was taken from the triangle and hidden behind the altar, where it remained until the end of the service. Medieval liturgists seem to have introduced this custom, and thus their own allegorical interpretation probably accounts for the practice. The gradual extinguishing of all but the last candle was meant to point to the Apostles' desertion of Christ, and the last candle was supposed to depict Christ's burial (in its disappearance behind the altar) and resurrection (in its reappearance). The clatter at the end of Tenebrae originally had no significance; it was simply the din occasioned by the closing of the chant books at the end of every hour of Office when the abbot or superior gave the signal to leave. This came to be interpreted in Holy Week as representing the shaking of the earth at Christ's death.

The longest and most important chants were the responsories. In the first nocturn of Holy Thursday, it was the custom to follow each lesson (from the Lamentations of Jeremiah) with a responsory, but Gloria Patri was never sung. The first two responsories took the simple form Response-Versicle-Partial response; and the third, Response-Versicle-Partial response-Response, where the entire first section was repeated after the usual partial repeat. For the first nocturn the Lamentations of Jeremiah were read, while the lessons of the second and third nocturns were taken from St. Augustine and St. Paul, respectively. During the Middle Ages various chants were used for the Lamentations, at least one of them bearing strong resemblance to the cantillation of Yemenite Jews (see music, hebrew). In more recent times the chant most generally drawn upon stems from the normal tone for the lessons, its main characteristics being a recitation tone (tenor ) of a, and brief formulas for flex, metrum and full stop. A short melodic phrase is repeated for the Hebrew letter that begins each verse. On all 3 days the psalms are sung without Gloria Patri, and the antiphons are doubled. A significant feature of Lauds is the gradual extension of Christus factus est, with additions on Good Friday and Holy Saturday.

The most complete polyphonic setting of the Tenebrae text is that of victoria, dedicated to the Holy Trinity (1585), and performed in the Sistine Chapel during Holy Week for more than 300 years. Victoria set the nine Lamentations for the first nocturn (but not its responsories), the remaining 18 responsories and other parts of the Holy Week liturgy. A set of 27 responsories by Ingegneri was formerly attributed to palestrina and there are excellent settings also by croce and gesualdo.

Bibliography: g. reese, Music in the Renaissance, (rev. ed. New York 1959). r. m. stevenson, Spanish Cathedral Music in the Golden Age (Berkeley 1961).

[d. stevens/eds.]

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