Holy Wednesday 2016

The "hearse" or "harrow" that holds the candles at Tenebrae.
The “hearse” that holds the candles at Tenebrae.

Almighty and everlasting God, who, of thy tender love towards mankind, hast sent thy Son, our Saviour Jesus Christ, to take upon him our flesh, and to suffer death upon the cross, that all mankind should follow the example of his great humility: Mercifully grant, that we may both follow the example of his patience, and also be made partakers of his resurrection; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Lectionary for Holy Wednesday

Tenebrae – 7pm

Tenebrae (Latin for ‘darkness’) is based on the monastic office of Matins for the last three days of Holy Week. The series of psalms, lessons, and responses is intended to reflect the mind of Christ as his Passion unfolds.

Twenty-five candles are lighted at the beginning of the service, which correspond to the numbers of the twelve Prophets and the twelve Apostles, with one candle for Our Lord. The name of the triangular Tenebrae ‘hearse’, upon which the candles are placed, is derived from the Latin word for the large rake which is used as a harrow. We are reminded of Christ’s “harrowing of Hell”, his reclaiming of souls for salvation.

During the singing of the Office of Tenebrae, the candles are extinguished one by one, until only one light remains. This one is not extinguished, but is hidden from our sight. The gradual extinguishing of light represents for us the darkness closing about Our Lord during his Passion, and the darkness that came over the world with his death.

At the end of the service, a noise is made, symbolizing the despair of the disciples at the betrayal of Christ, the confusion of Nature at his death, and the veil of the Temple being torn in two. After this noise, the hidden candle is brought back; although Christ seemed to have been separated from us in his death, his resurrection shows that only this death could heal the rift between God and his people. The bonds of death are loosed through Christ’s harrowing of Hell and rising in triumph.