Holy Week Destroyed: Tenebrae of Holy Thursday (Anticipated on Wednesday) Suppressed

Holy Week Destroyed: Tenebrae of Holy Thursday (Anticipated on Wednesday) Suppressed

Behold the suppressed beauty of the Office of Tenebrae for Holy Thursday (Anticipated late afternoon on Spy Wednesday) courtesy of St. Gertrude the Great Roman Catholic Church in Cincinnati, Ohio.

These (and all videos I will be posting) have been recorded by SGG’s expert MC, Mr. Richard Vande Ryt, and are (or will be) viewable on his YouTube Channel here.

Note that Part II of this three-part upload is missing, but I am informed that Mr. Vande Ryt is recording Tenebrae live again this year (as with all the Holy Week ceremonies, and these will be available on his channel -and this blog- in due course).

Please also note that all the ceremonies of the fully traditional Holy Week are streamed live from St. Gertrude the Great Roman Catholic Church here.


Note that it was for the suppressed office of Tenebrae that Allegri composed in the 1630’s arguably the most beautiful piece of liturgical music ever written, in his magnificent Miserere (which the SGG choir nails, beginning at the 13:35 mark of Part III).  However, since the suppression of Tenebrae, this wonderful composition has since become a liturgical anachronism, with no outlet for expression in the Church’s Holy Week rites, and subsequently relegated to concert halls.

Some more information about the suppression of Tenebrae:

From Wikipedia:

“In the Roman Catholic Church, “Tenebrae” is the name given to the celebration, with special ceremonies, of Matins and Lauds, the first two hours of the Divine Office, of the last three days of Holy Week. The traditions regarding this service go back at least to the ninth century. Originally celebrated after midnight, by the late Middle Ages their celebration was anticipated on the afternoon or evening of the preceding day.

The celebration of Matins and Lauds of these days in the form referred to as Tenebrae in churches with a sufficient number of clergy was universal in the Roman Rite until the reform of the Holy Week ceremonies by Pope Pius XII in 1955. At that time, the Easter Vigil was restored as a night office, moving that Easter liturgy from Holy Saturday morning to the following night; the principal liturgies of Holy Thursday and Good Friday were likewise moved from morning to afternoon or evening, and thus Matins and Lauds were no longer allowed to be anticipated on the preceding evening, except for the Matins and Lauds of Holy Thursday in the case of cathedral churches in which the Chrism Mass was held on Holy Thursday morning.”

Dr. Carol Byrne explains the pretext upon which Bugnini/Pius XII suppressed Tenebrae, and the gravity of having done so, in her excellent study (here):

“Before the 1955 reforms, Tenebrae was widely celebrated in the Church and was well attended by lay people in cathedrals, abbeys and large churches where there was an ample supply of clergy. Nevertheless, the reformers arranged for its demise by an astonishingly simple strategy: changing its time of celebration. The Decree Maxima Redemptionis prohibited anticipating Matins and Lauds on the previous evenings of the Triduum, (1) switching the time to the morning hours. (2)

This effectively threw the proverbial spanner into the work of centuries, for Tenebrae performed in the morning not only destroys its coherence as a nocturnal Office, but also the “atmospherics” of darkness on which its powerful symbolism relies in order to create the right mood. Daylight Tenebrae is, of course, a misnomer and has never been approved by the Church before the Bugnini reform. 

The self-contradictory nature of this reform is also evident in the same Decree, which, in criticism of the traditional Triduum, stated that “all these liturgical solemnities were pushed back to the morning hours; certainly with detriment to the liturgy’s meaning.” How could the reformers complain when that is exactly what they did to the Office of Tenebrae? 

False rivalry between the Mass & the Divine Office:

The ostensible reason for displacing Tenebrae was that the Holy Thursday Mass should be celebrated in the evening to correspond with the time of the Last Supper. Yet, for many centuries prior to 1955, this Mass had been said in the morning – the progressivists scoffed that it was the “Mass of the Lord’s Breakfast” – and the Decree accused the traditional Holy Week schedule of creating “confusion between the Gospel accounts and the liturgical representations referring to them. 

This was the first time in the History of the Church that an official document of the Holy See stood in judgement against its own approved tradition that had been hallowed by centuries of usage and condemned it as detrimental to a right understanding of the Holy Week liturgy. It was a barely concealed rallying cry for a liturgical revolution to usher in a “new understanding” of the Faith.”