Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Compendium of the 1955 Holy Week Revisions of Pius XII: Part 5 - Tenebrae and the Divine Office of the Triduum

We continue with part V of Gregory DiPippo's consideration of the texts, ceremonies and history of the Holy Week ceremonies from before and after Pope Pius XII's reforms in 1955, looking at Tenebrae and the Triduum Office.

Previous Installments in this series:

Part 1 - The Palm Sunday Blessing and Procession of Palms

Part 2 - The Masses of Palm Sunday, Holy Tuesday and Spy Wednesday

Part 3 - The Mass of Holy Thursday and the Mandatum

Part 4.1 - The Mass of Presanctified on Good Friday, Mass of the Catechumens and the Solemn Prayers

Part 4.2 - Good Friday, The Adoration of the Cross and the Rite of the Presanctified


Compendium of the 1955 Holy Week Revisions of Pius XII


Part 5: Tenebrae and the Divine Office of the Triduum


by Gregory DiPippo




Synopsis of the Pre-Pius XII Ritual

The Divine Office of the Sacred Triduum is not only the simplest form of the Office that exists, but also the most ancient, going back to the fourth century. All of the antiphonaries of the Roman Rite, beginning with the oldest (the antiphonary of Compiègne, written about 870 A.D., and the Codex Hartker, written about the year 1000) attest with almost complete uniformity to the same repertoire of antiphons and responsories which are found in the Breviary of St. Pius V. It should also be noted that in the western monastic rite, the entire Office of the Triduum is sung in exactly the same way as in the Roman Breviary, even though the number of psalms, readings and responsories at the various Hours is not in conformity with the regular order of the monastic Breviary. Already in the time of Saint Benedict, the rite was considered to be of such venerable antiquity that no-one dared to create a different form or order of the Office for these three days.

The Office has the following special characteristics. The doxology, which, according to a common tradition was added to the Office by Pope Saint Damasus I, (366 – 384), is everywhere omitted, as are the Invitatory, Hymns, Little Chapters, and indeed, all the elements which have been added to the Office over the course of the centuries to increase its beauty and solemnity. The Church has deliberately maintained this original form of the Office as a sign of mourning in the days immediately before Easter, so that all may be restored to its rightful place during the octave of Christ’s Resurrection, when all things are made new. Indeed, the process of gradually stripping the Office in this way forms an intrinsic part of the liturgical year’s progress towards Easter. The word Alleluja is removed from the entire liturgy on Septuagesima Sunday; on Passion Sunday, the doxology is removed from the Invitatory, the Responsories, and the Mass.

The Matins and Lauds of these three days, sung together as a single service, are universally known as “Tenebrae”, Latin for “darkness”. Each day’s Tenebrae was traditionally anticipated to the evening of the preceding day; Tenebrae of Holy Thursday was done on the evening of Spy Wednesday, etc. Over the course of the ceremony, all of the lights in the church were gradually extinguished (as will be described more fully below), so that the last part of the ceremony took place in complete darkness. This point will also be mentioned in greater detail in an upcoming discussion of the timing of the Triduum services.

The Hour of Matins is divided into three nocturns, as on the greater feasts, each of which consists of three psalms with their antiphons, a versicle, and three readings with their responsories. In the first nocturn, the Church sings lessons from the Lamentations of Jeremiah, with a special melody famous for its solemnity and beauty, and entirely appropriate to the text. These lessons and the responsories have also been set in polyphony by innumerable musicians and composers; Palestrina , Victoria , and Charpentier are only three among the more outstanding composers who have written for this service.

Lauds consists of five psalms with their antiphons, a versicle, and the Benedictus with its antiphon, after which is sung the antiphon Christus factus est, justly famous as one of the most moving pieces of the Gregorian repertoire, and which is also the Gradual of the Mass of the Lord’s Supper. On Holy Thursday, it is said at all of the Hours, including Tenebrae, as far as, “usque ad mortem”; on Good Friday the words “mortem autem Crucis” are added, and on Holy Saturday the rest (“propter quod et Deus…”).

The Lord’s Prayer is said in silence, and then psalm 50, the Miserere. This psalm is said “recto tono”, according to the rubric of the Breviary, i.e., all on one note, and in a low voice. However, at the beginning of the sixteenth century, there began the custom of writing polyphonic versions of this psalm especially for this part of the rite; that of Gregorio Allegri, master of the Sistine Chapel, is the most famous, but only one of the masterpieces inspired by this text.

(See the last two paragraphs of the Catholic Encyclopedia article on the Miserere; http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/10352c.htm)

The rite concludes with the prayer “Respice, quaesumus, Domine, super hanc familiam tuam,” the only prayer said in the office on these days. This prayer is the Oratio super populum of the Mass of Spy Wednesday, said also at the following Vespers; it is thus said for three full days, from Vespers of Wednesday to None of Saturday. The conclusion of the prayer is said by the celebrant in silence, and nothing further is added.

This Office is accompanied by a special ceremony, which has made it one of the most beloved of the Christian faithful. On the altar stands the Cross, veiled on the first two days, unveiled on Holy Saturday, after the Mass of the Presanctified. On either side of the Cross stand the six candles normally present for all solemn rites. In the sanctuary, on the Epistle side, stands a triangular candlestick, called a “hearse” in English, with fifteen candles; these represent Christ, Mary Magdalene, Mary, the wife of Cleophas, and the twelve Apostles. At the end of each psalm, a candle is extinguished on the hearse, going from bottom to top; this represents the Apostles and disciples abandoning the Savior as He goes forth to His Passion. As there are fourteen psalms, the candle at the top remains lit, representing Christ, the Light of the World, Who even in His death is not extinguished.

At the last six verses of the Benedictus, the candles on the altar, and all of the other lights of the church are extinguished. Then, the last remaining candle on the hearse is placed upon the altar, to represent the Passion and sacrificial death of Christ; finally, it is hidden behind the altar, to represent His Burial. When the celebrant has said the prayer Respice, after a brief pause, everyone beats on the choir stalls and seats, to create a “din and crash”, as the rubric of the Breviary says, representing the earthquake and other phenomena of the Creation, in terror and confusion at the death of the Creator. The rite ends however, with a sign of the Church’s faith in the Resurrection; the candle is taken from behind the altar, and shown to all, who immediately cease beating the choir stalls and pews, and leave the church in silence.

The remaining hours are said in an extremely simple form of equally great antiquity. At the minor Hours, the psalms are said as on feast days, but without antiphon; at Compline, the Nunc dimittis is added to the psalms. Vespers consists of five psalms with their antiphons as usual, and the Magnificat, with an antiphon from the Gospel of the day. At the end of each Hour are said Christus factus est, Pater noster, the psalm Miserere and the prayer Respice, as at the end of Lauds.

In the liturgy of St. Pius V, the Office of the Triduum ends with None of Holy Saturday. The Easter vigil concludes with first Vespers of Easter, consisting only of psalm 116, the shortest in the Psalter, with the antiphon Alleluja, alleluja, alleluja, and the Magnificat, with an antiphon taken from the Gospel of the Vigil. All of the manuscript antiphonaries, even the most ancient, have the first Vespers of Easter at the end of the Easter vigil, with the same antiphon at the Magnificat which is found also in the rite of St. Pius V.


Synopsis of the Pius XII Reforms

In the reform of 1955, Matins and Lauds themselves were not modified. However, the psalm Miserere was removed from the end of all of the Hours, eliminating it from the liturgy. At Compline, the prayer said throughout the rest of the year Visita, quaesumus is said in place of Respice, although at Prime, which also has a fixed prayer throughout the rest of the year, Respice continues to be said.

The rubrics of the OHS of 1955 prohibit the centuries-old custom of anticipating the Tenebrae service on the evening of the preceding day. (An exception is made for the Tenebrae of Holy Thursday, but only in those churches where the new Chrism Mass is said.) The service therefore in most cases will end in broad daylight, and the ceremony of extinguishing the candles is rendered largely without its intended effect. The rubrics for the ceremony which accompanies the singing of Tenebrae were not modified in 1955, (“Horae supra dictae dicuntur ut in Breviario Romano.” ) However, in the 1961 edition of the Breviary, the last before the postconciliar reform, there is no mention of hiding the last candle burning on the hearse, nor of the noise made at the end of the ceremony. The candles are gradually put out, as in the earlier rite, but after the prayer the clergy simply leaves in silence. (This results from a 1956 clarification by SRC: “Since the rubric is silent about the noise to be made at the end of Lauds after the prayer, it must certainly be held to be suppressed.” - Ephermerides 1956, p. 423.)

On Holy Thursday and Good Friday, Vespers are omitted in choir, being replaced by the Mass of the Lord’s Supper and the Solemn Liturgical Action of Good Friday; it is no longer obligatory to recite them in private if one has attended these liturgies.

For Holy Saturday, a new prayer is introduced for the whole day. A new Vespers has been created for Holy Saturday, almost identical to the Vespers formerly said on Thursday and Friday. This Vespers effectively displaces the first Vespers of Easter which ended the Easter vigil in the Missal of St. Pius V; Easter thus becomes the only feast that does not have first Vespers, and Holy Saturday the only Saturday of the year whose Vespers are not part of the following Sunday.

The remaining changes to Easter Matins and Lauds will be discussed in the article on the Easter vigil.



Copyright (C) Gregory DiPippo, 2009

(Part 6 will consider the Easter Vigil.)