Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Dominican Rite Lent III: Good Friday

Among the most famous ceremonies of Holy Week in the pre-1970 Roman Rite was the vigil service known as Tenebrae ("Shadows"). In the Dominican Rite, although it had been previously been "anticipated" and celebrated in the evening, by the late 1950s, we had restored Tenebrae to its medieval position, early morning. It consisted of Matins, with its nine psalms, and Laudes, with its four psalms, Old Testament canticle, and Gospel Canticle (the Benedictus). This made a total of 15 psalms and canticles. As the psalms of the Office were sung, a candle was snuffed for each psalm or canticle. In this picture you can see the great fifteen-candle "hearse" in use on Good Friday morning in 1958 at St. Albert the Great Priory in Oakland CA. A lay brother in cappa is snuffing the candle of the seventh psalm of Matins, which is the first psalm of the third nocturn.

The readings of the first nocturn of Tenebrae are from the Lamentations of Jeremiah and have, in our rite, a special and distinctive "funereal" chant. We also have a special, very elaborate chant for the Oratio Jeremiae, the "Prayer of Jeremiah," which was, and may still may be, sung at the service on Holy Saturday. The rituals of Tenebrae are well known to our readers, so I will restrict myself to mentioning only a few Dominican variants: we do not have a special ritual for the 15th or "Jesus" candle, it is neither left burning or hidden. We simply snuff it. And the famous "clamor" made by pounding on the choir stalls with books or other objects is not done. There was great variety in the medieval rite of Tenebrae, and our Office is typical of our Rite in its sobriety of symbols. I understand that in some places the Jesus Candle and the Clamor had been introduced into the Domincian service, but they are not in the Ceremoniale and we never had them in the Western Province. In contrast, however, we have a complex series of invocations and responses in place of the Preces on these days, which can still be used with the Liturgy of the Hours today.

The Dominican rite for Good Friday begins by the sacristan dressing the altar with a cloth and two candles. A cantor then chanted the prophecy from Hosea 6, during which the ministers entered and prostrated before the altar steps, as you can see in this photo. The priest is Fr. Blaise Shauer, O.P. (R.I.P), a well-known liturgist of the Western Province, who was substituting for the elderly prior, Fr. William Lewis, O.P. You can see that the ministers wear albs with black stoles and maniples. The choir sings the Tract from Habacuc 3, after which, the priest ascends to the altar to sing the Collect. After the subdeacon sings the lesson from Exodus 12, and the choir the Tract from Psalm 139 [140], three deacons sing the Passion from John's Gospel. Our melody for this differs from the Roman, especially for the section treating the Deposition from the Cross and Burial of Our Lord where we use the "funereal" tone of the Lamentations at Tenebrae. The Passion is followed by the Great Intercessions, which differ from those of the 1962 Roman Rite only in occasional choice of words.

Perhaps the most famous part of the Dominican Good Friday rite is the ceremony for the Veneration of the Cross. As the Intercessions end, two priests and two deacons (in alb, stole, and maniple) arrange themselves before the altar. The deacons will sing the Agios after each of the "Reproaches." The priests take up a covered cross from the altar on its Epistle side during the first Reproach and hold it up. The deacons and choir sing the antiphonally the Agios. The whole community and the ministers genuflect three times, once during each Agios. The Agios is then sung again in Latin, and the same three genuflections are made. This veneration ceremony is also repeated after both the second and third Reproaches. At each Reproach, the cross priests move the veiled cross a step closer to the center of the altar, until it is in the center at the last Agios. By the 1950s, however, in many places, this procession with the cross was restored to its original form. Beginning in the back of the choir (or parish church) the priests brought the cross up by three stages to the altar, a variant that made the procession of the cross more dramatic.

The prior or celebrant then went to up to the priests holding the still covered cross, took it, unveiled it, and turned to display it to the community. He then sang the antiphon Ecce lignum Crucis, in quo salus mundi pepéndit: veníte adorémus, during which all genuflected. As the cantor repeated the antiphon all rose. The prior then gave the cross to the two deacons who had sung the Agios, who then reclined on the steps of the altar holding it between them. The community removed their shoes and, in order of religion, came in procession, two by two, up the aisle of the choir to the cross, stopping to genuflect at the two places where the cross had been at each Agios. Finally, at the altar steps, each genuflected and prostrated on the floor to kiss the cross held by the two reclining priests. In this photo you can see the celebrant, Fr. Blaise Shauer, O.P., venerating the cross held by Fr. Eugene Sousa, O.P., one of the deacons of the cross. The other has his back to us.

This ceremony was choreographed so that each set of three pairs of friars in medio chori genuflected and moved at the same time. A series of antiphons and the hymn Crux Fidelis were sung during this rite. When the last of the friars had venerated, the prior took up the cross, mounted the altar steps, displayed it to the community and sang the antiphon Christus triumphávit, et mors mortem superávit in ætérnum. He then sang the collect Respice while holding the cross. After he had placed it in a suitable place (usually the altar), the veneration ceremony ended. I will not describe the Communion Rite of Good Friday as, after our reform of Holy Week in 1956, it was virtually identical to Pius XII's reformed Communion service.

This completes the series on Dominican Lent

As one commenter as already mentioned, I should note that the rite of veneration described above can be used by Dominicans with the Novus Ordo service as explained in the 1985 Proprium Ordinis Praedicatorum 2: Missale et Lectionarium. We have used this ceremony each year at our university parish in Charlottesville VA where I live. The people find it very impressive. Also, various elements of Tenebrae may also be used with the new Liturgy of the Hours as explained in the 1982 Proprium Ordinis Praedicatorum 1: Liturgia Horarum.

More recent articles:

For more articles, see the NLM archives: