Greying the darkness

Tenebræ, as a particular custom of saying Matins and Lauds for the Sacred Triduum, is sometimes explained in incomplete terms to avoid addressing the problems produced by the Pian Holy Week reforms. The word tenebræ in Latin means darkness. It is a plurale tantum, which means we can never find the word used in the singular, *tenebra. As many authors have already described the spiritual side of this darkness, we shall be content with asking one question: How do we experience ambient darkness?

Credo videre bona Domini !

Darkness is simply the absence of light. When the sun sets, its light diminishes, and darkness creeps in. When a household forgets to pay its utilities and the power provider decides to cut the line, it will have no electricity-powered light come nighttime. When we are in a brightly-lit windowless room, and some pranksters flipped the switch off, darkness engulfs us. There are, therefore, two sides to the experience of darkness: first, the disappearance of light; second, the emergence of darkness.

Now back to the Office of Darkness. Monks recited Matins at midnight, Lauds close to dawn. These are hours when the earth is morally still awash in the darkness of night. To sing the Offices, monks needed light. As with other nocturnal Offices, the same necessity for light was expected in the Offices of the Sacred Triduum. What happened differently, however, was the fact that monks started to extinguish the light gradually until all lights had been smothered by the end of Lauds. As Matins progressed and ushered in Lauds, the monks in choir were plunged deeper and deeper into ambient darkness. And what usually happens after the fact? The name is coined. The nocturnal Offices of the Sacred Triduum became the Office of Darkness.

The Office is very long, and, if coupled with extenuating circumstances, such as the staggered recitation of matutinal nocturns in monastic communities, can sometimes extend into daybreak. In places where night gradually shortens after the equinox, this meant that the Office can reach up to midmorning. “The desire to render these sublime Offices more accessible to clergy and laity,” notes the Catholic Encyclopedia, prompted the shifting of the Offices “from midnight to the previous afternoon, when no real darkness can be secured.”

Such desire evidently asserted itself when the Commission for the General Reform of the Liturgy, convened on 12 December 1952, and afterwards on 23 January the following year, and much later on 24 June 1955. In the process, no restoration happened, just another temporal translation, which also turned out to be a band aid solution for the centuries-old rhythm of Christendom to attend liturgies in the morning of the Sacred Triduum. In the process, the Office of Darkness lost the element that gave it its name. Explaining the importance of the Officium Tenebrarum now rests on unintentional half-truths.

The Office of Darkness did not come to be known as such merely by the extinguishing of lights. The service came to be known as Tenebræ after the extinguishing of lights and the darkness that waxes with each extinction. As we sing the Tenebræ on these hallowed days, we participate in the collective effort to keep the ancient liturgies alive. We, therefore, pray to God that He may deign to restore the Sacred Liturgy throughout the world.

Ut in omnibus laudetur Dominus.


[1] Herbert Thurston, Tenebræ: The Catholic Encyclopedia 14 (New York 1912).
[2] Verbale delle 25a, 27a, e 51a adunanze. See: Nicola Giampietro, O. F. M. Cap., Il cardinale Giuseppe Ferdinando Antonelli e gli sviluppi della riforma liturgica dal 1948 al 1970 (Rome 1998), pp. 315, 319, 355.


Three years ago, on 6 January 2016, the Congregation of Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments issued the decree In Missa officially introducing the Franciscoid variation of the rite of the mandatum. We will not attempt to discuss the merit and demerit of this variation, which has now rendered the rite more facile to integrated into latent sloganeering and other patent social activism.

And below is a rare photograph of the twelve beggars whose feet were washed during the mandatum in the Cathedral of Nueva Segovia in 1916.

One notices that these selected men, viri selecti in rubrical Latin, are not the best dressed of the citizenry. We are probably reading too much from this one picture, because from what we see these men look poor, and were probably poor, and, perhaps, because of their poverty, they were given matching attires.

Below is a very brief, almost passing, description of how the mandatum was carried out in the then Diocese of Nueva Cáceres.

During the meal of the Apostles at the [Episcopal] Palace, the seminarians designated by the Fr. Director shall assist to serve the poor at the table and to accompany the Bishop. At two-thirty in the afternoon, the washing of the feet shall begin, and the maundy shall follow, as well the praying of compline.

A la comida de los Apóstoles en Palacio se asistirán los seminaristas que designe el P. Director, para servir a los pobres la mesa y acompañar al Obispo. A las dos y media de la tarde se comenzará el lavatorio, seguirá el Mandato y el rezo de las completas.

A few observations are in place. The first part mentions apóstoles and later pobres. These two mean the same thing. They are the viri selecti, men who have very little or no earthly possessions at all, selected and appointed as apostles whom the bishop invites to his table on Maundy Thursday. Later, after the meal, the bishop washes the feet of these poor men. Largely due to this tradition of calling the twelve men apostles that the new dicasterial decree had to be approached carefully in some places. In these places, the viri selecti are still exclusively men, but a new paraliturgy evolved where, while Mass is suspended in midair, the twelve men go to designated places inside the church and wash the feet of layfolk—men, women, children, etc.

Today, when we celebrate the institution of the Holy Eucharist, let us offer our Lenten sacrifices for the transmission of the things which we received from the apostles, who in turn received them from our Lord Jesus Christ Himself. Today, we usually hear charity highlighted, and not so much as obedience, which the mandatum demands, for where there is command, there obedience should be.

Ut in omnibus laudetur Dominus.

Redding the purple

The biggest decisions that ended up changing the Palm Sunday liturgy happened on a Tuesday evening, on 11 May 1954, in the residence of Cardinal Gaetano Cicognani, Prefect of the Sacred Congregation of Rites, which was in the Pontifical Spanish College. The 40th meeting of the Commission for the General Reform of the Liturgy, formed by Pius XII on 28 May 1948, started at 05:30 that evening, with the reading of the minutes of the previous meeting.

Two matters were in order for this day: the first was the feast of Saint Mary Magdalene; the second, Palm Sunday. After the Magdalene affair, Father Josef Löw, C. Ss. R., distributed to the members a report, which he prepared in collaboration with then-Father Ferdinando Giuseppe Antonelli, O. F. M., containing the historical exposition and the general principles of the reformed rite, that foresees the simplification of the blessing of the palms, and the reappreciation of the primitive notion of a solemn homage to Christ the King, something which by then was no longer very clear. Two new collects, one for the blessing of the palms, and another for the conclusion of the procession, were also prepared and proposed. The structure of the Mass remained intact. The Commission was favourable to the proposal.

Dom Joaquín Anselmo María Albareda y Ramoneda, O. S. B., member of the Commission, then made a distinction between the blessing of palms (the first part, the dry Mass) and the Mass itself (the second part) of Palm Sunday, and proposed, to enact said distinction, situating the entire blessing of palms outside the church, just like the blessing of fire on Holy Saturday. The Commission, however, identified difficulties in implementing this change. Dom Albareda, moreover, proposed using rose vestments in the blessing and procession, considering that there are already two instances in the liturgy for this colour, during parentheses of joy in the midst of sorrow. The conclusion thereby admitted the possible use of either rose or red vestments for the first part of the liturgy.

Msgr. Enrico Dante then proposed simplifying the first part as well, in this way: singing of the Hosanna, blessing of palms using the last of the current collects, distribution, reading of the gospel, procession, final collect. This schema mirrored the prepared and proposed texts, which had abandoned the collects for the blessing of palms, except the last, wherein homage to Christ the King is sufficiently expressed, revised from a stylistic point of view to emphasise said homage. The meeting then ended with the usual prayer at 06:40 in the evening.

Changes on the agreed terms from this meeting were introduced in the next meeting on Tuesday, 25 March 1954. But the next time Palm Sunday came under the liturgical microscope in time for the excision of some lengthening factors was on a Friday evening, 21 October 1955, at 05:00 pm, in the same place, with all members of the Commission present. Again, two matters were in order for this day: first, the examination of the instruction that would later be released together with Maxima redemptionis barely a month later; second, the transfer of the Passion of Saint Matthew from Palm Sunday to Holy Monday. The first matter immediately started after the usual prayer, and the Council members agreed that only peremptory norms should be kept in the decree, while directive norms placed in the instruction. The texts were then reconsidered norm by norm, letter by letter, word for word.

Passing into the second matter, the Commission, considering that ancient tradition of reading the Passion on Palm Sunday, unanimously agreed against transferring the Passion of Saint Matthew to Holy Monday, but the Commission likewise admitted the proposal of reduction presented by then-Father Augustin Bea, S. J., pericoping it from Mt. 26, 36 until Mt. 27, 61, thereby removing a total of 40 verses. With this, the meeting ended with the usual prayer at 07:00 in the evening.

So, now we can map the major items in the synopsis for the Palm Sunday reforms prepared years before by the NLM to their originators: red vestments, abandonment of folded chasubles, omission of the veil on the processional cross, by Dom Albareda O. S. B.; reorganisation and simplification of the entire blessing rite, removal of old readings and prayers, introduction of new prayers, by Msgr. Dante; suppression of old responsories and antiphons, and permission of new hymns in honour of Christ the King, by Fr. Löw, C. Ss. R., and Fr. Antonelli, O. F. M.; reduction of the Passion of Saint Matthew, by Fr. Bea.

Revisiting these processes is an exercise in frustration. The procession of palms on Palm Sunday, interpreted under the reclarified light of a solemn homage to Christ the King, a notion that demands reassertion and revaluation, must be a parenthesis of joy in a period of sorrow. And since the Church allows other colour for such joyous pockets of time, so a less severe colour must be used during the entire blessing of palms, to which is intimately united the procession. The choice is rose or red. Red wins. To reconnect the new colour to the reemphasised element, red must be marketed to the audience as the true purple colour of royalty. But what can be truer than purple except purple itself?

Watch ye, and pray!

One of life’s prudishness that future generations can accuse us of is the moral obligation under which we labour when we feel inordinately repentant for the mistakes of other people. We feel sorry for what the reformers did, because their actions deprived us of the patrimonial riches of the Church, locked safely behind formulations of legality and appearances of abrogation, for quite a long time. The compelling reasons they so thought necessary to alter the age-old rites of the Church exist in an academic utopia built on the foundations of liturgical revisionism and false parallelisms.


Verbale delle 40a, 41a, e 54a adunanze. See: Nicola Giampietro, O. F. M. Cap., Il cardinale Giuseppe Ferdinando Antonelli e gli sviluppi della riforma liturgica dal 1948 al 1970 (Rome 1998), pp. 343–344, 358.

Easter prophetiary

Apparently, the original file for Book I of the Prophetiarium Xicatunense that we uploaded back in 2016 can no longer be downloaded. Hence, we have reuploaded the prophetiary (click the image on the left to access the file) in our Resources section. (Book II, for Pentecost, is in our Resources section, as well.) May it be useful to our mission to honour sacred music in its proper place in Catholic worship.

Ut in omnibus laudetur Dominus.

Tutorial: Ad libitum Easter Vigil prophecy tones

August last year, we received from a reader the tutorial recordings he made for the ad libitum Easter Vigil prophecy tones that this Choir uses.

Yesterday, NLM published the recordings here, which we now also share below. May these tutorial videos help us chant the prophecies of Easter Vigil!







Ut in omnibus laudetur Dominus.