Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Following the Path to the Cross

with Abbot Gueranger, O.S.B.  in the Liturgical Year

Wednesday of Holy Week (Spy Wednesday)

The chief priests and the ancients of the people have met today in one of the rooms adjoining the temple, for the purpose of deliberating on the best means of putting Jesus to death.  Several plans are discussed.  Would it be prudent to lay hands upon Him at this season of the feast of the Pasch, when the city is filled with strangers, who have received a favourable impression of Jesus from the solemn ovation given to Him three days back?  Then, too, are there not a great number of inhabitants of Jerusalem, who took part in that triumph and whose enthusiastic admiration of Jesus might excite them to rise up in His defence? These considerations persuade them not to have recourse to any violent measure, at least for the present, as a sedition among the people might be the consequence, and its promoters, even were they to escape being ill-treated by the people, would be brought before the tribunal of the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate.  They therefore come to the resolution of letting the feast pass quietly over, before apprehending Jesus.

But these blood-thirsty men are making all these calculations as though they were the masters.  They are, if they will, shrewd assassins, who put off their murder to a more convenient day; but the divine decrees, which from all eternity have prepared a Sacrifice, for the world's salvation, have fixed this very year's Pasch as the day of the Sacrifice, and tomorrow evening the holy city will re-echo with the trumpets which proclaim the opening of the feast.  The figurative lamb is now to make way for the true one; the Pasch of this year will substitute the reality for the type; and Jesus' Blood, shed by the hands of wicked priests, is soon to flow simultaneously with that of victims, which have been hitherto acceptable to God only because they prefigured the Sacrifice of Calvary.  The Jewish priesthood is about to be its own executioner, by immolating Him, whose Blood is to abrogate the ancient Alliance, and perpetuate the new one.

But how are Jesus' enemies to get possession of their divine Victim, so as to avoid a disturbance in the city?  There is only one plan that could succeed, and they have not thought of it: it is treachery.  Just at the close of their deliberations, they are told that one of Jesus' disciples seeks admission.  They admit him, and he says to them:  'What will you give me, and I will deliver Him unto you?' (1)  They are delighted at this proposition:  and yet, how is it that they, doctors of the law, forget that this infamous bargain between themselves and Judas has all been foretold by David, in Psalm cviii?  They know the Scriptures from beginning to end:  how comes it that they forget the words of the Prophet, who even mentions the sum of thirty pieces of silver? (2)  Judas asks them what they will give; and they give him thirty pieces of silver! 

 All is arranged; tomorrow, Jesus will be in Jerusalem, eating the Pasch with His disciples.  In the evening He will go, as usual, to the garden on Mount Olivet.  But how shall they, who are sent to seize Him, be able to distinguish Him from His disciples?  Judas will lead the way; he will show them which is Jesus, by going up to Him and kissing Him!


Such is the impious scheme devised on this day, within the precincts of the temple of Jerusalem.  To testify her detestation at it, and to make atonement to the Son of God for the outrage thus offered Him, the holy Church, from the earliest ages, has consecrated the Wednesday of every week to penance.  In our own times, the fast of Lent begins on a Wednesday;  and when the Church ordained that we should commence each of the four seasons of the year with fasting (Ember Days), Wednesday was chosen to be one of the three days thus consecrated to bodily mortification...

At Rome, the Station for today is in the basilica of St. Mary Major.  Let us compassionate with our holy Mother, whose heart is filled with poignant grief at the foresight of the Sacrifice which is preparing.
1. St. Matt. xxvi. 15
2. Ibid. xxvii. Zach. xi. 12

The Office of Tenebrae

On this and the two following days, the Church anticipates the night Office;  she celebrates it on the previous evening of each day, and this in order that the faithful may be present at it.  The Matins and Lauds of Maundy Thursday, are, therefore, said this afternoon.  The faithful should make every effort to assist at this solemn Office, seeing it is on their account that the Church has changed her usual hours.  As to the merit there is in joining in it, there can be no doubt that it is to be preferred to any private devotions.  The surest means for obtaining favours from God, and winning Him to our requests, is to approach Him through the Church...

The Form of the Night Office

The Office of Matins and Lauds, for the last three days of Holy Week differs, in many things, from that of the rest of the year.  All is sad and mournful, as though it were a funeral service: nothing could more emphatically express the grief that now weighs down the heart of our holy mother the Church.  Throughout all the Office of Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, she forbids herself the use of those formulas of joy and hope, wherewith, on all other days, she begins her praise of God...

The name of Tenebrae* has been given to the Matins and Lauds of the last three days of Holy Week, because this Office used formerly to be celebrated during the night; and even when the hour was anticipated, the name of Tenebrae was kept up for another reason, namely, that it began with daylight, but ended after the sun had set.  there is an impressive ceremony, peculiar to this Office, which tends to perpetuate its name. 

There is placed in the sanctuary, near the altar, a large triangular candlestick holding fifteen candles.  These candles, and the six that are on the altar, are of yellow wax, as in the office for the dead.  At the end of each psalm or canticle, one of these fifteen candles is extinguished; but the one which is placed at the top of the triangle is lighted.  During the singing of the Benedictus, at Lauds;  the six candles on the altar are also put out.  Then the master of ceremonies takes the lighted candle from the triangle, and holds it upon he altar, on the epistle side, while the choir repeats the antiphon after the canticle:  after which he hides it behind the altar during the recitation of the Miserere and the prayer which follows the psalm.  As soon as this prayer is finished, a noise is made with the seats and stalls in the choir, which continues until the candle is brought from behind the altar and shows, by its light, that the Office of Tenebrae is over..

Following is an audio (the screen remains blank throughout) which illustrates what is meant by "a noise is made with the seats and stalls in the choir"...



This pandemonium which signals the end of Tenebrae is called the strepitus, which is Latin for "great noise." :)

*  Definition/Etymology of Tenebrae: Tenebrae \Ten"e*br[ae]\, noun. Latin expression, plural, darkness.

1 comment:

Cathy Keller said...

Happy, Holy and Joyful Easter!!! Thanks be to God!