Sound, Silence, and Prayer
Just as music is made up of a mixture of sounds and silence, so also is our worship liturgy made up of a combination of sound and silence. The sounds of our worship as expressed in the proclamation of the Word and in singing God’s praises are highlighted and brought into focus by the contrast of quiet time spent in reflection and prayer. During Lent, there are more places for silence during the service; this provides us with more time for reflection and prayer and reminds us of the meditative and inward aspects of the season. But regardless of the time of year, our inherent need for silence and prayer is described in these lines from the book Songs and Prayers from Taizé
“When we try to express communion with God in words, we rapidly reach the end of our capacities. But in the depths of our being Christ is praying, far more than we imagine…Although God never stops trying to communicate with us, God never wants to impose anything on us. Often God’s voice comes in a whisper, in a breath of silence. Remaining in silence in God’s presence, open to the spirit, is already prayer.
The Traditional Service of Tenebrae
On the Wednesday of Holy Week, April 8, at 7:00 PM, St. James will offer a traditional service of Tenebrae. Because this term is used for a variety of Holy Week services and concerts, what follows is some history and a description of what you will experience at the traditional Tenebrae service at St. James.
“Tenebrae” is the Latin name for the prayer services of Matins and Lauds as they are chanted in the monastery during the last three days of Holy Week. “Tenebrae” derives from the Latin for “darkness” or “shadows.” Matins and Lauds are normally said very early in the morning – about 3 a.m. and 6 a.m. – so beginning in the Middle Ages, during Holy Week these offices were moved to the previous evening to make it possible for laypeople to join the monks in their Holy Week meditations.
The distinctive feature of the traditional Tenebrae service is the gradual extinguishing of fourteen candles, along with any other lights in the church, so that the service ends in complete darkness. The extinguishing of the candles is interspersed with the chanting of several psalms and readings from scripture. Near the end of the service, the only candle that is still burning (the Christ candle) is hidden from view. In the darkness, the Good Friday collect is read, symbolizing the Crucifixion. A sudden loud noise is heard, representing the earthquake at the time of the Resurrection (Matthew 28:2). After a short time, the hidden burning candle, representing Christ, is returned to the altar, and there follows a short time of silent prayer. Silence is observed while the choir and clergy, followed by the congregation, leave the church.
The service of Tenebrae provides time to suspend our busy-ness and quiet our anxious concerns and thoughts. It give us a dedicated time to embrace silence in order to create room for God to speak in our hearts. Tenebrae provides “an extended meditation upon, and a prelude to, the events of our Lord’s life between the Last Supper and the Resurrection” (Book of Occasional Services).