Tenebrae

Inside the unassuming church of Old Saint Paul’s in the city centre of Edinburgh last night, the congregation gathered to hear the choir sing the service of Tenebrae for Maundy Thursday.

The service comprises psalms and readings sung to plainsong and faux-bourdon settings. This evocative rite with simple but dramatic ceremony helps to draw us into the darkness of the Passion. During the rite the lights are gradually extinguished until just one candle, representing Christ, remains shining in the darkness. This is a foretaste of the Resurrection; the light that banishes darkness.

When I was living in Edinburgh the Tenebrae service was always my favourite one of the year, and this is the first time in 12 years that I’ve missed it. The service is sung throughout (except for a small amount of spoken text at the end), and is performed from a booklet compiled for All Saints, Margaret Street in London (including the instruction to the choir to “exit to the south grill”).

One year I cut short a business meeting in Washington DC, to catch a flight home to Edinburgh to attend Tenebrae. And for me, it’s always been an important part of Holy Week; one that I miss very deeply now that I’m in Dublin.