Holy Saturday: Lamentation of Jeremiah

April 23, 2011

The Tenebrae used to be sung (or said) on each day of the Triduum, either in the early morning hours before sunrise or late on the previous evening. The texts were drawn from the epistles of St. Paul, the writings of St. Augustine, and, most famously, the Biblical book of Lamentations (attributed to Jeremiah). The Tenebrae service was marked especially by the gradual extinguishing of candles in the church as the service proceeded, giving it a wonderfully dramatic structure. The observance of this office was, I understand, deleted in the liturgical reforms of Vatican II, so that it is rarely encountered today. I have experienced it only once, and that at an Anglican church.

Many composers set the Lamentations of Jeremiah to music. Here is Victoria’s setting of the first reading for Holy Saturday (which is the only one I can find in decent sound).

Misericordiae Domini,
quia non sumus consumpti:
quia non defecerunt miserationes eius.

Bonum est viro
cum portaverit iugum ab adolescentia sua.

Ierusalem, Ierusalem,
convertere ad Dominum Deum tuum.


It is of the LORD’s mercies
that we are not consumed,
because his compassions fail not.

It is good for a man
that he bear the yoke in his youth.

Jerusalem, Jerusalem,
return unto the Lord thy God.

(Lam. 3: 22, 27)

6 Responses to “Holy Saturday: Lamentation of Jeremiah”

  1. I love the Tenebrae. I’ve encountered it quite a few times at a Dominican parish in Seattle (Blessed Sacrament) and at a Benedictine monastery in Oregon (Mt. Angel Abbey).

  2. cburrell Says:

    Count your blessings!

    Have you ever been able to attend all three nights? A parish near us did one night this year (although I was not able to go).

  3. I’ll put in a plug here for the Anglican Breviary, which despite its name is nothing other than an English translation of the Breviarium Romanum as it stood in 1955, and which therefore includes the full text of the Tenebrae service (along with the rest of the Daily Office for the liturgical year). There is no reason why individuals, families or small groups couldn’t read Tenebrae, or any part of the Office, on their own if they wish to, since no priest is required, and particularly after Summorum Pontificum there is no reason to believe that the use of the older form is in any way illicit. In any case, the book is a great way to get to know the Office, and comes highly recommended by this Anglican. (See also a review by Addison Hart here.)

    • cburrell Says:

      Thanks for that recommendation, Osbert. We actually have a copy of the Breviarum Romanum, though at the moment I am not sure of the year of publication — older than 1955, I believe. An English rendering would be more useful. Perhaps I can request this for my birthday.

  4. KathyB Says:

    My choir actually sang this once at a tenebrae service!

  5. cburrell Says:

    It seems that Tenebrae may not have been ‘deleted’ quite as thoroughly as I had feared. It is still quite rare, though, especially in a polyphonic setting!

    Happy Easter!

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