Spy Wednesday Tenebrae at St. Kevin's in Dublin, Ireland

Many thanks to our good friends at St. Kevin's, Harrington Street (Dublin, Ireland) for all their hard work in creating one of the finest EF parishes in the Catholic world.  St. Kevin's is home to the Latin Mass Chaplaincy of the Archdiocese of Dublin.  I was immensely privileged to visit them some years ago for their Holy Week and Easter liturgies.  It was an unforgettable experience that I will carry with me for the rest of my life.   I highly recommend others to visit St. Kevin's to see and experience this incredible community where the Latin rite is flourishing.

My springtime visit to St. Kevin's coincided with the full bloom of the spring tulips in St. Stephen's Green, a nearby garden square and public park in the center of Dublin.  It was one of the most inspiring Holy Weeks of my life, with memories of cutting through the park on the way to the liturgies on Harrington Street.  Everyone was most welcoming, including the fine pastor Fr. Gerard Deighan (an excellent latinist, by the way) and the choir was sublime.

St. Kevin's has a unique history.  The parish was founded in 1865.  The current structure, in my opinion, is one of the most beautiful nineteenth century Catholic churches in Ireland.  It is Gothic-Revival, designed by Pugin & Ashlin and built between 1869-1872.  St. Kevin's is a thriving parish, since 2007 also home to the Latin Mass Chaplaincy of the Archdiocese of Dublin and since 2020 home of the Dublin Oratory-in-formation, all exciting new developments in the life of the parish and the local church. 

At St. Kevin's the choirs are top notch, under the professional direction of Ite O'Donovan, a gifted maestra of distinguished renown.  The choirs include a Schola Cantorum as well as the Lassus Scholars and their junior section, the Piccolo Lasso.  In the Emerald Isle these choirs lead the way as unmatched exponents of classical polyphony and experts in Gregorian chant.  The community offers all the sacraments in the EF, including Vespers every Sunday and Tenebrae services during Holy Week.

A special highlight for visitors is to participate in Tenebrae services during the Sacred Triduum.  This is a deeply moving recitation of the Divine Office when all the sentiments of the Church echo deep in the hearts of the faithful, when the Church weeps with those who weep and rejoices with those who rejoice and when Catholic faithful do penance through repentance with those who are repentant.  In 2018 the parish produced excellent booklets, professionally designed, as a Latin-English guide for Tenebrae.  The design and typesetting is by our good friend Peter Henry and the photography is by fellow parishioner John Briody.

This is a great initiative and these booklets are an asset for anyone visiting and wishing to participate in the pews.  I include a taste from the excellent introductory explanation:

"On Spy Wednesday evening we begin the celebration of the Sacred Triduum by anticipating the divine office of Holy Thursday morning: the three nocturns of Matins, followed immediately by Lauds.  This office is commonly known as Tenebrae, that is, 'darkness', from its most striking feature: the gradual extinguishing of lights in the church.  The office is principally composed of fourteen psalms, which evoke Our Lord's passion and desolation.  After each of these psalms one of the fifteen candles of the great candelabrum is extinguished.  As the light fades, we are reminded how Our Lord was gradually abandoned by his disciples, and how the power of darkness seemed poised to claim victory over him.  During the singing of the Benedictus the six altar candles are likewise extinguished.  Finally only one candle remains lighted; it is then removed, and the church is plunged into darkness, as was the world at the moment of Our Lord's death.  A loud and confused noise is made, symbolizing the earthquake which accompanied the moment.  Then, when all seems bleak and hopeless, the final candle, which has been hidden, but never extinguished, is brought back and shown to all.  Lux in tenebris lucet, et tenebrae eam non comprehenderunt: a light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.  As well as the psalms, the office contains three sets of readings, taken respectively from the Lamentations of the Prophet Jeremiah, Saint Augustine's Tractates on the Psalms, and the First Letter of Saint Paul to the Corinthians.  The Lamentations were originally composed to bewail the destruction of Jerusalem; their words have been chosen by the Church as most aptly expressing her sorrow for Christ in his sufferings.  They are sung to what has been called the saddest melody within the whole range of music.  The responsories after the Lamentations, and after the readings of the other two nocturns, have inspired sacred polyphony from several great composers, most notably Tomas Luis de Victoria (1548-1611).  The first psalm of Lauds is known from its first word as the Miserere.  The most famous musical setting of this psalm is that by Gregorio Allegri (1582-1652), which was composed specifically for Tenebrae in the Sistine Chapel.  For over a hundred years it was performed only there, since it was forbidden to transcribe the score.  When Mozart heard it, however, in 1770, he was able to write it down perfectly from memory, and so it came to be more widely known.  Tenebrae is a lengthly office, but one of great beauty and spiritual depth.  As we meditate on Our Lord's sufferings and abandonment, let us offer him all our sufferings, all our troubles.  He did not suffer for himself, but for us, to teach us how to suffer; nor did he die for himself, but for us, to free us from eternal death, and to win for us a place in heaven.  In this life there may be darkness, but a light shines in the darkness: the light of Christ the Lord.  It is he, not the darkness, who will ultimately conquer."

The liturgy's proper business, both the Mass and Office, is to give praise to God through our reliving, from year to year, the work of our redemption from the Incarnation to Pentecost.  The Divine Office, as the official prayerbook of the Latin Church, is a prayer said in the name of the entire Church.  In some ways, it is the creation of some 3,000 years, a basic book of prayer that has its roots in the recitation of the Psalms of David, uniting both Old and New Testaments.  At St. Kevin's it is the prayer of the parish as a body, united to the prayer of the universal Church, made manifest every Sunday during the recitation of sung Vespers and most especially during the holiest week of the liturgical year during Tenebrae.  Many thanks to the pastor, dedicated volunteers and parishioners of St. Kevin's for keeping this beautiful tradition alive for a new generation to benefit and flourish, fully immersed in the universal patrimony of the Roman Rite.

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