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The Strepitus is the sudden loud clatter that symbolizes how the Earth convulsed at the physical death of the only begotten Son of our Lord. In Matthew 27:46-53, when Christ gave up His spirit on the Crucifix, there was a tumultuous earthquake. It is the jarring closing of a Tenebae Service, which is done in preparation for the Paschal Triduum.
Some churches have the Tenebrae on Spy Wednesday. Others choose to extinguish the lights after celebrating the Last Supper on Maundy Thursday or even Great and Holy Friday. Regardless of the time, it is a ritual that reminds us of how the Light of the World was briefly extinguished to fulfill scripture as an expiation for mankind’s sinfulness.
While it is difficult to watch Mel Gibson’s cinematic masterpiece The Passion of the Christ (2004) for its depiction of the savage brutality inflicted by the Roman overlords on a political prisoner who challenged the religious practices and expectations of the Jewish hierachy. The teardrop from heaven is incredibly moving.
When Salvador Dali painted Christ of Saint John of the Cross (1951), Jesus was depicted without wounds on a Cross that floated above the Earth. Dali listened to the color of his dream that indicated that depicting the nails, blood and crown of thorns would mar the image. Dali wanted the emphasize the Trinity with the positioning of Jesus hanging on the Cross to represent the nucleus of the atom. Clearly, the cross hovering over the Earth shows the cosmic significance of the passion and death of our Lord Jesus Christ. In a modern manner, Dali celebrates Eastern Christian Church’s emphasis mystagogy of Jesus’ Divine Sacrifice by death on the cross.
But during a Tenebrae service, the faithful were reminded that unlike even in classical depictions of Golgatha (the place of the skull) where Jesus was crucified, the crosses of Calvary were not necessarily hung that high in the air. Since those being executed had their feet nailed bound to prevent them from moving as they slowly suffocated on their crosses, they may have been only a couple of feet above the ground.
Such crosses would serve the Roman overlords as tangible examples of what happens to brigands, rabble rousers and revolutionaries. The low positioning would allow most passers-by to look into the eyes of the executed. This makes the taunts from the crowd and Jesus’ words of forgiveness all the more remarkable.
It is easy to gloss over how the expiation of mans’ sins required a blood sacrifice to seal the New Covenant. By cognitively sounding the Strepitus over Christ’s crucifixion, we may “Ecce homo”.
While some ears may find it as painful as the Stepitus, the Christ’s Passion has been told by Glenn Beck using a motif of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon (1973). Whether we use pop parables, cinematic accounts, scriptural studies, communal worship or prayerful personal reflections, it is worthy to reflect on how God’s only begotten Son chose to be the suffering servant to right the relationship between God and mankind.
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But what about the rest of the year? Do you abandon Jesus as soon as Easter Sunday is over? Is daily prayer low on your list of priorities? Are you “too busy” to spend time with the One who suffered and died for you?
Resolve today to commit (or re-commit) yourself to prayer. You may not be able to watch for one hour, but how about half an hour? If that’s too much to start with, try 15 minutes. Read from a book of meditations. Gaze at a holy picture that fills your heart with love for God. Think of all Christ did for you and thank Him for it.
Mount St. Sepulchre in Washington, DC is a Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in America. The Church itself neo-Byzantine design by Roman architect Aristide Leonari in 1899. The church looks akin to St. Sophia (Hagia Sophia) in Constantinople (Istanbul).
The interior of the church resembles a five fold Crusader Cross of Jerusalem. The large bronze baldachin is is supported by columns which depicts the twelve Apostles. The interior is decorated with the Ave Maria and scenes from the life of Mary.
The Friary is the home of Franciscan Commissariat in the nation’s capital, and they continue their 800 year tradition of supporting the Holy Land. Part of the charism of the Commissariat seems to be a special celebration of Passiontide.
The Tenebrae service which is celebrated on Spy Wednesday is is resplendent in faith and history, as is incorporates a cappella medieval pieces sung by the Suspicious Cheese Lords (Suscipe Domine Queso).
While they are a consummate choir, the Suspicious Cheese Lords need to practice their polyphonic songs in situ at the Franciscan Monastery.
The Suspicious Cheese Lords in rehearsal for the Tenebrae Service.
Even though the Suspicious Cheese Lords ordinarily sing early music works, one year they chose to perform Arvo Part’s De Profundis (1980).
Lighting the Candelabra for the Tenebrae Service.
Extinguishing the candles during the Tenebrae Service.
The closing of the Tenebrae service is marked by a retreat of the single candle into the crypt. As the vault to the catacombs is slammed, it sets off an unnerving Strepitus, meant to symbolize the earth convulsing at the death of the the Messiah, Jesus the Christ.
Typology finds the things, people, or events in the Bible that prefigure more significant things, people, or events in salvation history. Most types are in the Old Testament. Most anti-types (what the types prefigure) are in the New Testament. Fisheaters.com has a fuller explanation of typology.
Fr. Thomas Dubay used to tell this anecdote: The sister of St. Thomas Aquinas once asked him, “How can I become a saint?”
St. Thomas answered, “Will it.”
This story came back to me recently. Trying to accept with peace whatever happens during my day has taught me something: I don’t always want to do God’s will. When I ruin the dinner I’m making my family, for example, and according to my Lenten resolution I must say, “Jesus, I trust in you,” I sometimes say first, “Jesus, I don’t want to trust in you. I don’t want to let go of my anger and frustration.” Or, “Jesus, I trust in you–sort of.”
The words “I trust in you” are a prayer. They aren’t magic. They remind me to trust in God and ask for His help. But they can’t make me trust when I don’t want to. I must open my heart to grace. I must will it.
“Habemus Papam!” the protodeacon announced to the waiting crowd in St. Peter’s Square on March 13, 2013. “We have a pope! The most eminent and most reverend Lord, Lord Jorge Cardinal of the Holy Roman Church Bergoglio, Who takes for himself the name of Francis.”
The people cheered when they heard the new pope would be Pope Francis. But they also asked themselves, Who is Cardinal Bergoglio? Where is he from? What kind of pope will he be?