This is sort of the quintessential church nerd post. Most of the words in the title don't make any sense to anyone except the most churched.
Usually I would offer a sentence or two of explanation in regards to Tenebrae and the Paschal Candle, but this certainly qualifies as "esoteric liturgics" so I'm just going to dive right in:
It recently has come to my attention that many churches of various stripes incorporate the Paschal Candle into a make-shift Tenebrae Hearse -- this term I will define: the Tenebrae Hearse is a triangular candelabra which holds fifteen candles, seven on each side, and one at the apex.
Now, I don't know many Episcopal parishes that happen to own a Tenebrae Hearse of any quality. Nor do I think there is anything magical about the number fifteen.
In this film of Tenebrae from St. Thomas, New York from April 2014, you can clearly see the use of a large seven-branch Hearse, really just a giant candelabra. This makes sense for the liturgy done at St. Thomas, which makes use of seven antiphons and corresponding psalms/canticles.
The Book of Occasional Services suggests two routes for the number of candles: seven or fifteen. But even if the full fifteen-prong Hearse is desired, I still think the use of the Paschal Candle at this service is a mistake.
One can understand how the practical need arises: most churches have two seven-prong candelabras, and you just need a big, tall candle to go between them! But this seems a lazy solution.
The Paschal Candle should only be lit during services in Eastertide (through the Day of Pentecost, per the rubric from the Great Vigil of Easter), Baptism, or the Burial of the Dead.
It's use in Holy Week prior to the Easter Vigil is especially troublesome because the appearance of the (new) Paschal Candle should be dramatic at the kindling of the new fire. It is an unceremonious and unfortunate use of the old year's Paschal Candle to see it at Tenebrae. It confuses the symbolism of the Noise and return of the light at Tenebrae. It is surely not the Resurrection, though it does anticipate and foreshadow it.
The solution for those who have their hearts set on fifteen but have not the necessary hearse seems to me to get by with fourteen. Surely cleverer minds than mine can devise a scheme to make this work.
But for the love of Pete, leave the Paschal Candle out of Tenebrae.
Labels: Book of Occasional Services, Holy Week, Paschal Candle, St Thomas (New York), Tenebrae, The Great Vigil of Easter
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