Fire and Light in the Western Triduum


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Alcuin Club Collections 71

The Office of Tenebrae, the kindling of the new fire, and the lighting of the Easter candle were three of the ceremonies at the close of Holy week in which the Church utilized the life-giving elements off fire and light to powerful symbolic effect. In this study we see that the gradual extinguishing of lights at Tenebrae constituted a liturgical drama. Far from having a utilitarian origin, as was previously believed, this service was a rememorative act, based ultimately on an incident in the New Testament. The kindling of the new fire by a Christian priest is seen both as a ritual wisely adopted by the Church from a pre-Christian milieu for cultural and pastoral reasons and as a means of transforming existing pagan beliefs and consolidating its own spiritual authority. The Author also traces the origins of that most powerful of symbols, the Easter candle, and plots the development of the ceremonial that surrounded it. We see how the candle was incorporated into the liturgy of the Paschal Vigil, a service that ultimately has its antecedents in the Jewish lighting of the Sabbath lamp.

Dr. MacGregor taught classics for fourteen years before returning to Durham University to study liturgy. An Anglican, he is married and has three grown-up children, and now lives in Cheshire, England.