Reflecting on 21 Centuries of Faith

Spy Wednesday

Kiss of Judas by Caravaggio

Sacred ScriptureHoly Wednesday biblically starts off with Jesus being anointed with an expensive jar of alabaster by the woman at Bethany, in the house of Simon the leper (Matt 26:6-13; Mark 14:3-9; John 12:1-19).  Indignant with the waste of money, Judas Iscariot hurries off to the Sanhedrin to make a bargain with the high priest to betray Jesus for 30 silver pieces (Matt 26:14-16; Mark 14:10-11; Luke 22:1-6).  Thus, Holy Wednesday is also called Spy Wednesday.


There are a number of…interesting…traditions around the world on this day.  Young people in Poland throw an effigy of Judas from the top of a church steeple. Then it is dragged through the village amidst hurling sticks and stones. What remains of the effigy is drowned in a nearby stream or pond.  In the Czech , today is traditionally called Ugly Wednesday, Soot-Sweeping Wednesday or Black Wednesday, because chimneys used to be swept on this day, to be clean for Easter.  To the Maltese this day is known as L-Erbgħa tat-Tnieber (Drums’ Wednesday).  In the past, children went to the parish church and drummed on the chairs to make the sound of thunderstorms, as their version of the “strepitus” sound at Tenebræ.


Tenebrae at the Cathedral of St. Louis

Although it is frequently celebrated on Maundy Thursday or Good Friday,the Tenebræ is a liturgy that is often celebrated in many dioceses today. The name Tenebræ, meaning darkness or shadows, has for centuries been applied to early morning offices of Matins and Lauds of the last three days of Holy Week, which in the middle ages came to be celebrated on the preceding evenings. The most conspicuous feature of the service is the gradual extinguishing of candles and other lights in the church until only a single candle, considered a symbol of the Lord, remains. Toward the end of the services, this candle is hidden typifying the apparent victory of the forces of evil. At the very end, a strepitus (“loud noise”) is made, symbolizing the earthquake at the time of the resurrection, the hidden candle is restored to its place, and by its light all depart in silence.

This Tenebræ services is divided into two parts. The first part of the services is the Office of Readings (Matins) for Holy Thursday. Documents from the Second Vatican Council encourage the use of the Office of Readings and the other hours from the Liturgy of the Hours to be celebrated on the most solemn of days in the cathedral church.

The second part makes use of the major elements from the ancient Office of Tenebræ arranged in devotional form. The Lamentations with their Hebrew alphabetical organization, Latin Responsories with their Gregorian melodies, the Benedictus from Lauds and the Lord’s Prayer and Miserere which are softly spoken are all retained from the medieval liturgy.


The Judas Tree

Additionally, legend says that Judas hung himself from the Cercis siliquastrum also known as the “Judas Tree.” Native to the Mediterranean region with brilliant deep pink flowers that bloom in the spring, these flowers are said to have blushed in shame after Judas’s suicide.

[1] Cabrol, F. (1911). Matins. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.  Retrieved March 31, 2010 from New Advent:

One Response to Spy Wednesday

  1. Q says:

    Sr. Timothy Prokes shared with me this afternoon the following about how her religious community celebrates Tenebrae:

    “Blessed Triduum and Easter! Here at our Falls Church Convent, we chant Tenebrae at five A.M. on Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday, ending (approximately) at dawn. These days are foundational in the Church Year – and life!”

    Thanks Sister for sharing! You and your sisters are foundational to the life of our Church…Pax et Bona!

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