Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Tenebrae Service for Wednesday of Holy Week

A Tenebrae Service is a Medieval tradition during Holy Week; ‘tenebrae’ is Latin for shadows. The symbolism of the light being extinguished begins a more somber and meditative time leading up to Easter. It is very powerful in a church but I've found the intimacy of your own home is just as dramatic.

The church or home begins with candlelight and after each Scripture reading a candle is extinguished until all is dark and the final reading is Jesus' words on the cross from Psalm 22 (My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?). It is fitting for the service to end in darkness and the people to depart in silence. As this site explains, "The purpose of the service is to recreate the betrayal, abandonment, and agony of the events, and it is left unfinished, because the story isn’t over until Easter Day."

The Episcopal Book of Occasional Services has a Tenebrae for Wednesday evening. I like doing the service on Wednesday as it sets the mood for the next few days and it doesn't overshadow(!) the signigicance of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday. Here is another service.

You can design your own service with additional hymns or songs that would be fitting. And the number of candles should fit the number of Scriptures.

Here is one we've done at home together after the children are in bed. I hope to do it with them when they are a bit older.

TENEBRAE The Service Of Shadows

The 14 candles are lit and the Christ Candle, lights extinguished.


1. THE SHADOW OF BETRAYAL Matthew 26:20-25


3. THE SHADOW OF LONELINESS Matthew 26:40-45

4. THE SHADOW OF DESERTION Matthew 26:47-50,55,56

5. THE SHADOW OF ACCUSATION Matthew 26:59-67

6. THE SHADOW OF MOCKERY Mark 15:12-20

7. THE SHADOW OF DEATH Luke 23:33-46

After each reading, the reader says "Lord, have mercy" to which the response is "Christ, have mercy." 2 Candles are put out until only the Christ candle remains.

FINAL READING In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. (John 1:1-4 ) The light has come into the world, but people love the shadows rather than the light.

The Christ candle is extinguished. The church [or home] is plunged into darkness.

READER: "My God, My God why have you abandoned me?"

After a brief time, only enough lights are switched on so that people can leave the church [or go to a quiet place in your home].

DEPARTURE You are invited to leave the church in silence.


Susan said...

Thanks for posting this. It was helpful, as I was putting together a "mini" Tenebrae service for my young kids.


Amy said...

I'm so glad! Mine definitely loved blowing out the candles!


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