The service of Tenebrae (the name means ‘darkness’ or ‘shadows’) is a Holy week devotion which traces its root back to the seventh century.  It is characterized by the gradual darkening of the Sanctuary as candles are extinguished throughout the service.  Every world spoken in the service is found in the Scriptures.

The service is intended to impress upon us the significance of Jesus’ death and the events which led to it.  At the end of each ‘shadow,’ a candle is extinguished followed by a time of silent reflection.  The candle representing Christ is not extinguished, but is carried out of the Sanctuary to represent a period of complete silence symbolizing the tomb.  Thirty bells will ring to represent the thirty pieces of silver paid to Judas for betraying Jesus.  Following the bells the streptitus is heard, a noise signifying the tomb and the earthquake.  At the end of the period of silence, the pastor will return the Christ candle to its place in anticipation of the resurrection  The Lord’s Prayer will then be whispered in unison.  After the Lord’s Prayer, the choir will recess in silence while the congregation waits and then the also departs in silence.

The story is illustrated through the following Bible passages:

  • The Shadow of Betrayal: Matthew 26:14-16
  • The Shadow of Vigil: Matthew 26:36-40
  • The Shadow of Arrest: Matthew 26:47-54
  • The Shadow of Judgment: Matthew 27:11-14, 24-26
  • The Shadow of Sacrifice: Isaiah 53:4-7
  • The Shadow of Death: Matthew 27:45-54