Contemporary Tenebrae Service Ideas

Jupiterimages/Goodshoot/Getty Images

Tenebrae is a traditional service that dates back to the fourth century and held during Holy Week. It captures the shadows of mourning that occurred following Jesus triumphant entry into Jerusalem through his crucifixion on Good Friday. It extinguishes candles to represent the sorrow felt by Jesus, his disciples and his followers. Tenebrae services may occur on Wednesday, Thursday or Friday during Holy Week or a combination of days.

Disciple Tenebrae

Have a display of 13 candles, one for each of the 12 disciples and a Christ candle. Light all candles across the front of the altar and turn off the overhead lights. Have one person portray each disciple and give a first person account of how he dealt with the events of the week. For example, Peter declared he would never betray Christ, but he denied him three times. After each disciple plays his part, he snuffs his candle and sits down. When only the Christ candle is lit, a drum roll signals the earthquake of Christ’s death. A short prayer follows and all attendees silently file out in the semi-darkness.

Seven Last Words Tenebrae

Lisa Frenz wrote a Tenebrae service that links the seven last words of Jesus with the seven days of creation . Complete with music, readings and instructions, the service ends as the last candle is carried out and Psalm 22 is read. The service shows the completeness of God’s plan. The service provides an excellent way to worship on Good Friday. The original service, celebrated at the Mount Carmel Lutheran Church in Portland, Oregon, is freely available to congregations.

Seven Shadows Tenebrae

The Service of Shadows Tenebrae provided by Uniting Education takes the participant through seven different shadows of Holy Week. Complete with scripture references and instructions, a congregation could experience the shadows of betrayal, inner agony, loneliness, betrayal, accusation, mockery and death. You need one reader for each of the seven shadows. The ritual calls for extinguishing the candles as each reader completes the shadow reading. The Christ candle remains lit as participants leave the dark sanctuary in silence.

Gospel of Matthew Tennebrae

The service begins with a slide of the Last Supper. The minister sets up the service by explaining that after the meal was over, the disciples and Jesus went to Gethsemane to pray. Readers stand behind each of seven candles and read a passage from Mathew 26 and 27 beginning with Matthew 26:30-46 (Reference 3). After each passage is read, a candle is extinguished. Following the reading of Matthew 27:45-50, the Christ candle is hidden and drum rolls symbolize Christ’s death and burial. The Christ candle returns after Matthew 27:51-54 reveal the torn Temple veil and the confession of the centurion at the foot of the cross.