What is a Tenebrae Service?

Holding a Tenebrae Service on Good Friday has become a tradition at NEXT over the years.

The word Tenebrae is Latin for shadows. The purpose of the Tenebrae service is to recreate the emotional aspects of the passion story. This is not supposed to be a happy service because the occasion was not happy. The service was originally designed for Good Friday and may include solemn hymns, a sermon, and communion.

The Tenebrae service works like this:

  • It starts out with the church in candlelight. There are as many candles as there are readings, plus a white Christ candle.
  • The readers go up one at a time, read their assigned selections, and extinguish one of the candles until only the Christ candle remains.
  • Then someone reads the first part of Psalm 22, which Jesus quoted on the cross. Then the final candle, the Christ candle, is put out, leaving the congregation in near-total darkness.
  • At this point the service ends. There is no benediction and the people leave in silence. (The lights are turned up a little bit so that people can see their way out.)

The purpose of the service is to recreate the betrayal, abandonment, and agony of the events surrounding the cross, and it is left unfinished because the story isn’t over until Easter Day.

This coming Good Friday we will not be able to meet in-person for our traditional Tenebrae Service because of the social distancing required due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but NEXT will stream the service live on Facebook. Everyone is encouraged to round up their household’s candles and follow along at home on April 10 at 10 a.m.