On Thursday 22 March we will be hosting a service of Tenebrae at St Mary’s Church, Redbourn. But what is it?
The word ‘tenebrae’ is Latin for shadows. The purpose of the Tenebrae service is to recreate the emotional aspects of the passion story, so this is not supposed to be a happy service, because the occasion is not happy. If your expectation of Christian worship is that it should always be happy and exhilarating, you won’t appreciate this service until the second time you attend it.
The service was originally designed for Good Friday, but it can be used at other times in Passiontide. The service has long passages of scripture, which for this service is divided into seven, eight, or nine parts, each one assigned to a different reader.
The service may include other parts, such as solemn hymns, a sermon, and Communion, but the core of 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 Christ candle is put out, leaving the congregation in near total darkness – and near total devastation. At this point, the service ends. There is no blessing and the people leave in silence. (The lights are turned up but remain dim so that people can see their way out.)
The purpose of the service is to recreate the betrayal, abandonment, and agony of the events, and it is purposefully left unfinished, because the story isn’t over until Easter Day.
We invite you to come and join us at 8 pm on Thursday 22 March at St Mary’s for what will undoubtedly be a powerful and moving service. All are welcome.