Tenebrae: A Service of Shadows

The service of Tenebrae, meaning “darkness” or “shadows,” has been practiced by the church since medieval times. Once a service for the monastic community, Tenebrae later became an important part of the worship of the common folk during Holy Week.

Tenebrae
A Service of Shadows

The service of Tenebrae, meaning “darkness” or “shadows,” has been practiced by the church since medieval times. Once a service for the monastic community, Tenebrae later became an important part of the worship of the common folk during Holy Week. We join Christians of many generations throughout the world in using the liturgy of Tenebrae.

Tenebrae is a prolonged meditation on Christ’s suffering. Readings trace the story of Christ’s passion, music portrays his pathos, and the power of silence and darkness suggests the drama of this momentous day. As lights are extinguished, we ponder the depth of Christ’s suffering and death; we remember the cataclysmic nature of his sacrifice as we hear the overwhelming sound of the “strepitus”; and through the return of the small but persistent flame of the Christ candle at the conclusion of the service, we anticipate the joy of ultimate victory.

The Approach to God

Prelude

*Greeting
Leader: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
People: Amen
Leader: Blessed be the name of the Lord our God,
People: who redeems us from sin and death.
Leader: For us and for our salvation, Christ became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.
People: Blessed be the name of the Lord.

*Hymn What Wondrous Love Is This

The Service of the Word

Prayer for Illumination
Scripture Reading
Meditation

The Service of Shadows

The Shadow of Betrayal
Reading Matthew 26:20-25
Response Ah, Holy Jesus

The Shadow of the Agony of Spirit and Arrest
Reading Matthew 26:36-50
Response Go to Dark Gethsemane

The Shadow of Denial
Reading Matthew 26:69-75
Response “Judas, Peter” Poem by Luci Shaw

The Shadow of Accusation
Reading Matthew 27:11-14, 20-29
Response O Sacred Head, Now Wounded

The Shadow of Crucifixion and Humiliation
Reading Matthew 27:31-43
Instrumental Response (see notes below)

The Shadow of Death
Reading Matthew 27:45-54
Response When I Survey the Wondrous Cross (verses 1-3)

The Christ Candle is Removed

The Shadow of Burial
Reading Matthew 27:57-60
Solo Response Were You There?

Silent Meditation

The Christ Candle Is Restored

*Hymn When I Survey the Wondrous Cross (verse 4 only)
Were the whole realm of nature mine,
that were a present far too small,
love so amazing, so divine,
demands my soul, my life, my all.

*Dismissal
Leader: May Jesus Christ
who for our sakes became obedient unto death,
even death on a cross,
keep you and strengthen you.
People: Amen.

The People Leave in Silence

+ + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + +

Alternate Readings & Responses for the Service of Shadows, drawing from all four Gospels

The Shadow of Betrayal
Reading Mark 14:10-13, 16-21
Response Ah, Holy Jesus

The Shadow of the Agony of the Spirit & Arrest
Reading Luke 22:39-48, 54
Response Go to Dark Gethsemane

The Shadow of Denial
Reading Luke 22:54-62
Response Kyrie Eleison

The Shadow of Accusation
Reading Mark 15:1-15
Response O Christ, the Lamb of God

The Shadow of Mockery
Reading Matthew 27:27-31
Response O Sacred Head

The Shadow of Crucifixion
Reading Luke 23:32-43
Instrumental Response

The Shadow of Death
Reading Mark 15:33-39
Response When I Survey the Wondrous Cross

Christ Candle is removed

The Shadow of Burial
Reading John 19:38-42
Solo Response Were You There?

Silent Meditation, etc

 

Hymns for Tenebrae:


What Wondrous Love (vs. 1-3) – American folk hymn
Lift High the Cross – George W. Kitchin
O Love, How Deep, How Broad, How High - Latin, 15th C
In Christ Alone – Stuart Townend, Keith Getty
Christ the Life of all the Living – Ernst C. Homburg
How Deep the Father’s Love for Us - Stuart Townend
Before the Throne of God Above – Charitie Lees Bancroft & Vikki Cook
Remember Not, O God – Psalm 78
Go to Dark Gethsemane – James Montgomery
Kyrie Eleison – early Greek liturgy (versions from Russian Orthodox, Ghana, contemporary)
Alas, and Did My Savior Bleed – Isaac Watts
My Jesus, I Love Thee – William R. Featherstone
See Christ Was Wounded for Our Sake – Brian Foley
O Sacred Head, Now Wounded – Latin medieval hymn
Ah, Holy Jesus – Johann Heermann
Jesus Remember Me – Jacques Berthier (Taizé)
O Christ, the Lamb of God – Agnus Dei, based on John 1:29
When I Survey the Wondrous Cross Isaac Watts
Were You There (solo voice) – African-American Spiritual

Instrumental Responses:

An instrumental response is very fitting during the “Shadow of Crucifixion,” providing time to meditate on the depth of Christ’s sacrifice. Some suitable pieces include:

J. S. Bach Cello Suites No 2: Prelude or Sarabande (cello)
J. S. Bach Cello Suites No 5: Sarabande (cello)
Vidui (Contrition) from Baal Shem, Ernest Bloch (violin)
Sonata No. 1 in G minor, Adagio, J. S. Bach (violin)
Meditation, Ernest Bloch (viola)
Siciliano, J. S. Bach (flute or oboe)
Suite for Unaccompanied Trombone 1. Slowly and freely, L. Bassett (trombone)

Organ Preludes:

Chorale Preludes on Ah, Holy Jesus , H. Walcha and J. Brahms
Savior of the Nations, Come J.S. Bach
O Sacred Head, Now Wounded , Johann Pachelbel
O Mensch, Bewein Dein Sunde Gross , J.S. Bach
O Human Race, Your Sins Lament , J.S. Bach
O Sacred Head, Now Wounded, Johannes Brahms, Johann Walther
O Lamm Gottes, Unschuldig , J.S. Bach

Poetry:

Sometime the language of poetry serves well as an introduction to the Service of Shadows, or even as a response to a Scripture reading. Here are some fitting poems for Tenebrae:

“Good Friday or The Suffering of Our Lord Jesus Christ” by Jeremias De Decker, transl. Henrietta Ten Harmsel
“Judas, Peter” by Luci Shaw
“The Courtyard Scene” by Ann Weems
“Is it I?” by Eugene H. Peterson
“Mary Speaks” by Madeline L’Engle
“Good Friday” by Christina Rossetti
“about god with us” by Fred Tamminga

 

 

For more resources about the Tenebrae Service, read these articles in Reformed Worship:

More examples of services in the Tenebrae tradition:

Comments