What is a Tenebrae service?

Tenebrae, an ancient Good Friday service, increases darkness by gradually extinguishing candles to symbolize the coming darkness of Jesus' death. Photo courtesy of Pixabay.
Tenebrae, an ancient Good Friday service, increases darkness by gradually extinguishing candles to symbolize the coming darkness of Jesus' death. Photo courtesy of Pixabay.

"Tenebrae" is the Latin word meaning "darkness." The service of Tenebrae as practiced in most Protestant Churches is an adaptation of medieval Roman Catholic practices for each of the days of Holy Week dating back to the ninth century. In Protestant use, this is a single service typically held at night on Maundy Thursday or Good Friday.

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In The United Methodist Book of Worship, the service involves segmented reading of John's story of the trial, sentencing, execution, death, and burial of Jesus. After each segment of the story is read, a candle is extinguished. After the fifteenth reading, which confirms that Jesus had died on the cross, the last of the 15 lit candles may be extinguished or taken away, and a loud sound (strepitus, in Latin) may be made to indicate the effect of the death of Jesus on the universe. The final story of the burial is read in near darkness, with the only light being used by the reader.

Worshipers leave in silence to ponder the impact of Christ's death and await the celebration of the coming Resurrection.

   
This content was produced by Ask The UMC, a ministry of United Methodist Communications.