Tenebrae is a Latin word for "shadows" or "darkness." Some Christian churches provide this type of service for their congregations during Holy Week. Because others activities are going on, the Tenebrae service is usually reserved for Wednesday night. That's because a Maundy Thursday service occurs on Thursday night, and "The Seven Last Words" are presented on Good Friday. However, some churches might deviate from this suggestion and schedule their services on different days.

What is a Tenebrae service?

A Tenebrae service is not like a regular Church Service.

It is not a loud service. Rather, it is a quiet and solemn one. People enter the sanctuary that is lit only by candles. The service is a deeply emotional one where those who attend do so in silence. The purpose of the Tenebrae service is to provide the atmosphere for reflections on Jesus' final week on earth. The event is different from other church services because there is no preaching or choir singing. There will be no church notices or remarks. No benediction will be given at the end because there will be other services during the week.


There should be candles lit in full view of the congregation when the service first begins. The number of candles is optional, but some churches use 12 to 15 candles, one for each reader and one for the moderator.

Because all the candles are lit, people can easily find their seat.

When the service begins, the moderator gives the purpose because there might be some first-time attendees. That way they will know what to expect.

After the moderator has given the purpose of the service, a person goes to the podium and reads scripture or short passage from the Bible.

It can be a reading surrounding the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ or a selection from the Psalms. After the reading, the person extinguishes a candle with a snuffer and returns to his or her seat. The sanctuary gets darker and darker after each candle is extinguished.

The moderator does the final reading which can be parts of Psalm 22 because Jesus quoted some of it from the cross.

The last candle is extinguished, and the service ends in total darkness. A dim light may be turned on so people can see the exit.

People may stay seated for a little while and reflect on what they just witnessed, or they may leave the sanctuary immediately in silence without speaking to anyone or lingering around to chat in the church or in the parking lot.