If the once familiar service of Tenebrae is held at all now it has become traditional to do so on Wednesday of Holy Week.
The name comes from the Latin word for darkness or shadows. The service is a combination of Matins and Lauds for Maundy Thursday sung in anticipation.
The focus of the two hour service is a triangular candle stand known as a hearse with 15 candles –7 on each sloping side whilst on top there is a white candle for Christ. The candles are extinguished one by one as each psalm is finished recalling Christ being abandoned by his followers.
At the end only the white candle at the top of the triangle is burning. This light is then hidden behind the altar whilst the Miserere is sung. Soon after a loud noise is made like a clap of thunder. This is said to represent confusion at Christ’s death or an earthquake at Christ’s death or resurrection. Finally the hidden light is brought back to the pinnacle of the triangle. This represents Christ overcoming death on Easter morning.
Tenebrae can be experienced on Wednesday of Holy Week at:
Brompton Oratory, 6.30pm
St Dunstan-in-the-West, 7pm (in both Anglican and Orthodox Traditions)
All Saints Margaret Street, 7.30pm
St Paul’s Covent Garden, 7.30pm
This year Tenebrae will also be sung at 7pm on Good Friday in the beautiful setting of St Bartholomew the Great, Smithfield.