The Office of Tenebrae

Wednesday, March 31, 2010
Wednesday In Holy Week

Wednesday In Holy Week

O Lord God, whose blessed Son our Savior gave his back to the smiters and hid not his face from shame: Give us grace to take joyfully the sufferings of the present time, in full assurance of the glory that shall be revealed; through the same Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

5:30 PM


This service anticipates the monastic offices for the last three days of Holy Week. Tenebrae means shadows and refers to the gradual extinguishing of candles and lights as the service proceeds, until only one candle remains.

As the people enter the church before the service begins, the see in the chancel seven candles glowing brightly. The altar candles, too, are lit, though the candles are made of non-bleached beeswax, just as we use at funerals.

The Order of Service proceeds as follows:

The ministers enter in silence and proceed to their places. Three acolytes, who at almost all other services would be carrying a cross and two torches, walk ahead of the ministers, empty-handed.

The choir and cantors then progress through a series of antiphons and Psalms. At the end of Psalm 69, the first candle is extinguised. At the end of Psalm 70, the second. At the end of the Psalm 74, the third. As each candle is snuffed out, the lights high above the congregation are dimmed a bit more.

Then comes a period where the lights remain as they are: the Lord’s Prayer is said, and a series of three lessons and three responsories are sung.

This is followed by the Lauds, another series of antiphons and Psalms during which three more candles are extinguised (after Pslam 63, after the Song of Moses, and after Psalm 150). Now, the nave of the church is very near dark, as the lights have been dimmed even further.

Near the end of the canticle, acolytes emerge to extinguish the altar candles, leaving only the seventh candle lit.

During the repetition of the antiphon after the canticle, the Verger climbs a ladder, removes the candle, and as the choir sings the motet, he takes it toward the High Altar, through the Santuary gate, and then hides it in a small room hidden behind the door to the north side of the High Altar.

The congregation says the Lord’s Prayer and the choir sings the Miserere.

The Officiant says a prayer and adds (whispering to himself under his breath): “…who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

A loud sound fills the church. Christ is dead. The organ is outraged; the choristers beat their books against their stalls.

Then, in complete silence, the candle emerges from its hiding place. It is returned to its place high above the chancel. By its light all leave in silence.

OfficiantFr. Mead
Sung byThe Saint Choir of Men and Boys
PsalmPsalm 69:1-22
PsalmPsalm 70
Lamentations of Jeremiah 1:1-14Introit — Plainsong
The Song of MosesExodus 15:1-18, Plainsong
PsalmPsalm 150
CanticleBenedictus Dominus Deus, Luke 1:68-79 — Plainsong
MotetChristus factus est, by Felice Anerio (c. 1560-1614)
Psalm51, Miserere mei, Deus, Gregorio Allegri (1582-1652)