Concerning the Service
Tenebrae is the Latin word for “darkness” or “shadows.” It is a service which derives from ancient monastic night and early morning services (Matins and Lauds) of the last three days of Holy Week, which in medieval times came to be celebrated on the preceding evenings. At Holy Apostles and many other churches, the service is held on Wednesday night of Holy Week.
The service consists mainly of psalms, which has always been the major component of monastic prayer. There are also several readings from Lamentations, and several canticles interspersed.
After each Psalm is chanted or said, candles are extinguished, and other light is gradually dimmed, until only a single candle, considered a symbol of our Lord, remains. Toward the end of the service this candle is hidden, typifying the apparent victory of the forces of evil. At the very end, a loud noise is made, symbolizing the earthquake at the time of the resurrection (Matthew 28:2), the hidden candle is restored to its place, and by its light all depart in silence.