Tenebrae is a Latin word meaning “darkness,” and is the popular name for the special forms of the offices of Matins and Lauds appointed for the last three days in Holy Week. Because it is now a nearly universal practice to hold the liturgies for Maundy Thursday and Good Friday in the evening, it has become customary, in some places, to offer Tenebrae in the evening on Holy Wednesday, at times drawing elements from Tenebrae of Good Friday and Holy Saturday. Perhaps the most striking feature of the service is the gradual extinguishing of the candles until only one is left, which is then concealed for a time until a loud noise is made (signifying the earthquake at the time of the Resurrection), whereupon the hidden candle is restored to its place in anticipation of the Resurrection. The congregation then departs in silence.
The Tenebrae service is divided into two major sections - Nocturns and Lauds. There are three Nocturns each of which is comprised of three Antiphons recited by the congregation, three lessons read by a lector, and three responsories sung by the choir. The Lauds consist of six Antiphon recitations and the Benedictus.
The entire service takes place in the Quire and at the high altar. The congregation and ministers of the service are seated in the choir stalls. The Choir is seated in the gallery.
Ministers of the Service
The following roles participate in Evensong:
Officiant - Leads the service; the officiant need not be a member of the clergy
Minister of Ceremonies - Oversees the service to ensure that it follows the rubrics
Choir - Leads the service by singing the responsories and sung canticles
Acolytes- Light and then extinguish the candles in the Tenebrae hearse and at the altar
Crucifer - Leads the entering procession
Lectors - Read the lessons
The altar should be prepared in the color of the day, with the office lights lit by the torchbearers at least 10 minutes before the start of the service. No missal or other altar preparations are required for this service.
A bugia or other single candle holder should be nearby on the credence table or other accessible location. It will be used to remove and hide the final candle.
Access to the rear of the high altar should be cleared of kneeling cushions and other obstacles that might impede the officiant’s way as they move to hide the final candle behind the altar.
The Tenebrae hearse should be placed in the ambit of the altar, over the mosaic of the dove. Fresh, unbleached candles should be placed into each candle holder on the hearse. A lucifer in a stand should be placed close by to facilitate extinguishing the candles during the service.
The wooden lectern from the chapel should be placed in the center-end of the Quire, closest to the Quire Screen, facing the altar. Torches in stands should be placed in flanking positions to either side of the lectern.
Clergy are attired in choir dress - black cassock, white surplice, tippet, and academic hood. The choir is attired in black cassock and surplice with academic hoods as appropriate. All other servers are attired in black cassock and surplice. The lectors do not vest.
Lighting the Candles
Within 10 minutes of the start of the service, the acolytes should light the candles on the altar, hearse, and lectern (in that order). Only the office lights on the altar are light in standard order. The hearse is lit from the bottom to the top. If only a single acolyte is lighting the hearse, they should begin with the Epistle side of the hearse, then the Gospel side, leaving the Christ candle for last. As the hearse candles are wax, it is not advisable to light them too far in advance of the start of the service lest they burn down before the service ends.
The procession enters from the side in silence, led by the crucifer. Acolytes process as ministers of the service rather than flanking the crucifer. The crucifer proceeds to the altar rail and, places the processional cross in its normal place, then moving to the rear row of the choir stalls on the Gospel side.
Rather than processing to the altar rail, all other ministers and the the officiant reverence from the top of the Quire steps, and then take their places in the stalls. The Officiant is seated in the second row of the Gospel-side stalls. If there are any other clergy participating in the service, they are seated in the second row of the Epistle-side stalls.
After the procession enters, all kneel for silent prayer.
At the beginning of the first Psalm, all sit.
The officiant begins the recitation of the Psalms, with all joining in, alternating sides of the congregation by whole verse. The antiphons are said in unison.
One candle is extinguished on the hearse following each Antiphon, alternating between the Gospel and Epistle sides of the hearse, beginning with bottom-most candle on the Gospel side.
The First Nocturn
All recite Psalm 69. The first candle is extinguished at the end of the Antiphon.
All recite Psalm 70. The second candle is extinguished at the end of the Antiphon.
All recite Psalm 74. The third candle is extinguished at the end of the Antiphon.
The First Lesson
The lector reads the first lesson.
The First Responsory
All are seated as the choir sings the first responsory.
The Second Lesson
The lector reads the second lesson.
The Second Responsory
All are seated as the choir sings the second responsory.
The Third Lesson
The lector reads the third lesson.
The Third Responsory
All are seated as the choir sings the third responsory.
The Second Nocturn
All recite Psalm 2. The fourth candle is extinguished at the end of the Antiphon.
All recite Psalm 22. The fifth candle is extinguished at the end of the Antiphon.
All recite Psalm 27. The sixth candle is extinguished at the end of the Antiphon.
The Fourth Lesson
The lector reads the fourth lesson.
The Fourth Responsory
All are seated as the choir sings the fourth responsory.
The Fifth Lesson
The lector reads the fifth lesson.
The Fifth Responsory
All are seated as the choir sings the fifth responsory.
The Sixth Lesson
The lector reads the sixth lesson.
The Sixth Responsory
All are seated as the choir sings the sixth responsory.
The Third Nocturn
All recite Psalm 54. The seventh candle is extinguished at the end of the Antiphon.
All recite Psalm 76. The eighth candle is extinguished at the end of the Antiphon.
All recite Psalm 88. The ninth candle is extinguished at the end of the Antiphon.
The Seventh Lesson
The lector reads the seventh lesson.
The Seventh Responsory
All are seated as the choir sings the seventh responsory.
The Eighth Lesson
The lector reads the eighth lesson.
The Eighth Responsory
All are seated as the choir sings the eighth responsory.
The Ninth Lesson
The lector reads the ninth lesson.
The Ninth Responsory
All are seated as the choir sings the ninth responsory.
All recite Psalm 63. The tenth candle is extinguished at the end of the Antiphon.
All recite Psalm 90. The eleventh candle is extinguished at the end of the Antiphon.
All recite Psalm 143. The twelfth candle is extinguished at the end of the Antiphon.
All recite the Song of Hezekiah. The thirteenth candle is extinguished at the end of the Antiphon.
All recite Psalm 150. The fourteenth candle is extinguished at the end of the Antiphon. Only one candle should remain burning in the hearse at this point.
The officiant leads the congregation in the response. All stand at the conclusion of the response for the singing of the Benedictus.
The choir sings the Benedictus. The office lights on the altar are extinguished following the 2nd, 4th, 6th, 8th, 10th, and 12th verses (one light at each verse), followed by the lights at the lectern. At the conclusion of the Benedictus, the officiant takes the final candle and hides it from sight behind the altar. All kneel.
Christus factus est
All kneel while Christus factus est is chanted by a cantor.
All remain kneeling and recite together Psalm 51.
All remain kneeling while the concluding collect is prayed by the officiant.
All continue kneeling while a loud noise is made. The Christ candle is then brought from behind the altar and placed back in the hearse.
All depart in silence. There is no organized procession.