Tenebrae: The Liturgy of Shadows | A Time for Quiet and Reflection

Tenebrae was an office of morning prayer in the Roman Catholic Church on Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday (although often celebrated, as it will be here, on a preceding evening). 

This is a new, special service for Holy Week at this Cathedral and is an opportunity to sit quietly and reflect on the story of the Passion. In this service, six of seven candles are extinguished, and the last, representing Jesus Christ, Light of the world, is hidden as Jesus’ body was hidden in the shadows of the tomb.

All are welcome to join us for this service, which will be in the Quire of the Cathedral, at 8.00pm on Wednesday of Holy Week.

After the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council, Tenebrae disappeared from the official Roman liturgy for Holy Week, but forms of it remain in use across both the Roman Catholic Church and, increasingly, the Anglican Communion.

Its beauty lies in its evocative simplicity. Tenebrae simply means 'darkness' or 'shadows' and the liturgy is a simple ritual of extinguishing candles as we hear readings from Scripture that help us to identify with Christ's sufferings as we enter into darkness of his final hours and, indeed, his death.

In our service at Chichester this year, the readings of Tenebrae are accompanied by one of J.S. Bach's most significant Partitas (a set of variations on a chorale), Sei gegrüßet, Jesu gütig (BWV 768). It dates from before 1708 and will be played by our Organist and Master of the Choristers, Charles Harrison. The chorale is a German penance hymn that considers Christ's sufferings, the first verse of which might be translated thus:

'Jesu, Saviour, heed my greeting, kind and gentle is thy being: long the torture thou hast suffered, deep the insults to thee offered. Let me all thy love inherit and meet death in thy sure merit.'

Written by Canon Precentor, The Reverend Dr Dan Inman