Good Friday Service of Taizé and Tenebrae

We are doing something a little different for Holy Week this year.  In years past, we have had both an evening Maundy Thursday service and a mid-day Good Friday service.  Most recently, the Maundy Thursday service has been a tenebrae service (more on tenebrae below) and the Good Friday service has been a Service of the Seven Last Words of Christ – seven different preachers over the course of three hours, interspersed with hymns and worship music.

We have learned a handful of things over the past years: People love the contemplative darkness of the Maundy Thursday tenebrae service, but there are a number of people who have a hard time fitting in worship on a “school night.”  Here at First Presbyterian Church, the Maundy Thursday service always has ended with Jesus’ arrest, and so those who attend worship on Thursday but not on Friday never reach Golgotha – the place and events of the crucifixion.  The Service of the Seven Last Words focuses on the crucifixion and has the appeal of spanning the hours that Jesus is traditionally believed to have been on the cross – noon to 3:00 – but relatively few people can take off work or school to come to a service in the middle of the day.  Further, the Service of the Seven Last Words revolves around sermons – words, words, and more words – when, perhaps, observance of Good Friday is more appropriately contemplative and even emotionally evocative.

So this year, in keeping with our Lenten theme of “Be Thou My Vision” and our aim to dive deeper into our connection with God, we have made some changes.  We have eliminated our Maundy Thursday service entirely, and our Good Friday worship will be an evening tenebrae service.  It will have many of the attributes that our Maundy Thursday services have had in the past – darkness, silence, contemplative music, and tenebrae.  It will not conclude with Jesus’ arrest, but rather, with the crucifixion.  The word “tenebrae” literally means “darkness” or “shadows.”  The tenebrae service dates back to the 4th century and the ancient Holy Week ceremony in which the lights in the church are extinguished one by one as the service proceeds.  In this dramatic worship experience, the mental, spiritual and physical anguish of Jesus are proclaimed as he moved toward his death.  In our tenebrae service, we extinguish candles until the sanctuary is in total darkness.  (We turn on enough lights for people to leave safely at the close of worship!)

Our singing this Good Friday will also reflect a more contemplative worship approach.  Most of the songs sung by the congregation will be chants from Taizé.  The Taizé Community is an ecumenical monastic order in Taizé, Burgundy, France.  It is composed of brothers from Protestant and Catholic traditions from about thirty countries, and founded in 1940 by Brother Roger Schutz, a Protestant.  The community has become one of the world’s most important sites of Christian pilgrimage.  Over 100,000 young people from around the world make pilgrimages to Taizé each year for prayer, Bible study, sharing, and communal work.  Through the community’s ecumenical outlook, they are encouraged to live in the spirit of kindness, simplicity and reconciliation.

Singing is one of the central elements of Taizé worship.  Short songs repeated again and again give singing a meditative character.  Using just a few words, they express a basic reality of faith, quickly grasped by the heart and mind.  As the words are sung over many times, this reality gradually penetrates the whole being.  Meditative singing thus becomes a way of listening to God.  It allows everyone to take part in a time of prayer together and to remain together in attentive waiting on God.

Our Good Friday worship will also include prayers around the cross for those who desire it, and a worshipful action: “laying our burdens down,” leaving a stone at the cross as a symbol of turning our burdens over to Christ.

Join us at 7:30 p.m. on Good Friday for our Service of Taizé and Tenebrae.


  1. Libby Davis

    Thu 28th Feb 2013 at 11:08 am

    Thanks for the explanation. I’ve always thought there is real appreciation for both the Thursday evening Tenebrae service and the seven last words on Friday. I know these services take a lot of time and preparation. I’m sure the Friday evening service will be meaningful.

  2. Val Willems

    Tue 02nd Feb 2016 at 5:36 pm

    Would you have a script of this service you would be willing to share with our church?


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