The Triduum at Home: a Tenebrae Service

by | Apr 7, 2020 | Lent, Lent, Liturgical Living, Seasonal | 16 comments

Happy Spy Wednesday! Today we’ll be hiding thirty quarters. Here’s why:

See the April Booklet for the collects and readings for Spy Wednesday and each day of the Triduum.

We’ve done the quarters thing for many years now, and love it. New this year, something I’ve been meaning to do forever: a family at home Tenebrae Service!

Latin for “darkness,” Tenebrae is a religious service particular to the Triduum, featuring a unique triangular candelabra called a “hearse.” In it are fifteen candles, fourteen darker natural wax candles and one white candle. The fourteen candles represent Jesus’ followers, the white candle represents Jesus. Fifteen readings are proclaimed, after each of which one of the candles in the hearse is extinguished, symbolizing Jesus’ followers abandoning him one by one. At the end, just the white Christ candle is left burning, and it is hidden. The services end with a “strepitus” or “loud noise” made by slamming a book shut or stomping on the floor, symbolizing the earthquake that followed Christ’s death. This takes place in total darkness. Then the last candle is returned, representing the light of Christ returning.

Edit: I’ve updated the image and pdf here to reflect new information from the comments. Thanks all!

A family-friendly interpretation of this practice is to recite the final prayers of the service: The Benedictus, Christus factus est, and the Our Father, after dinner on the evening of Spy Wednesday, Holy Thursday, or Good Friday, extinguishing candles as you go. The last candle is hidden under the table or taken out of the room, then someone can slam a book closed, or everyone can stomp, or all can bang their hands or utensils on the table. Note: This at home Tenebrae service is included in my new book, The Catholic All Year Prayer Companion.

UPDATE 2024: We have a NEW Tenebrae booklet designed by the talented Tricia from Providential Co.. You can grab that here!

Saint John Cantius Parish in Chicago is live streaming a real Tenebrae service at 7:30pm central time tonight, Spy Wednesday. See it here. See here to sign up for reminders for their Thursday and Friday Tenebrae Services.

See their pdf booklet of the complete service here. Just scroll down the page a bit for the download link!

My oldest son tells me he can put together a Tenebrae hearse for me out of copper pipes. I am very excited about this prospect. Stay tuned to Instagram to see if it happens! But if you DON’T have a bored teenager at home, any candles will do. My original plan was to just make a row of tea lights down the center of the table, far enough apart to keep extras from being blown out by enthusiastic blowers.

Update: THIS HAPPENED! It was so cool. My kids all want to do it again on Thursday and Friday.

Anyone at your house who would enjoy blowing out candles and banging on the table?



  1. Fatima Spoor

    Thank you so much for this idea! I was planning just to do a candlelight family rosary on these days but I think the children would really love taking turns extinguishing candles like you plan to do. Don’t we leave one candle (the middle one on the hearse) unextinguished at the end? I think it’s supposed to symbolize Our Lord similar to the Pascal candle.

    • Kendra

      Everything I’ve seen says total darkness at the end! And you’re welcome. 🙂

    • Nicole Angle

      The last candle is brought out of the room, then the strepitus happens in the dark, and it ends when the candle is brought back in with the last candle representing the light of Christ returning. My husband and I discovered Tenebrea while we were dating in college and it became our standing “Triduum date” because the local Dominican church has it on Good Friday night (although obviously not this year 🙁 )

      • Kendra

        Okay, great, thank you! So the entire hearse is carried out? Or just the middle candle?

        • Nicole Angle

          Just the middle candle, usually by one of the servers so, oldest kid or mom in the at home version?

      • Melissa

        Thank you for this! Saw something similar but didn’t think we had enough candles or candle holders to make it work. I have a whole bag of tea lights though. Perfect solution! Also we did the quarter hunt for the first time and it was a huge hit!

  2. Lisa Legaspi

    Thanks for this! We will attempt to do this service tonight with our grandkids!

  3. Isabel Marin

    I read about the Tenebrae service in “Around the Year with the Von Trapp Family” and was trying to find a way to attend one virtually this year. This is a perfect alternative. THANK YOU!!

  4. Joanna Gauthier

    Thank you for making this available in a simplified version! I only just discovered this yesterday and now it feels doable without much preparation . Perhaps we’ll expand on this in the years to come.

    Thank you so much for your dedication in bringing so many beautiful elements of our faith to life. God bless you and your sweet family!

  5. Regina DeSpain

    Thank you so much for also including the link for St. John Cantis parish and off booklet. It was a beautiful service, the first I have ever seen.

  6. Peggy

    Ok. That hearse is just amazing! We were fortunate enough to catch the end of St. John’s tenebrae last night and loved it!! Thanks for the resources so we can do it tonight and tomo at home.

  7. Joanne L Moening

    Wow, amazing and inspiring. Thank you for all the guidance and ideas. And your son did a fantastic job!

  8. Mary

    Any idea why 14 followers and not 12? My kids wanted to know.

    • Kendra

      It appears that the number of candles has varied widely over the years, with as many as 72 used in some cases and as few as seven in others. The present rubrics prescribe 15. I think the idea is that they would symbolize “followers” of Jesus, not just the apostles, which feels more inclusive of all of us, who might have been like the people of Jesus’ time who witnessed the events of the Passion.

  9. Jen Schultheis

    Hi, I love the idea of doing this at home! I’m maybe a little confused on the timing: is this done Wednesday/Thursday/Friday because it’s after dark, and so liturgically it’s the next day? Otherwise, Wednesday-day isn’t part of the Triduum; am I thinking correctly? Thanks!

    • Kendra

      Yes, I think that’s it. Tenebrae was originally a celebration of matins and lauds of the triduum (Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday) in the evening of the previous day (Holy Wednesday, Maundy Thursday and Good Friday) in the pre-1950 divine office.

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