“Tenebrae” is Latin for “shadows,” so this is a service of shadows. Increasing darkness is used to dramatize the increasing sadness of Holy Week, accomplished by extinguishing candles during the reading of scriptural narratives and Psalms.
Beginning with a series of readings from Lamentations, Tenebrae is distinctive for its use of 15 lighted candles; each is extinguished as each of the 14 readings is completed. The 15th candle symbolizes Christ. The candle is moved, then reappears at the end of the service, which represents the eventual triumph of Christ.
The service re-creates the emotion of betrayal, abandonment and agony experienced by Jesus during the events of Holy Week. This story is left unfinished, because the story continues until Easter Sunday.