A Tactile “Tenebrae” Reading of the Passion for Palm Sunday


I really loved this activity when we did it last year as part of our family-friendly Holy Eucharist in the morning, and I’m looking forward to the opportunity to do it again as part of Evensong this year.

If you’re not familiar with the service of Tenebrae, this paragraph is full of great background info to help you understand exactly what we’re adapting here. If you are familiar with it, you can skip to the next paragraph. In the past, Tenebrae referred to the celebration of matins and lauds of the last three days of Holy Week. However, in recent years, the term has come to refer to a specific Holy Week service that celebrates the Passion of Jesus by gradually extinguishing candles. There are specific readings paired with the liturgical action of extinguishing candles to symbolize the darkness encroaching on Good Friday and the death of Jesus. I’m a fan of Wikipedia, so you can click HERE for more information about the development of the service and the specific readings.

We have adapted the service of Tenebrae, so that instead of sitting through a series of many readings and watching as candles are extinguished, the reading of the Passion narrative from Matthew is supplemented by passing several items for some divisions that we made to break up the text. HERE is a link to the reading we used. HERE is a link to the original post where the creator shared her idea with the world! Each of the objects was passed around so that everyone in the group (seated in a circle) was able to touch and handle the items while the story was being read by the 6 different readers. Eventually each item made it back to the table, and we covered them up with a sheer black fabric. It slightly obscures each item, but they are still somewhat visible. We later gathered in the round to celebrate communion around the table, so the props were still visible to us while we celebrated the Eucharist.  We had about 70 people in attendance last year, and it was received positively by old and young alike.


Here are some images of the props, covered and uncovered. We played around with bunching up the fabric to further obscure them, but instead decided on one large piece that covered the whole table like a table cloth and didn’t obscure them too much.




This was a really enjoyable way to listen to the whole (or almost the whole) Passion narrative, which I have always found easy to zone out to during parts of if read straight. It was accessible to children, adults, and the older adults of our congregation.


These are the items we chose, but I will present other options as well:

  1. The Last Supper – Stone Chalice
    • A loaf of bread, a small wooden paten and chalice.
  2. The Garden of Gethsemane – Prayer Book
    • Last year we used a statue of hands folded in prayer. Available HERE.
    • The original post suggested a picture of Jesus praying at Gethsemane. We tend to go nonrepresentational but more power to you!
    • There’s a beautiful, traditional icon of Christ in the garden available HERE.
    • One of my favorite pictures of Jesus at Gethsemane is by an artist called RadoJavor. You can see it HERE. Make sure you have the artist’s permission if you plan to use their work for something.
  3. Jesus is Arrested – Cast Iron Manacles (this was a favorite among those gathered!)
    • You can buy the manacles HERE. It’s important for them to be heavy if you’re going to use this, so children’s play handcuffs might not be a good fit for this.
    • A length of rope may also be used since Jesus was bound hand and foot, but the image of heavy manacles was impressive for this purpose.
  4. Peter Betrays Jesus – Broken Heart
    • I made this broken heart by printing it out, mounting it to foam core, and cutting it out with a craft knife. The image is available to use, modify, and print for free HERE.
  5. Jesus is Shamed – Crown of Thorns (careful!)
    • There’s a beautiful nature park near my parish and I walked over there on my lunch one day and saw all the thorns growing beyond the path. I came back with some clippers and wove this crown myself, but they are also commercially available and with more impressive points on them.
  6. Jesus Dies – Driftwood Cross
    • You could also use any freestanding cross. I made this one the largest of the props because it seemed to be the most important part of the story we are telling. I liked that all of the items except the chalice laid flat on the table, because while the other ones tell a story, the chalice is the one we participate in most fully. It’s important to have all of the items be roughly the same size so that you can equally emphasize them (or, like in our case, choose to emphasize the cross.) Let your theology inform your aesthetic choices here.


Below is the PDF of the readings with instructions. These were distributed to the six readers and the acolyte who manipulated the objects, bells, and candles. Please feel free to use or modify these.

Palm Sunday Tenebrae Print Copy

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