We learn from the Bible, it was the practice of early Jews to set specific times of the day for daily prayers. This practice was passed down over time by way of the Apostles to Christianity. The monastic movement developed a liturgy to recite the Psalter, and a system known as Canonical Hours (eight daily prayer events: lauds, prime, terce, sext, none, vespers and compline, and the night office, sometimes referred to as vigils, with sections called 'nocturnes') was formed. Liturgies prescribed for certain hours of the day are not uncommon to Anglicans, as we have Offices for Morning Prayer (a combination of Matins, Lauds and Prime), Noon Day Prayer and Evening Prayer in our Book of Common Prayer.
From this tradition, the Tenebrae service was created. You can see some of these terms from the Canonical Hours in our abbreviated service. This service is referred to as a psalmody (the act, practice, or art of singing psalms in worship). Antiphons come from the psalm itself, the office or scripture and can be thought of as a refrain. V stands for verse.
From the Book of Occasional Services: “The name Tenebrae (the Latin word for “darkness” or “shadows”) has for centuries been applied to the ancient monastic night and early morning services (Matins and Lauds) of the last three days of Holy Week, which in medieval times came to be celebrated on the preceding evenings.
Apart from the chant of the Lamentations (in which each verse is often introduced by a letter of the Hebrew alphabet), the most conspicuous feature of the service is the gradual extinguishing of candles and other lights in the church until only a single candle, considered a symbol of our Lord, remains.
Toward the end of the service this candle is hidden, typifying the apparent victory of the forces of evil. At the very end, a loud noise is made, symbolizing the earthquake at the time of the resurrection (Matthew 28:2), the hidden candle is restored to its place, and by its light all depart in silence.
This service provides an extended meditation upon, and a prelude to, the events in our Lord’s life between the Last Supper and the Resurrection.” It is held on Wednesday so it does not take away from the liturgies for Maundy Thursday and Good Friday.
With the Procession of the Palms and the reading of the Passion of our Lord, you felt yourself being drawn into the drama of Holy Week. Now you must set aside your Episcopalian reserve and let yourself be swallowed by the darkness of the coming hours and days. The seven lighted candles before you are referred to as a hearse. Close your eyes and imagine yourself in an ancient monastery. You are sitting in the back of a small chapel with stone walls, arched windows, candlelight and an ornate altar. You can hear the monks seated in the rows in front of you chanting the familiar psalms.