Good Friday of the Passion of the LordApril 5th, 2012
Sacrifice. Loss. Mourning. Silence. Worship.
When we first enter the church on Good Friday, we are immediately confronted with barrenness. The sanctuary is stripped of all ornamentation—no flowers, candles or altar linens. Some churches also cover up all the statues and icons with a purple veil. We are left with feelings of loss and deep sorrow.
Good Friday commemorates the anniversary of Christ’s crucifixion and death. For Catholics, Good Friday is not just an historical event, but the sacrificial death of Christ which, with the resurrection, comprises the heart of what it means to be Christian. As Catholics, we cannot miss that Jesus’ sacrificial death on a cross for the atonement of our sins is the story of our own redemption. The heart of who we are as Catholic Christians is intimately bound up in the cross of Christ. Words are insufficient to describe the supreme act of a loving God who would die for us. We can only enter into the story with silent worship.
Good Friday begins the second day of the Paschal Triduum. This is the only day in the Church year where a Mass is not celebrated, that is, there is no consecration of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Jesus. The service is intentionally simple—no unnecessary gestures, rituals or music—so that all the focus remains on the crucified Christ and his cross.
The priest and ministers process into the church in silence and, when they approach the foot of the altar, the priest prostrates himself—literally lies face down in front of the altar for several minutes —in an act of complete worship of the crucified Christ who gave his life for our salvation. Along with the priest, we kneel in silent worship. The altar is stripped bare of all ornamentation and the door of the tabernacle is open—as if it were mourning itself.
The scripture stories retold this day focus on Christ the suffering servant who gave his life for the atonement of sins. As we hear the story of Jesus’ arrest, trial and execution, we come to learn of our own complicity in his death which is why worship is the only proper response to our God who loved us so much that he would die in our place. We stand for the reading of Christ’s passion in the Gospel of John. When we hear the words “And bowing his head, he handed over his spirit” (John 19:30), we are compelled to kneel in sorrow and awe.
In deep sorrow, yet with complete trust in God, we pray for all the needs of the Church, society, nations and the world. We pray for our church leaders; for those who don’t believe in Christ or in God; for all public officials; for the sick, the imprisoned, travelers and absent members. We pray for peace, protection, guidance, an increase of faith, sincerity of heart, love for one another, forgiveness, mercy, compassion, liberty, healing, and courage. We pray that the love of God in Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit might be known by all people and in all places.
After the petitions is the first of two major processions which are connected to each other in profound and intimate ways. The first is the veneration of the cross. The priest or deacon moves to the back of the church where he picks up a large cross which has been covered with a purple cloth. While processing up the aisle, he stops at three separate intervals unveiling a piece of the cross proclaiming in song, “Behold the wood of the cross on which is hung the Savior of the world.” We respond by kneeling and singing, “Come let us worship.” When the cross reaches in the front of the altar, the whole cross is unveiled and the faithful are invited to come forward to express our deep reverence and gratitude for the sacrifice of God’s own Son. All the people come forward now in procession to embrace the cross of Christ with a bow, a touch, or a kiss. One cannot help but be moved by the reverence of the people who come forward. They, and we, know what they bear on their own crosses: chronic illness, cancer, broken relationships, dreams unfulfilled, sinfulness, estrangement, conflict, the death of loved ones. The cross of Christ becomes a symbol of our very lives. The cross of Christ becomes our cross. Yet, with complete hope in the love of God, the cross of Christ becomes the means of healing, wholeness, restoration and redemption.
In the second procession, the faithful come forward to receive the Body of Christ in communion. Where, at the veneration of the cross we embraced the cross, we now embrace Christ’s sacred Body. There is no consecration at this service; additional hosts were consecrated the night before at the Holy Thursday liturgy so that all may receive their Eucharistic Lord to be renewed and sustained by his grace.
At the end of the liturgy, the ministers and people process out of the church in silence. For the rest of the day and throughout all of Holy Saturday, many Catholics often reduce to a minimum all unnecessary chatter, continuing their private worship that can only be accomplished in profound silence.