Why do we celebrate Good Friday?
The day has been commemorated for many centuries. “We have historical evidence from the 4th century diary of a wealthy woman, Egeria, who made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem,” says Morrill. “She wrote of her travels and included how Christians kept Palm Sunday and other rituals.” Eventually, as Christianity spread, the day was observed by other early churches in places such as Antioch, Rome, and Constantinople.
Why is it called Good Friday?
It is likely that this name comes from the word “good” once meaning “holy,” a theory supported by many linguistics and even the Oxford English Dictionary. Some linguistics and historians debate the theory that good might also come from it once being called “God’s Friday.” However, many cannot find a link between the two words, as Slate explains.
How is Good Friday celebrated?
Different ways of honouring the day have evolved, and many traditions and popular devotions still are practiced today.
In the Middle Ages, Francis of Assisi popularized a symbolic pilgrimage if you couldn’t make one to Jerusalem, known as Stations, or Way, of the Cross, says Morrill. The devotion includes crosses spaced at intervals (both indoors and out) alongside art such as paintings or sculptures depicting pivotal scenes from Jesus’s life. People stop to pray, meditate, and read or hear Biblical passages at each station. It’s most commonly prayed during Lent and especially on Good Friday.
Passion plays, which dramatize the final days of Jesus’s life, also started in the Middle Ages. One held in Oberammergau, Germany, has been performed every ten years all the way back to 1634.
Others are held annually in various places across the country such as San Antonio, Texas; Southington, Connecticut; and Eureka Springs, Arkansas. Some faithful visit seven different churches on Good Friday, spending a moment of prayer at each. Others attend a service based on the seven last words (or direct quotes) of Jesus with readings of Bible passages, a sermon, prayers and hymns.
Fasting and attending religious services are part of the commemoration for many on Good Friday. For example, for Roman Catholics, the religious service on Good Friday is the middle part of a three-day-long liturgy, or official rites, called the Triduum. “It’s the most sacred liturgy of the year,” says Morrill.
The Liturgical Celebration
According to the Church’s ancient tradition, the sacraments are not celebrated on Good Friday nor Holy Saturday. “Celebration of the Lord’s Passion,” traditionally known as the “Mass of the Presanctified,” (although it is not a mass) is usually celebrated around three o’clock in the afternoon, or later, depending on the needs of the parish.
The altar is completely bare, with no cloths, candles nor cross. The service is divided into three parts: Liturgy of the Word, Veneration of the Cross and Holy Communion. The priest and deacons wear red or black vestments. The liturgy starts with the priests and deacons going to the altar in silence and prostrating themselves for a few moments in silent prayer, then an introductory prayer is prayed.
In part one, the Liturgy of the Word, we hear the most famous of the Suffering Servant passages from Isaiah (52:13-53:12), a pre-figurement of Christ on Good Friday. Psalm 30 is the Responsorial Psalm “Father, I put my life in your hands.” The Second Reading, or Epistle, is from the letter to the Hebrews, 4:14-16; 5:7-9. The Gospel Reading is the Passion of St. John.
The General Intercessions conclude the Liturgy of the Word. The ten intercessions cover these areas:
For the Church
For the Pope
For the clergy and laity of the Church
For those preparing for baptism
For the unity of Christians
For the Jewish people
For those who do not believe in Christ
For those who do not believe in God
For all in public office
For those in special need
Part two is the Veneration of the Cross. A cross, either veiled or unveiled, is processed through the Church, and then venerated by the congregation. We joyfully venerate and kiss the wooden cross “on which hung the Saviour of the world.” During this time the “Reproaches” are usually sung or recited.
Part three, Holy Communion, concludes the Celebration of the Lord’s Passion. The altar is covered with a cloth and the ciborium containing the Blessed Sacrament are brought to the altar from the place of reposition. The Our Father and the Ecce Agnus Dei (“This is the Lamb of God”) are recited. The congregation receives Holy Communion, there is a “Prayer After Communion,” and then a “Prayer Over the People,” and everyone departs in silence.
It is a day of mourning. We should try to find ways to slow down and have more quiet to contemplate this solemn day. Many people take time off from work and school to participate in the devotions and liturgy of the day as much as possible. Some families leave the curtains drawn and maintain some silence during the 3 hours (noon 3p.m.) and keep from loud conversation or activities throughout the remainder of the day. Other ideas for keeping the day solemn is restricting ourselves from any outside entertainment TV, music, computer, phones, social media, games these are all types of technology that can distract us from the spirit of the day.
If some members of the family cannot attend all the services, a little home altar can be set up, by draping a black or purple cloth over a small table or dresser and placing a crucifix and candles on it. The family then can gather during the three hours, praying different devotions like the rosary, Stations of the Cross, the Divine Mercy devotions, and meditative reading and prayers on the passion of Christ.
Although throughout Lent we have tried to mortify ourselves, it is appropriate to try some practicing extra mortifications today. These can be very simple, such as eating less at the small meals of fasting or eating standing up. Some people just eat bread and soup, or just bread and water while standing at the table.