Austerity and simplicity are the marks of the Good Friday liturgy as is appropriate for the commemoration of the death of the Lord. No sacraments may be celebrated on this day except for the Sacrament of Penance and the Anointing of the Sick. In accordance with ancient tradition, no Mass may be celebrated. No musical instruments or bells are permitted.
Good Friday is nonetheless a time of celebration, celebration of our Redemption as noted in one of the opening prayers: “Lord, by the suffering of Christ your Son you have saved us all from the death we inherited from sinful Adam.” Ideally the Good Friday liturgy is celebrated at three in the afternoon, the hour of Jesus’ death, but it may be celebrated early in the evening at a time more convenient for working people.
The liturgy consists of three elements. The Liturgy of the Word, the Veneration of the Cross and Holy Communion.
In silence the priest and other ministers enter the Church and prostrate themselves before the stripped altar. This prostration symbolizes grief and sorrow and the submissiveness of man in the presence of God.
In the first reading from Isaiah, we reflect on the Messianic prophecy of the Suffering Servant. “…he was pierced for our offences, crushed for our sins: upon him was the chastisement that makes us whole, by his stripes we are healed.” The second reading from the Letter to the Hebrews picks up on Isaiah and reminds us that “Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered; and when he was made perfect, he became the source of salvation for all who obey him.”
Once again the Passion is read, this time from John which is used every Good Friday. John alone tells us of Jesus placing his mother in the care of the Beloved Disciple: “He said woman, behold, your son,” and then to John, “Behold, your mother.” It is also John who anticipates Pentecost when he tells us that at the moment of his death the Lord said:”‘It is finished.’ And bowing his head, he handed over the Spirit.”
Following the Passion and a homily, a series of up to ten special intercessory prayers are said emphasizing that Jesus’ death was for the salvation of the world.
Then follows the unveiling and the veneration of the cross as the priest gradually takes the covering from the crucifix while singing three times “This is the wood of the cross, on which hung the Savior of the World.” The cross is then venerated by the priest and ministers and individually by members of the congregation as the ancient reproaches are sung recalling the history of salvation in which God cries out “My people, what have I done to you? How have I offended you? Answer me!”
The cross is left for veneration while a simple Communion service, beginning with the Lord’s Prayer, is held, at which the Eucharist concecrated on Holy Thursday is distributed.
There is no closing ceremony as the priest and ministers depart in silence. Only the cross and four candles remain, inviting us to reflect on Jesus in the silence of the tomb.
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