When we think of Good Friday the image that immediately comes to mind is the cross, which is the most common Christian symbol. There was a time when Catholics in America were called “cross backs.” We begin our prayers with the Sign of the Cross, which not only professes Jesus crucified but the Holy Trinity.
In the Roman Missal, Good Friday is called Friday of the Passion of the Lord, and the liturgy, like all the Triduum liturgies, recalls the events that culminated in the Resurrection. Good Friday is the only day of the year when no Mass is celebrated and the only other sacraments that may be celebrated are Penance of the Sacrament of the Sick.
St. Ambrose referred to Good Friday as a “Day of Bitterness.” The desolation felt by Christians on this day is represented by the barren altar and open tabernacle – the altar having been stripped after the conclusion of the Holy Thursday. There is no cross, there are no candles and no altar cloths, and no music or bells may be used.
The Liturgy of the Word consists of Isaiah’s account of the Suffering Servant, who “was pierced for our offenses, crushed for our sins.”It is followed by Psalm 31, a penitential psalm with the antiphon from Psalm 23, which Christ spoke from the cross, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” The second reading is the passage on Christ the High Priest from Hebrews, Chapter 4, “Brothers and sisters:
Since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God.” John’s Passion narrative is preceded by a short verse from the Letter to Philemon, emphasizing that were saved by Jesus’ obedience, “Christ became obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”
Following a number of intersessions, the cross is unveiled in procession and public adoration begins after the priest and the ministers have reverenced the cross. When the adoration has been completed, the priest chants the ancient reproaches of God speaking to us for our commissions and omissions.
Although there is no Eucharistic liturgy, the Eucharist that has been reserved on Holy Thursday is distributed at the Good Friday liturgy, which used to be called the Mass of the Pre-sanctified. Distribution of Holy Communion is preceded by the Lord’s Prayer.
The liturgy concludes in silence as the priest and ministers leave and we are left to reflect prayerfully on Jesus in the tomb.
Image Credit: Parish Church of St. Barbara (Ramersbach), stained glass windows depicting the Man of Sorrows, Wikimedia Commons
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