On Good Friday the priest enters the church in silence and prostrates himself before the altar signifying the grief and sorrow of the Church. It is a day of solemn reflection on the mystery of the cross.
As we meditate on the Lord’s Passion. We are confronted with two images from the Hebrew Scriptures that pre-figure the sufferings of Jesus as vicarious and redemptive.
Once again we are confonted with the Suffering Servant from Isaiah 52 and 53, the mysterious figure who suffered for the offenses of others. “It was our infirmities that he bore, our sufferings that he endured … he was pierced for our offenses, crushed for our sins; upon him was the chastisement that makes us whole, by his stripes we were healed.”
In the Liturgy of the Hours, St. John Chrysostom returns to the image of Jesus as the new Paschal Lamb from Holy Thursday’s liturgy: “If we wish to understand the power of Christ’s blood, we should go back to the ancient account of its prefiguration in Egypt. ‘Sacrifice a lamb without blemish’, commanded Moses, ‘and sprinkle its blood on your doors’”.
It is not surprising that the Church turns to these separate but complimentary Old Testament images to explain the mystery of Jesus’ sacrificial death. Just as the early church looked to the Hebrew Scriptures for enlightenment, the Church continues to see the Old Testament images as relavent to the mystery of the Incarnation: “God, the inspirer and author of the books of both Testaments, in his wisdom has so brought it about that the New should be hidden the Old and that the Old should be made manifest in the New.” (Dei Verbum 16)
In the second reading from the Letter to the Hebrews (4:14-16; 5:7-9), we are reminded that Jesus is not only the source of eternal salvation but that we are confident of his mercy because he can sympathize with our weakness because in his humanity he was “tested in every way, yet without sin.”
So we are prepared for the reading of John’s Passion which is shorter and less anecdotal than those of Matthew, Mark and Luke. John stresses Jesus’ obedience to the father. At Gethsemane Jesus does not pray to be delivered from suffering but accepts it as a duty. John also recounts in greater detail the interrogaton by Pilate during which Jesus emphasizes his kingship with the result that Pilate has nailed to the cross the statement, “Jesus the Nazorean, King of the Jews.”
John alone tells of Jesus commending his mother to the beloved disciple: “Woman, behold, your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother.” It is never stated, but tradition has it that John himself was the beloved disciple.
There is no Liturgy of the Eucharist on Good Friday, only the Liturgy of the Word which is followed by the very ancient traditon of the veneration of the cross. The earliest account of this observance comes from the diary of Egeria, a fourth century pilgrim, who describes the ceremony as it took place in Jerusalem. A portion of the diary may be found at http://www.ccel.org/m/mcclure/etheria/etheria.htm. The elevation and veneration of the cross points to the most important act in the history of salvation.
Following the veneraton of the cross, the Lord’s Prayer is recited and Communion is distributed using the hosts that were consecrated on Holy Thursday and reserved for use on Friday.
After Communion, the priest leaves silently and the altar is stripped once again with only the cross remaining.
The Lord is lying in the tomb.