Fr. William Messenger
On Good Friday, we keep a memorial of the Lord's passion. Historically, there are two sources for the development of our celebration. First was the fast in preparation for Easter and its baptisms. In the second century this was already established for the Saturday before Easter, and it soon became two days, including Friday.
The second source of our Good Friday was the fourth century liturgy of Jerusalem, which focused on the historical events as they were then understood. Friday was kept with lengthy prayers and readings at the various particular sites associated with the day's events. People would move from the garden to the other places mentioned in the gospels. This tendency toward exact places and times has tended to dominate the devotions of Good Friday: the veneration of the cross, the stations, the various prayers and practices around the three hours.
Today, the liturgical service provides a balance, through moments of quiet, that let the memory of the crucifixion fill all emptiness.
As we saw in the Holy Thursday reflection, Lent is already over, and with the celebration of the Lord’s Supper we enter a three-day event, a TRIDUUM. We must see Friday and Saturday as connected to Thursday. As such, the fast is not a Lenten fast. It is the “Easter Fast”, the Passover fast. “On Good Friday, and, if possible also on Holy Saturday until the Easter Vigil, the Easter fast is observed everywhere.”(General Norms for the Liturgical Year #18).
During Lent, fasting serves several purposes: It is penitential; it symbolizes death and resurrection; by not consuming so much for ourselves, we are able to share the world's resources with one another; it anticipates the TRIDUUM which is kept with prayer, its own fasting, and watching/waiting together.
By contrast, the Easter Fast is a preparation for the great festival: it is a "foregoing all nourishment but God's presence." It is within this fast that the faithful gather to pray. Throughout this day and tomorrow there might be many moments of common prayer. All of them, though, especially the liturgical service called "Celebration of the Lord's Passion," are our attempt to express in words and actions that the Lord's Passover really does define who we are. We are different than other people, who do not believe. The celebration is an attempt to be drawn into the death and resurrection of Jesus.
Today, especially, we center on the cross as it sums up--culminates--the Lenten/spring season of struggle between death and life as we have felt this in our own hearts, our spirits, and our bodies. That Cross which we trace on ourselves so often--our glory--needs to fill the prayer of this day with some sense for all the ways it has defined our lives. It is a "GOOD" Friday. Jesus' death is a "celebration": ". . .through the cross you brought joy to the world."
There are three parts to the celebration:
- LITURGY OF THE WORD
- general intercessions
- VENERATION OF THE CROSS
- HOLY COMMUNION
a) LITURGY OF THE WORD:
The presentation of the Word of God and any additional readings should assist the faithful in contemplating the passion and death of Jesus. This may be achieved more effectively by dramatizing the Gospel rather than reading it. Drama not only lends itself to a sharper focus, it also draws the listeners into the action--the Gospel story becomes much more real and not diffused by the imagination of the listeners.
The intercessions have a special purpose. After listening/watching and being deeply moved by the passion of the Lord and by a homily that draws that passion into our lives, we join with Jesus crucified to intercede with the Father for ourselves, our sisters and brothers, our world. The prayers capture something very basic to redemption, to reconciliation, in their all-embracing memory and concern.
b) VENERATION OF THE CROSS:
The showing and veneration of the Cross, is meant to call to mind our salvation through the Cross of Christ. It is helpful to consider that the liturgy continually refers to a cross, not a crucifix. Although it is good to recall that Jesus, as a real person died upon the cross, this is not the place. That should be accomplished in the presentation of the passion. The keeping of the EASTER TRIDUUM as one celebration of the dying/rising of Jesus depends upon a better appreciation of the cross. The crucifix narrows our thoughts to the moment in history, whereas the cross brings Jesus' death and resurrection to each time and life. It is the sacred tree: "O tree of beauty, tree of light," "O cross, our one reliance."
The practice, adopted at many parishes, of combining the intercessions and the veneration, seems to bring out the best of both ceremonies. It vividly brings to our consciousness that through the cross we receive life and that life is for all people.
This part of the Good Friday liturgy is most problematic. The practice of receiving Communion on this day was not done in the Roman church until the 7th century. It was restricted to the clergy in the 17th century, and in 1955 was restored to all. The prayer of Good Friday is quite complete without Communion. In fact, we need to become accustomed to such prayer. There is no need to celebrate Communion every time we gather for prayer.
The nature of the Good Friday liturgy itself would suggest that the Communion rite be very low-key. The Blessed Sacrament is brought to the altar without ceremony or procession. This is done in silence. The “Our Father” is prayed--recited not sung. Taking Communion today is quite different from the occasions when we bless the bread and cup, break bread, and share in Communion. If hymns are sung during the reception, they should not reflect the usual joy of the Eucharist. The emphasis is on simplicity, not ceremony. At the conclusion of the liturgy, ALL DEPART IN SILENCE, preferably without procession.
(Fr. William Messenger is a priest in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles)