Good Friday is the first day of the Triduum. It is a single celebration of Jesus’ crucifixion, burial, and resurrection that takes part over 3 days. These days are calculated from sundown to sundown beginning at sundown the night before Good Friday with the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday. It continues with Morning Prayer, Stations of the Cross, and the Celebration of the Lord’s Passion on Good Friday, Morning Prayer and the Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday, Easter Sunday Eucharist and then ending with evening prayer at sundown on Easter Sunday.
As always, it started out as a dark and gloomy day today (the sun is shining brightly now). I have never experienced a beautiful sunny Good Friday from dawn until dusk. My dad pointed it out to me when I was about 12 years old. He said that in all his years he had never experienced a Good Friday with nice weather either and that he always preferred it that way. It felt like nature was observing the day of Jesus’ death along with us, he said. So, I began my day thinking of my dad and of my Father God.
I remember when I was a little girl, asking my dad, “If Jesus died on Good Friday, why is it called ‘Good’?” My dad told me that his take on it was that the “good’ part about it was why Jesus died – He died for us, for our sins, so that we could have eternal life. I did quite a bit of research to see if I could find out the origins on the name but it seemed like with every source I found, there was another theory on how it came to be called Good Friday, ranging from good being a corruption of the word God to it having derived from an Old English word meaning holy. Still, I think I like my dad’s explanation of it.
Today I went to church to commemorate Good Friday. Walking into church, it always kind of jars me when I see the red vestments and altar cloths. I understand the symbolism – red being the colour of the blood that Jesus spilled when being tortured and put to death. The thing is, that I am used to the Protestant churches I grew up in using black as the colour for Good Friday, draping the cross with it and covering parts of the church with it. I also see red as a cheerful colour. I don’t tend to associate it with blood or fire but instead, with my mother as it’s her favourite colour. When Mom would get dressed up to go out, she almost always wore red, so for me it’s a happy colour. For me, it was always so compelling to see the cross covered in black and so much black surrounding me in church. The other thing that was odd to me was that all the lights were on in the church whereas I’m used to the church being darkened on this day. I did make note of the missing tabernacle light though and that hit me like a punch in the stomach. Whenever I enter a Catholic church, the first thing I look for is the distinctive red tabernacle light, because it’s in that direction which I genuflect and focus my attention on the fact that this is God’s house. The tabernacle light is lit to signify the fact that the Eucharist, and therefore Jesus in substantial form, is present in the tabernacle. Good Friday is the one day of the year that the Eucharist is removed from the church and the light is extinguished.
Our church services on Good Friday are generally held between the hours of noon and 3 pm as it is believed that these were the hours during which Jesus was dying. The services began with Stations of the Cross. Stations of the Cross is a symbolic journey with Jesus from the time He was betrayed, throughout carrying His cross, and right up until He dies and His body is placed in the tomb. At my church there are relief wooden carvings hanging on the walls, each one depicting a different station. Our priest carries a cross from station to station. At each one, he describes to us what the station depicts and reads the corresponding Scripture to us. He offers a suggested meditation to accompany each one and we join together in prayer. In between each of the stations we sang a verse from Stabat Mater Dolorosa. As always, the moment we get to Station 12 (depicting the moment when Jesus died), I begin to cry. It’s such a powerful and meaningful tradition that really brings home the what Good Friday is all about.
Following the Stations of the Cross, we had a light lunch in solidarity with the poor. Good Friday is a day of fasting and abstinence (not eating meat). Fasting means that we may have one regular meal and then two very small meals (which when added together cannot equal the size of a regular meal). To add extra significance to our fasting, church volunteers prepared a simple lunch of a small bowl of bean soup, homemade bread, and water. There was no charge for the meal but we were asked for a freewill offering that would then go to Canadian Food for Children, a Catholic charity that sends food and necessities to 170 mission centres in 21 poor countries. One dollar would provide meals for 40 children. I sat with some lovely women and we had a really nice conversation and prayer together.
One of the Stations of the Cross I made for use in my own home
After lunch, at 3 pm (the time at which it is believed that Jesus took his final breath) we had the Celebration of the Lord’s Passion. This celebration is focused on the reading of John’s account of the Passion, emphasizing that Jesus lays down His life, not that it is taken from Him. The service often centers around the last 7 words of Christ: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”, “Today thou shall be with me in paradise.”, “Woman, behold thy son.”, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”, “I thirst.”, “It is finished.” and “Father, into Thy hands, I commend My spirit.”. Another key component of this service is the Veneration of the Cross. In the 4th century in Jerusalem, it was believed that the church community had in its possession a piece of the wood from Jesus’ cross. During this Celebration of the Lord’s passion, the bishops would hold this piece of wood and the congregation would come forward and kiss it. We carry on this tradition through our Veneration of the Cross. For much of the church’s history, Communion was not given on Good Friday but now we take Communion using hosts that were consecrated during the Celebration of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday.
Christ Jesus you hung upon a cross and died for us
So that we might live for you
Your body was broken and your blood shed
So that we might be healed and made whole
You were faithful unto death
So that we might be faithful unto life
Your last command was that we might love one another
One family together from every tribe and nation
A new creation united through your sacrifice
Redeemed by your blood
Healed by your love
United by your covenant of peace
In your death may we find life
(a prayer from Christine Sine, http://godspace.wordpress.com/2009/04/10/a-good-friday-prayer/)