“It is accomplished; and bowing his head he gave up his spirit.” (Jn 19:30)
Today the whole Church mourns the death of our Savior. This is traditionally a day of sadness, spent in fasting and prayer. On this day, when “Christ our passover was sacrificed,” the Church mediates on the passion of her Lord and Spouse, adores the cross, commemorates her origin from the side of Christ asleep on the cross, and intercedes for the salvation of the whole world.
According to the Church’s ancient tradition, the sacraments, including the Eucharist but with the exception of the sacrements of penance and anointing of the sick, are not celebrated on Good Friday nor Holy Saturday. “Celebration of the Lord’s Passion,” traditionally known as the “Mass of the Presanctified,” (although it is not a mass) is usually celebrated around three o’clock in the afternoon.
The altar is completely bare, with no cloths, candles nor cross. The service is divided into three parts: Liturgy of the Word, Veneration of the Cross and Holy Communion. The priest and deacons wear red or black vestments. The liturgy starts with the priests and deacons going to the altar in silence and prostrating themselves for a few moments in silent prayer. This act of prostration, which is proper to the rite of the day, should be strictly observed for it signifies both the abasement of “earthly man,” and also the grief and sorrow of the Church. As the ministers enter, the faithful should be standing, and thereafter should kneel in silent prayer. Then an introductory prayer is prayed.
In part one, the Liturgy of the Word, we hear the most famous of the Suffering Servant passages from Isaiah (52:13-53:12), a pre-figurement of Christ on Good Friday. Psalm 30 is the Responsorial Psalm “Father, I put my life in your hands.” The Second Reading, or Epistle, is from the letter to the Hebrews, 4:14-16; 5:7-9. The Gospel Reading is the Passion of St. John.
Part two is the Veneration of the Cross. A cross, either veiled or unveiled, is processed through the Church, and then venerated by the congregation. The cross is to be presented to each of the faithful individually for their adoration, since the personal adoration of the cross is a most important feature in this celebration. We joyfully venerate and kiss the wooden cross “on which hung the Savior of the world.” In the cross we see that Jesus Christ is the victorious Lord. During this time the “Reproaches” are usually sung or recited.
Part three, Holy Communion, concludes the Celebration of the Lord’s Passion. The altar is covered with a cloth and the ciboriums containing the Blessed Sacrament are brought to the altar from the place of reposition. The Our Father and the Ecce Agnus Dei (“This is the Lamb of God”) are recited. The sign of peace is not exchanged. The congregation receives Holy Communion, there is a “Prayer After Communion,” and then a “Prayer Over the People,” and everyone departs in silence. It should be the only time during Good Friday where Holy Communion is distributed, other than distribution to the sick who cannot take part in the celebration. When communion has been distributed, the pyx is taken to a place prepared for it outside of the church.
After the celebration, the altar is stripped; the cross remains, however with four candles. An appropriate place (for example, the chapel of repose used for reservation of the Eucharist on Maundy Thursday) can be prepared within the church, and there the Lord’s cross is placed so that the faithful may venerate and kiss it and spend some time in meditation.
Things to do on Good Friday
This is a day of mourning. We should try to take time off from work and school to participate in the devotions and liturgy of the day as much as possible. In addition, we should refrain from extraneous conversation. Some families leave the curtains drawn, and maintain silence during the 3 hours (noon — 3p.m.), and keep from loud conversation or activities throughout the remainder of the day. We should also restrict ourselves from any TV, music or computer—these are all types of technology that can distract us from the spirit of the day.
Good Friday is a day of penance to be observed as an obligation in the whole Church, and indeed, through abstinence and fasting. Although throughout Lent we have tried to mortify ourselves, it is appropriate to try some practicing extra mortifications today. These can be very simple, such as eating less at the small meals of fasting, or eating standing up. Some people just eat bread and soup, or just bread and water while standing at the table. Ireland, they practice the “black fast,” which is to consume nothing but black tea and water.