What is Good Friday All About?

What is Good Friday All About?
 
By
Brother Lawrence Damien
 
Dear Family
 
Today is Good Friday so what is it and why do we celebrate it? This is day that Christians throughout the world commemorate the crucifixion of Christ. Church services recall the account of Jesus death given in Christian scriptures especially the gospel of John. It covers the period from the arrest of Jesus, his trial and conviction, being stripped of his clothing and flogged, receives a crown of thorns to mock him with, to his crucifixion on Calvary. They day ends with Christ’s body being laid in the tomb.

 
Early Christian communities celebrated Easter in different ways and on different dates. Moreover, they memorialized the story of Jesus’ Passion – that is, the events leading up to and including his death – during the same festival that celebrated his resurrection. As a result, little can be said for certain about the exact origins of Good Friday.
 
Some scholars believe that the earliest Easter celebrations occurred in the second century in important ancient cities like Rome, Jerusalem, and Alexandria. These celebrations fell on the Sunday following Passover (see also Easter Sunday). In some communities that adopted this observance, a two-day fast preceded the Easter festival. If this is true, then fasting may be said to be the first religious custom associated with the Friday before Easter.
 
Other scholars, however, believe that the first Easter celebrations took place instead in second-century Asia Minor, a region now known as the modern nation of Turkey. Christians in this area placed special emphasis on the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ, a theme later assigned to Good Friday. They, like their counterparts in Rome, called the holiday “Pascha,” a Greek word inspired by the Aramaic pronunciation of the Hebrew word Pesach, which means Passover. Indeed, the Asia Minor Christians held Pascha on the same date that their Jewish neighbors celebrated Passover, on the fourteenth and fifteenth days of the Jewish month of Nisan. The observances included fasting, prayer, and readings from scripture, including the writings of the Jewish prophets and the Passover story as recounted in the Bible’s Book of Exodus.
 
In the year 325 the Council of Nicaea, an important meeting of early Church leaders, attempted to unify these celebrations by setting a single date for the Easter festival. This decision not only helped to create the Easter festival we know today but also fostered the emergence of Good Friday as a separate and distinct observance. The best description of early Good Friday celebrations comes from Jerusalem, relayed to us in the diary of Egeria, a Spanish nun who made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land around the year 380.
 
According to Egeria, Christians in Jerusalem spent Good Friday at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, a large compound of courtyards and chapels built over the site of Jesus’ crucifixion, burial, and resurrection. They spent the morning engaged in a devotion we now call the Veneration of the Cross. From noon to three in the afternoon the faithful attended a series of Bible readings that included the writings of the Hebrew prophets, Christian texts affirming Jesus’ fulfillment of these Old Testament prophecies, and the Passion story. Some researchers claim that special emphasis was placed on the Passion as told in the Gospel according to John. Another scripture service followed, which ended at about seven o’clock in the evening. Then the clergy began yet another ceremony memorializing Jesus ‘burial. Upon the conclusion of this event the clergy and those worshipers who were not already exhausted began a long vigil around the site of Jesus ‘tomb (see also Holy Sepulchre).
 
Good Friday celebrations continued to develop throughout the Middle Ages. Medieval Good Friday ceremonies emphasized human sin, the need for redemption, and Christ’s suffering and sacrificial death. Therefore they took on a mournful tone. In Western Europe Good Friday services centered around three ceremonies: the Veneration of the Cross, the vigil beside the Holy Sepulchre, and the Eucharist, performed with bread and wine consecrated on the previous day, Maundy Thursday. Medieval Christians also dramatized the sorrowful events of Good Friday with Passion plays, folk dramas retelling the events of the last days of Jesus’ life. Unfortunately, both church and folk retellings of the Passion story often cast the blame for Jesus’ death on the Jewish people. This interpretation of the events surrounding Jesus’ death fueled anti-Jewish attitudes and actions, making Holy Week an especially dangerous time for this already persecuted minority.
 
According to the gospels, Jesus was betrayed by Judas on the night of the Last Supper, commemorated on Holy Thursday. The morning following Christ’s arrest, he was brought before Annas, a powerful Jewish cleric. Annas condemned Jesus for blasphemy for refusing to repudiate Annas’ words that He was the Son of God. From there, Jesus was sent to Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of the province.
 
Pontius Pilate questioned Jesus but found no reason to condemn Him. Instead, he suggested Jewish leaders deal with Jesus according to their own law. But under Roman law, they could not execute Jesus, so they appealed to Pilate to issue the order to kill Jesus.
 
Pilate appealed to King Herod, who found no guilt in Jesus and sent Him back to Pilate once again. Pilate declared Jesus to be innocent, and washed his hands to show that he wanted nothing to do with Jesus, but the crowds were enraged. To prevent a riot and to protect his station, Pilate reluctantly agreed to execute Jesus and sentenced him to crucifixion. Jesus was convicted of proclaiming himself to be the King of the Jews.
 
Before his execution, Jesus was flogged, which was a customary practice intended to weaken a victim before crucifixion. Crucifixion was an especially painful method of execution and was perfected by the Romans as such. It was reserved for the worst criminals, and generally Roman citizens, women, and soldiers were exempt in most cases.During his flogging, the soldiers tormented Jesus, crowning Him with thorns and ridicule.
 
Following his flogging, Jesus was compelled to carry his cross to the place of His execution, at Calvary. During his walk to the site of His execution, Jesus fell three times and the Roman guards randomly selected Simon, a Cyrene, to help Jesus. Please note that is Roman Catholic tradition. There is no record in the Bible of Jesus falling once let alone three times. Not to say it may not have happened but just that there is no mention of the scriptures.
 
After arrival at Calvary, Jesus was nailed to the cross and crucified between two thieves. One of the thieves repented of his sins and accepted Christ while on the cross beside Him. A titulus, or sign, was posted above Christ to indicate His supposed crime. The titulus read, “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.” It is commonly abbreviated in Latin as “INRI” (Iesus Nazarenus, Rex Iudaeorum).
During Christ’s last few hours on the cross, darkness fell over the whole land. Jesus was given a sponge with sour wine mixed with gall, a weak, bitter painkiller often given to crucified victims.
 
Prior to death, Jesus spoke His last words, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” This line is the opening of Psalm 22, and it may have been common practice to recite lines of songs to deliver a greater message. Properly understood, the last words of Christ were triumphant. Guards then lanced Jesus’ side to ensure He was dead.
At the moment of Christ’s death, an earthquake occurred, powerful enough to open tombs. The long, thick curtain at the Temple was said to have torn from top to bottom.
 
Following the incredible events of the day, the body of Christ was removed from the cross and laid in a donated tomb, buried according to custom. This is a compilation of the story as recorded in Luke and Matthew.
 
The events of Good Friday are commemorated in the Stations of the Cross, a 14-step devotion often performed by Catholics during Lent and especially on Good Friday. The Stations of the Cross are commonly recited on Wednesdays and Fridays during Lent. Another devotional, the Acts of Reparation, may also be prayed.
 
Good Friday is a day of fasting within the Church. Traditionally, there is no Mass and no celebration of the Eucharist on Good Friday. A liturgy may still be performed and communion, if taken, comes from hosts consecrated on Holy Thursday. Baptism, penance, and anointing of the sick may be performed, but only in unusual circumstances. Church bells are silent. Altars are left bare.
 
After that portion of the Good Friday Liturgy known as The Solemn Orations, in which the charity and zeal of the Church have embraced the whole universe of men, invoking upon them the merciful effusion of the Precious Blood, the Church turns next to her faithful children. Filled with holy indignation at the humiliations heaped upon her Jesus, she invites us to a solemn act of reparation: it is to consist in venerating that Cross which our Divine Lord has borne to the summit of Calvary, and to which He is to be fastened with nails. The Cross is a stumbling-block to the Jews, and foolishness to the Gentiles (1 Cor. 1:23); but to us Christians it is the trophy of Jesus’ victory, and the instrument of the world’s redemption. It is worthy of our deepest veneration, because of the honor conferred upon it by the Son of God: He consecrated it by His own Blood, He worked our salvation by its means. No time could be more appropriate than this for honoring it with the humble tribute of our veneration.
 
The holy ceremony of venerating the cross on Good Friday was first instituted in Jerusalem, in the 4th century. Owing to the pious zeal of the Empress St. Helena, the True Cross had then recently been discovered, to the immense joy of the whole Church. The faithful, as might be expected, were desirous of seeing this precious relic, and accordingly it was exposed every Good Friday. This brought a very great number of pilgrims to Jerusalem; and yet how few, comparatively, could hope to have the happiness of such a visit, or witness the magnificent ceremony! An imitation of what was done on this day at Jerusalem was a natural result of these pious desires. It was about the 7th century, that the practice of publicly venerating the cross on Good Friday was introduced into other churches. True, it was but an image of the True Cross that these other churches could show to the people; but as the respect that is paid to the true Cross refers to Christ Himself, the faithful could offer Him a like homage of adoration, even though not having present before their eyes the sacred wood which had been consecrated by the Blood of Jesus. Such was the origin of the imposing ceremony at which holy Church now invites us to assist.
 
The celebrant removes the cope, in order that the reparation, which he is to be the first to offer to our outraged Jesus, may be made with all possible humility. He then stands near the Epistle side of the altar, and turns towards the people. The deacon gives the cross to the celebrant, who then unveils the upper part only. He raises it a little, and sings these words: Behold the wood of the cross on which hung the salvation of the world. All genuflect and adore the cross, while the choir sings: Come, let us adore.
 
This first exposition, which is made at the side of the altar, and in a low tone of voice, represents the first preaching of the cross, that, namely, which the Apostles made, when, for fear of the Jews, they dared not to speak of the great mystery except to a few faithful disciples of Jesus. For the same reason, the priest but slightly elevates the cross. The homage here paid to it is intended as reparation for the insults and injuries offered to our Redeemer in the house of Caiaphas.
 
The celebrant then comes nearer to the middle of the altar. He unveils the right arm of the cross, and holds up the holy sign of our redemption higher than the first time. He then sings the Ecce lignum on a higher note. All genuflect and adore while the choir responds as before.
 
This second elevation of the holy cross signifies the Apostles’ extending their preaching of the mystery of our redemption to the Jews, after the descent of the Holy Ghost; by which preaching they made many thousand converts, and planted the Church in the very midst of the Synagogue. It is intended as a reparation to our Savior, for the treatment He received in the court of Pilate.
 
The priest then advances to the middle of the altar, and, with his face still turned towards the people, he removes the veil entirely from the cross. He elevates it more than he did the two preceding times, and triumphantly sings on a still higher note the Ecce lignum. The people fall down upon their knees, and the choir sings again: Come, let us adore.
 
This third and unreserved manifestation represents the mystery of the cross being preached to the whole earth, when the apostles, after being rejected by the majority of the Jewish people, turned towards the Gentiles, and preached Jesus crucified even far beyond the limits of the Roman Empire. It is intended as a reparation to our Lord for the outrages offered to Him on Calvary.
 
There is also another teaching embodied in this ceremony of holy Church. By this gradual unveiling of the cross, she would express to us the contrast of the Jewish and Christian view. The one finds nothing in Christ crucified but shame and ignominy; the other discovers in Him the power and wisdom of God (1 Cor. 1:24). Honor, then, and veneration be to His cross, now that the veil is removed by our faith! Unveiled let it be upon our altar, for He that died upon it is soon to triumph by a glorious Resurrection! Yes, let every crucifix in our churches be unveiled, and every altar beam once more with the vision of the glorious standard!
 
But the Church is not satisfied with showing her children the cross that has saved them; she would have them approach, and kiss it. The celebrant leads the way. He has already taken off his cope; he now takes off his shoes also, and then advances towards the place where he has put the crucifix. He makes three genuflections at intervals, and finally kisses the cross. The clergy follow him, and then the people.
 
The chants which are used during this ceremony are exceedingly beautiful. First of all, there are the Improperia, that is, the reproaches made by our Savior to the Jews. Each of the first three stanzas of this plaintive hymn is followed by the Trisagion, or prayer to the thrice-holy God, Who, as Man, suffers death for us. Oh! let us fervently proclaim Him to be the Holy, the Immortal! This form of prayer was used at Constantinople, as far back as the 5th century.
 
The Roman Church adopted it, retaining even the original Greek words, to which, however, she adds a Latin translation. The rest of this beautiful chant contains the comparison made by our Lord between the favors He has bestowed upon the Jewish people, and the injuries He has received from them in return:
 
O my people, what have I done to thee, or in what have I grieved thee? Answer Me. Because I brought thee out of the land of Egypt, thou hast prepared a cross for thy Savior.
 
O Holy God! O Holy Mighty One! O Holy Immortal One, have mercy on us.
 
Because I was thy guide through the desert for forty years, and fed thee with manna, and brought thee into an excellent land, thou hast prepared a cross for thy Savior.
 
O Holy God! O Holy Mighty One! O Holy Immortal One, have mercy on us.
 
What more should I have done to thee, and have not done? I have planted thee for My most beautiful vineyard: and thou hast proved very bitter to Me, for in My thirst thou gavest Me vinegar to drink; and didst pierce the side of thy Savior with a spear.
 
O Holy God! O Holy Mighty One! O Holy Immortal One, have mercy on us.
 
For thy sake I scourged Egypt with her first-born; and thou hast delivered Me up to be scourged.
 
O my people, what have done to thee, or in what have I grieved thee? Answer Me.
 
I led thee out of Egypt, having drowned the Pharaoh in the Red Sea; and thou hast delivered Me up to the chief priests.
 
O my people, what have done to thee, or in what have I grieved thee? Answer Me.
 
I opened the sea before thee; and thou hast opened My side with a spear.
 
O my people, what have done to thee, or in what have I grieved thee? Answer Me.
 
I went before thee in a pillar of cloud; and thou hast brought Me to the court of Pilate.
 
O my people, what have done to thee, or in what have I grieved thee? Answer Me.
 
I fed thee with manna in the desert; and thou hast beaten Me with buffets and stripes.
 
O my people, what have done to thee, or in what have I grieved thee? Answer Me.
 
I gave thee wholesome water to drink out of the rock, and thou hast given for My drink gall and vinegar
.
O my people, what have done to thee, or in what have I grieved thee? Answer Me.
 
For thy sake I smote the kings of Chanaan; and thou has smitten My head with a reed.
 
O my people, what have done to thee, or in what have I grieved thee? Answer Me.
 
I gave thee a royal scepter; and thou hast given to My head a crown of thorns.
 
O my people, what have done to thee, or in what have I grieved thee? Answer Me.
 
With great might I raised thee on high; and thou hast hanged Me on the gibbet of the cross.
 
O my people, what have I done to thee, or in what have I grieved thee? Answer Me.
 
The Veneration of the Cross was introduced into the church in the seventh century and is taken from an earlier practice of the Adoration of the cross practiced in Jerusalem. According to tradition a portion of the true cross was discovered by St. Helen, mother of the emperor Constantine, on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem in 326. A fifth century account describes this service in Jerusalem. A coffer of gold-plated silver containing the wood of the cross was brought forward. The bishop placed the relic on the table in the chapel of the Crucifixion and the faithful approached it, touching brow and eyes and lips to the wood as the priest said (as every priest has done ever since): ‘Behold, the Wood of the Cross. This then became the basis for the Veneration of the Cross introduced in the seventh century and still observed in the church today.
 
Adoration or veneration of an image or representation of Christ’s cross does not mean that we actually adore the material image, of course, but rather what it represents. In kneeling before the crucifix and kissing it we are paying the highest honor to our Lord’s cross as the instrument of our salvation. Because the Cross is inseparable from His sacrifice, in reverencing His Cross we, in effect, adore Christ. Thus we affirm: ‘We adore Thee, O Christ, and we bless Thee because by Thy Holy Cross Thou has Redeemed the World.’
 
In some churches the ceremony begins outside the church.
The church and altar are stripped bare, There is no mass on this day, no music or singing except for some chanting, no bells until the resurrection of the Lord at midnight of Easter Vigil when Jesus arises from the grave and bells are rung. The priest proceeds into the church proclaiming Behold the wood of the cross on which hung the salvation of the world. All genuflect and adore the cross, while the congregation sings: Come, let us adore. We then move on to the reenactment of the trial and crucifixion of Christ as found in the gospel of John. This is the same reading from Palm Sunday.
 
In the Liturgy of the Word the clergy and assisting ministers entering in complete silence, without any singing. They then silently make a full prostration, “[signifying] both the abasement of ‘earthly man,’ and this appears like the prostration that seminarians make at their ordination ; and also the grief and sorrow of the Church. Then follows the Collect prayer, and the reading or chanting .of Isaiah 52:13–53:12 Hebrews 4:14–16 5:7–9, and the Passion account from the Gospel of John, traditionally divided between three deacons,] yet usually divided between the celebrant, one or two singers or readers, and the congregation which speaks the part of the “crowd”.
 
This part of the liturgy concludes with the orationes sollemnes, a series of prayers for the Church, the Pope, the clergy and laity of the Church, those preparing for baptism, the unity of Christians, the Jewish people, those who do not believe in Christ, those who do not believe in God, those in public office, those in special need. After each prayer intention, the deacon calls the faithful to kneel for a short period of private prayer; the celebrant then sums up the prayer intention with a Collect-style prayer.
 
The final part of the service is Holy Communion. It is based on the final part of Mass beginning with the Our Father. The breaking of Bread and its related chant the Agnus Dei are eliminated. The Eucharist was consecrated at the Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday. So therefore no mass on Good Friday, the only time in the entire year that is so.. After receiving communion the priest and people depart in silence and the altar cloth is removed leaving the altar bare except for a crucifix and two or 4 candlesticks.
 
So what is the significance of the number of candles? Two is the number of unity and four is the number of creation in the Bible. Thus we see the unity of creation. So what does this have to do with Christ lying in the grave and his crucifixion? One of the last prayers Jesus prays in the Garden of Gethsemane was that we all be one even as he and the Father are one. So part of why he has died and is lying there is to bring about the unity of all believers though the shed blood of the cross thereby cleansing us from all sin and opening the door for us to eternal life and entrance into his kingdom. However I believe that is only part of it. He also died to reconcile the world/creation to himself. To look forward to the day when we will all worship the one true God in peace and harmony in the visible kingdom of God here on earth which will be established at the second coming of Christ. This is why an intervention happens now at this time. It is to provide us and alternative from the self destructive path we are on to a new path which leads to change and eternal life if we will but believe and accept it. This will be manifested more fully at Easter and even more so at Pentecost.
 
In closing it may be Good Friday now and we are in mourning. However that is not the end of the story. Easter is just around the corner when we will be rejoicing again because of the resurrection of our Lord. Today we watch with him as he lies in the tomb. Sunday however we will dance and rejoice as we welcome our resurrected Savior. This is what I have gathered on Good Friday and what it all means. Pray this has been a blessing to you all and comment or thoughts always welcomed.
 
Brother Lawrence Damien Cos
 

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