Introduction to Good Friday
If there is one office where one can be mistaken of atmosphere, it is surely this one. Takes place then what must happen: the liturgy and the personal feeling of the participants are in contradiction. The personal feeling of the participants, by many, is that Good Friday is a day of mourning, it is the day of Christ’s death. So this day must be sad. But the liturgy, while encompassing elements of mourning, does not allow sadness to invade the celebration. A serene gratitude, a thanksgiving for the love of Christ, and even a cry of victory arise from the heart of the Church. Instead of cold sadness rises a certain warmth and the song of a faith conscious of being liberated by the cross.
Let us not fall into the other extreme. There is the grief of Good Friday. Less sorrow for compassion for Christ (He is glorious, He no longer suffers) than sorrow, sadness at seeing evil flogging the world; Pain of compassion for so much suffering, injustice, and pain to see ourselves betray ourselves. But the dominant remains the triumph of Christ.
Certain external gestures must not mislead us: fasting, obligatory on this day for all of Christendom, is a pascal fast, preparatory to Holy Night, fervent fasting and not desolated. It gains to be pursued until Saturday evening to arrange the heart to better welcome the Resurrected Lord. Let the altar be naked, this Good Friday, without a tablecloth, without a cross, without a candlestick ... sings that should not be interpreted as signs of sadness. The veneration which has surrounded the office of this day has preserved it from later retouching, and it has kept very ancient customs, such as that of putting the altar only in so far as it is used.
Two contradictory and yet inseparable cries form the weft and chain of the liturgical fabric of that day: the cry of Jesus: My God why have you forsaken me, and the cry of the Church: Through the wood of the cross, joy has come to the world.
A cloudy, dark sky, but the sun finally breaks through. A unique day in which the terror of death is accompanied by the song of life, in which the passion of the world, the oppressed, the dying together with the passion of Christ loses its poison of despair. A pain whose joy is not absent.
A great liturgy of the Word, more developed than usual, very ancient and whose purity of line is astonishing.
An impressive silence as entrance leads us to the meditation of the suffering Messiah; It culminates in the narrative of the passion.
After the contemplation, the intercession, the great universal prayers.
Then the cross is solemnly venerated. In apotheosis.
The celebration ended originally in this way. Later communion was added to the presanctified.
The celebration begins with a long silent prayer. We should not hide this prayer, reduce it to half a minute on our knees, and deprive it of its meaning. A real prostration of the celebrant and his ministers would be more expressive. The Church is literally prostrate, silent, open-mouthed, will say the first reading, in front of so many horrors and injustices suffered by Christ, and which He still suffers in our world; Prostrate before this murder of God in which we still dip; Prostrate in the adoration of a destiny that no one would have imagined: the exaltation of Christ on the cross. Adoring the Mystery par excellence, the Church meditates the unfathomable power of love, which turns hatred into grace.
Then the office of readings take place according to the classical pattern: the Prophet (the Old Testament), the Apostle (the Epistle), the Lord (the Gospel).
Worship of the cross
Contemplation will now reach its peak in the adoration of the cross. It is a moving gesture that never leaves behind those who have just meditated with faith what Christ has suffered for us. It solicits the repentance of the sinner that each one of us always knows himself to be; But above all it provokes a profound act of faith in the liberation Jesus gave us on the cross. John, quoting the prophet, said just now, towards the end of the story of Jesus’ passion: “They will look at Him whom they have pierced” (19,37) - they will look at Him with astonishment, for this suffering Christ, They will see Him glorious, triumphing from the top of His gallows. Then their eyes will be illuminated, their hearts will swell, their mouth will sing Victory, You will reign, O cross, you will save us!
The ceremony takes on a great deal: the celebrant gradually unfolds the cross, singing three times: Here is the wood of the cross, which bore the salvation of the world. And the congregation in bowing responds: Come, let us worship.
Or one may also carry a cross, in three stages, from the entrance of the church to the choir. If one has a triumphal cross, with rays at the crossing and shining stones ... one has obviously to prefer it to a bruised Christ, damaged through pain. For it is the victorious Christ whom we adore.
Here the word adoration is in its place more than anywhere else. The Christian does not bend before anything or anyone; He refuses all idols: money, power, sex ... but he kneels before the cross because it gave him his supreme elevation. Through it he or she became a son or daughter of the Father; By it the Christian triumphs over false gods, as well as over anguish and death.
During the veneration, the choir sings the improperia or reproaches of Christ. Here the contrition gains for a moment the upper hand again, the confusion covers our face and our heart is tight when we hear the affectionate reproaches of Jesus: I, I have brought you out of Egypt; Thou hast delivered me to the high priest; Then again: I, I have made you drink to the living waters; Thou hast made me drink the gall. Reproaches that we must update, because Jesus continues His passion until the end of the world (Pascal) in our suffering brothers whom we humiliate, despise, oppress. But faith in the mighty mercy of God regains the upper hand in the acclamation of the Trisagion (three times holy): O Holy God, O Strong God, O Immortal God ...
In the ancient liturgy, the celebration ended with the exaltation of the glorious cross. In apotheosis. It did not seem opportune to make memory of the passion again by a Eucharist, after having remembered it by this intense and touching contemplation. Little by little (from the 7th century on) Communion infiltrated into the liturgy through presanctified species, the holy species sanctified, consecrated the day before; But for a long time the priest was the only one to take the communion. The liturgical reform introduced the communion of the faithful as a sacramental participation in the sacrifice of the cross, according to Saint Paul: “Whenever you eat this bread and drink at this cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord” (1 Cor 11 , 26).
Silent prayer leads to a prayer that asks: “Let us be, as Christ, entirely consecrated to the Father.” It is prolonged in a wish of blessing: “Let it be be given unto us what we have celebrated: forgiveness, comfort in trial, more faith and final liberation.”
When the celebration is over, everyone retires into a happy silence.
The Easter liturgy has something disconcerting for our too rational minds. It no doubt celebrates a succession of events that goes from the Last Supper to the cross, then to the resurrection and again to the sending of the Holy Spirit. But when one looks closely at it, one realizes that it celebrates them all at the same time: when Christ is raised on the cross, He sings a hymn of triumph, it is already the glory of Easter - while at the day of Easter Jesus shows His wounds and His open side. In the same way, the Spirit, which will be given to Pentecost, is already breathed on the evening of Easter and, surprisingly, the Spirit is already spreading from the open side of Christ at the Cross. As for the Last Supper, it prefigures the passion, and we celebrate there the Risen Christ.
Far from being inconsistent and contradictory, this view of things is global, because these mysteries, these events are closely linked and inseparable, just as one can not conceive of right unrelated to left and, above all, because the liturgy celebrates a living Christ in whom all these mysteries are present at the same time.
This global liturgy has valuable consequences. It allows us to sing glory in the midst of our trials and, in the midst of our joys, to be present to Christ who suffers in our brothers - to already enjoy the liberation that Christ has given unto us, as we are still walking towards it.
The Way of the Cross
It is a form of unofficial prayer, born after the Crusades. The Franciscans of Jerusalem organized, from the 14th century, “stations” to the main places of passion. In our regions, where it appears around 1450, it was long erected outside, preferably on a hill. These stages, or stations, varied. Our 14 stations were fixed around 1600 and made their appearance on the interior walls of the churches around 1700. Today we like to add a 15th station, that of the resurrection. We can always vary the stages of the Way of the Cross. In some missals, the Gospels of Passion (Twigs and Good Friday) are divided into 14 sections, each preceded by a title. Excellent tool to renew the way of the cross in a more biblical sense.
Popular meditation on the Passion of Christ, the Way of the Cross is readily practiced by young people during a journey. It can enrich an assembly of Christians in the absence of a priest, as office of Lent or Holy Week. The patient can do it in spirit on his bed of suffering. What do I say, more realistically than any other!
Meditation itself consists in contemplating the sufferings of Christ. To espouse the feelings of Jesus, His abandonment to the Father. To better carry our own cross following the Master. To intercede in favor of the suffering Church and of so many tried and tired humans.
Now meditate this passion Christian assembly. Meditate on it, heart moved to see Jesus enter into your suffering. And with the soul high: you hear the story of your own victory.