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  • Writer's pictureBrandon Harvey

Holy Week: Good Friday

Holy Week is a time like no other, especially by the time we get to Triduum (Holy Thursday-Easter). Hopefully, we enter these times differently, not just going to church events but feeling in our bones and in the events of our days that these days are different. Life cannot continue as it normally would during this week. It is almost as if the world seems to stand still. For starters, we enter into a time of intense fasting on Good Friday. This is not simply abstaining from meat but also abstaining from snacks between meals. This fast allows only one meal and two smaller meals (CLICK HERE for more info). This time of fasting is suggested to continue through Holy Saturday. With such limited food comes limited energy. Life must slow down. It is not the kind of day to clean out and reorganize the garage and then go to the gym to exercise. Good Friday is different, set apart, and unlike other days from what we do at work/home and what we do at church. On Good Friday, we hold before us through every activity the suffering and death that the one we love most endured for our good.  For Catholics, the goal is not simply a psychological remembrance but moments of grace. How we observe these days impacts our disposition for the reception of God’s grace.  


jesus on the cross

The Good Friday liturgy is truly different and unique. Like all sacramental liturgies, it is an opportunity for a Divine Encounter and reception of grace. The uniqueness of this liturgy goes beyond the different readings for this day (Click Here for the Good Friday Readings). First, there is no Mass this day. The Eucharist distributed during this liturgy was consecrated prior to Good Friday. There is no consecration on this day. When we enter the church, it looks different. The altar is empty. There is no altar cloth, nor altar cross or candles. The tabernacle candle near the altar/tabernacle, which signified Christ’s Eucharistic presence among us, has been extinguished. The tabernacle is empty. Just as Jesus was taken from the community of believers 2,000 years ago, his Eucharistic presence has also been removed from the church on this day. During this Good Friday Liturgy, we experience silence, solemn music, clergy laying prostrate on the ground, the veneration of the Cross, lengthier petitions, the reception of Communion, and an overall sense that this day is truly different.  


For some, the idea of the Cross is difficult to stomach. How can torture and execution be pleasing to the Father? How can suffering open wide the gates of heaven? While there are all kinds of ways to respond, I often direct people to read one of Joseph Ratzinger’s (Pope Benedict XVI) many masterpieces: Introduction to Christianity (1968). Here are some excerpts from the relevant chapter.


[Sacrifice] is always at the same time the Cross, the pain of being torn apart, the dying of the grain of wheat that can come to fruition only in death. But it is thus at the same time clear that this element of pain is a secondary one, resulting only from a preceding primary one, from which alone it draws its meaning. The fundamental principle of the sacrifice is not destruction, but love. (Ratzinger, 289) 


[Pain] is the product and expression of Christ’s being stretched out from being in God right down to the hell of “My God, why have you forsaken me?” Anyone who has stretched his existence so wide that he is simultaneously immersed in God and in the depths of the God-forsaken creature is bound to be torn asunder, as it were; such a one is truly “crucified”. But this process of being torn apart is identical with love. (Ratzinger, 290) 


[With] the Cross it is not a matter of an accumulation of physical pain, as if its redemptive value consisted in its involving the largest possible amount of physical torture...It is not pain as such that counts but the breadth of love that spans existence so completely that it unites the distant and the near, bringing God-forsaken man into relation with God. It alone gives the pain an aim and a meaning. Were it otherwise, then the executioners around the Cross would have been the real priests; they, who had caused the pain, would have offered the sacrifice. But this was not the point; and therefore the executioners were not the priests; the priest was Jesus, who reunited the two separated ends of the world in his love. (Ratzinger, 291) 

 

Jesus entered into suffering and death. Jesus, who is truly God and truly man, entered into the place of God-forsakenness. In so doing, he filled it with his presence and love. Suffering and death as God-forsakenness is now filled by Emmanuel, God with us. The meaning of his suffering and death gives ours meaning. On Good Friday we then consider two extremes. The suffering and death our Lord endured as a result of our sins past, present, and future. Yet, it is also an act of love. It shows the depth that our Lord went to redeem us. For both reasons, Good Friday is unlike any other Friday.

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