Of all of the liturgies in the Catholic Church calendar you might be surprised to know that it’s not the Masses of Christmas or of Easter that have the greatest attendance. It’s the liturgy of Good Friday afternoon 3:00pm, the hour of the death of the Lord.
I wonder what the reason for that is? Perhaps it’s because deep within each of us we have a real need to face our greatest fear and our greatest fear is death.
We spend most of our lives running from death and the daily moments that feel deathly. We do our best to avoid such uncomfortable realities and expend time, energy and resources trying to avoid anything that hints at death.
But something different happens on Good Friday. Something helps us healthy people to muster the courage to face our fears and to participate in a liturgy that hides nothing of the painful reality: an unjust trial and sentence to death of a good man, a man of God who is God. We hear the account of him betrayed, denied and abandoned by those closest to him, stripped and beaten and carrying his own instrument of death, falling, being helped to his feet, falling again, crowned with thorns, nailed to his cross, ridiculed by crowds, calling out to God, and watched by passive spectators as he struggled to breathe then gasping his last breath.
Today, Good Friday, we hear and read this gruesome and tragic account, we come forward to kiss the cross, and we know that we, in ways that we might struggle to understand, have a hand in his death.
In the context of Holy Week, just a couple of days before the joy of the resurrection of the Lord, we have a safe place to face our greatest fears and so we gather to celebrate the execution of a man who we know to be God. Somehow in the ceremony all of our own fear of death comes to the surface and the gathering enables us to not be afraid.
The ceremony of Good Friday afternoon has three parts:
The first is the word and at the heart of the Liturgy of the Word of Good Friday we listen to the reading of The Passion of the Lord from John’s gospel. It is a somber reading. It is a reading in which we find betrayal denial. It is a reading in which we see a good man a just man a loving man being executed in the most cruel of ways. It’s a reading in which we see the closest friends of this man Jesus Christ abandoning him running from him running for their lives. The reading concludes with the body of Jesus being laid in the tomb.
The liturgy then moves to a second stage: the Veneration of the Cross. Beginning with the unveiling of the cross with the chant: “This is the wood of the cross” and then hope breaks through “on which hung the Saviour of the world”.
Ah! There is hope in the midst of this funereal gathering. There is hope, for this cross is the method chosen by God to bring salvation to the world. And we gather on Good Friday aware of our need for salvation.
And then after the prayers for our souls, for the whole church and for the whole world, we come to Communion when the fullness of the presence of the risen Jesus comes not only to us in this great sacrament but into us as we receive the God who in Jesus rose from the dead and who overcomes all that is deathly.
- Take a few minutes today to invite Jesus to reveal your fears to you. Now see these fears as the place where you need Jesus to bring resurrection in your life.