Good Friday is a day on which Catholics have traditionally spent extra time in prayer and contemplation of the Passion and Death of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. For many of us, the sacred time of “the Three Hours” (Noon until 3:00 PM) is a time of silence and reflection — because these are the precise hours in which our Savior hung upon the Cross for our salvation.
The Church’s solemn liturgy today is focused on contemplation of the Passion, and it is also one of the most ancient forms of the liturgy of the Church. This is the one day in which the Roman Church celebrates what, in the Eastern Churches, is called a “Mass of the Pre-Sanctified Gifts” — The Holy Eucharist is not consecrated today, but Holy Communion is given from the reserved Blessed Sacrament. Let’s take a closer look at today’s liturgy:
We begin with an ancient form of the penitential rite: the priest (and deacon) come in and prostrate themselves before the altar. Everyone else kneels. It is important to note that the altar is stripped of all cloths, statues are either covered over or removed, and the tabernacle sits empty. We experience the emptiness of the church without the Blessed Sacrament present in our midst. This reminds us of the emptiness that the first disciples must have felt as their Lord was crucified.
In the Liturgy of the Word, we hear from the prophet Isaiah, the passage commonly called the “Fourth Song of the Servant of the Lord” (52:13 – 53:12). This reading from Isaiah is the clearest prophecy of Our Lord’s Passion that we find in the Old Testament. You could even justly call it “the Passion according to Isaiah.” Next we chant Psalm 31: “Into thy hands, I commit my spirit,” words that will be given greater meaning when Jesus utters them on the Cross just before He surrenders His soul to the Father. Our epistle reading is taken from the Letter to the Hebrews (4:14-16, 5:7-9): it celebrates the fact that Jesus is our High Priest who has entered into the heavenly tabernacle, presenting His own Blood to the Father. What we are seeing is that the sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross is not a “past and gone” event, but an eternal offering of Himself to the Father — He offered Himself once for all, but it is an always present reality to God. Finally, we listen attentively (standing, as if present on Calvary, because we are) to the Passion from St. John’s Gospel (chapters 18-19). It is good for us to reflect deeply and with great reverence upon all that Our Blessed Lord underwent out of love for us!
Our solemn liturgy continues with the General Intercessions, but these are different than what we normally hear at Sunday and weekday Masses: our intercessions today (there are ten of them), are a systematic prayer for the entire Church, for all Christians, and for the entire world. They are conducted in a very ancient manner: the intention is proclaimed, then we kneel to pray in silence, then the priest sings the prayer that “collects” our prayers and presents them to God the Father.
Next we have the Adoration of the Cross: the Cross is brought in procession, and the priest sings out three times: “Behold the wood of the cross, on which hung the salvation of the world,” and the congregation responds (singing): “Come, let us adore.” We worship the Cross, usually by kissing it. Why would we worship the cross? Because it is the instrument that Our Blessed Lord used to save us, it is literally soaked in the “Blood of the Lamb”! We are NOT worshiping “this piece of wood,” but the Cross of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Savior of the world — and the eternal event of Jesus offering Himself for love of us is always present reality to God!
Our solemn liturgy today ends with a simple Rite of Holy Communion. Having listened attentively to the readings of the Passion and Death of Our Savior, having interceded for the entire world to come to know and love Him, having adored His Holy Cross, we now received Him — Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity — in Holy Communion. May our hearts be ever filled with love and gratitude for the Blood which He poured out for us!