This is the day that commemorates the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.
Although essentially a somber day, it is called ‘Good Friday’ since, for Christians, it is ‘God’s Friday,' and recalls how Jesus chose to give up his life for others. To Christians, the day is not just a historical event but commemorates the sacrificial death of Jesus, which, along with the resurrection, comprises the heart of the Christian faith.
Church services recall the account of Jesus’ death as given in the gospels. Jesus was questioned, beaten, and sentenced to death by the Roman governor Pontius Pilate.
Soldiers placed a crown of thorns on his head with a sign that read ‘The King of the Jews’ and stripped him of his clothing. He was led to a place called Golgotha, where they nailed him to a cross along with two other criminals. He died on the cross that afternoon and was laid in a donated tomb, buried according to the customs of that time.
The celebration of Good Friday stems from ancient times. According to Egeria, writing in a 4th century letter to her ‘sisters’, 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. In the morning they engaged in the Veneration of the Cross. From noon to three in the afternoon they attended a series of Bible readings, including the Passion story.
For Christians today, there is no Mass or Eucharist (Holy Communion) on Good Friday. Holy Communion, if taken, comes from hosts (wafers) consecrated on Holy Thursday. The major Good Friday worship service begins in the afternoon at 3:00 PM (the time Jesus is said to have died). It consists of seven sermons on the seven last words of Jesus. This service has become popular in many Protestant churches. (Please note our service at St Francis is from noon till 3.pm, with the Good Friday Liturgy at 2.00pm)
The Veneration of the Cross is another frequent practice, when Christians approach a wooden cross, they venerate it, often by kneeling before it, or kissing part of it. On Good Friday many churches also celebrate the ‘Stations of the Cross’ (often called the ‘Way of the Cross’), a devotion in which fourteen events surrounding the death of Jesus are commemorated.
The Church is stripped of its ornaments, the altar is bare, and with the door of the empty tabernacle (a safe that the consecrated hosts or wafers are kept)standing open – as if it is in mourning. The organ is silent from Holy Thursday until the Alleluia at the Easter Vigil, as are all Church bells and other instruments, the only music during this period being an unaccompanied chant. Traditionally Good Friday was the day when everything was cleaned and whitewashed in preparation for Easter Sunday, but churches are not decorated on Good Friday – in some, pictures and statues are covered over. It is indeed a time of mourning.
Good Friday is an official fast day within the Roman Catholic Church. Fasting means eating only one (meatless) meal on this day. (Fish rather than meat is eaten on all Fridays). Hot cross buns, said to have originated at St Alban’s Abbey in 1361, are particularly associated with Good Friday.
The sacramental ‘mark’ of the cross is important to Catholic people to this day. They are anointed with it, at baptism and at confirmation, and the sign is used at the ordination of a priest or bishop. In the sacrament of the sick the priest anoints the person with the sign of the cross made with oil; and, on Ash Wednesday, foreheads are marked with the sign of the cross made with palm ashes.
The most common cross for Catholics is a crucifix – a cross with the image of Christ’s body nailed to it. Crucifixes are found in all Roman Catholic churches and chapels and are regularly carried in liturgical processions. This image is venerated by the faithful in a special ceremony on Good Friday.