How the Church celebrates Good Friday
On Good Friday, entering spiritually into Christ's 'dereliction', the Church is at its bleakest – it is the one day in the calendar when in accordance with ancient tradition no Mass or other sacraments are celebrated (though of course Holy Communion may be given as viaticum to those close to death).
The Solemn Celebration of the Lord’s Passion begins around 3pm, to correspond with the hour when the Gospels record that Jesus died – the 'ninth hour' of the Roman clock (see Matthew chapter 27, Mark chapter 15, Luke chapter 23).
The Celebration of the Passion is not a separate liturgical action – it has no introductory rite – but a continuation of the Mass of the Lord’s Supper from the previous evening.
We begin in complete silence with the Altar bare. When the entrance procession reaches the sanctuary steps all bow to the altar, the clergy taking part prostrate themselves or kneel, and the people also kneel in silence for a time.
Following the Good Friday Collect, the Celebration continues with the Liturgy of the Word. The first reading is one of the 'Songs of the Suffering Servant Songs' in the prophet Isaiah (Is. 52:13–53:12) while the second reading, from the Letter to the Hebrews (4:14–16, 5:7–9) speaks of redemption through the suffering of Jesus. These are followed by the reading of the account of the Lord’s Passion from St. John’s Gospel. As on Palm Sunday, this is done by three voices and the whole people. It is customary to kneel in silence for a moment in silence when the death of Jesus is reached. This is followed by a brief Homily (Sermon).
The Liturgy of the Word is completed by the General Intercessions, set prayers for the Church and for the world:
· For the Church
· For the clergy and laity of the Church.
· For those preparing for baptism.
· For the unity of Christians.
· For the Jewish people.
· For those who do not believe in Christ.
· For those who do not believe in God.
· For all in public office
· For those in special need.
The next part of the Good Friday Liturgy is followed by unveiling and the Veneration of the Cross – which has been shrouded in purple for the last two weeks. This is done in three stages. At each the invitation is issued:
'This is the wood of the cross, on which hung the Saviour of the world'
all present kneel and respond: 'Come, let us adore'.
The Veneration takes the form of each person approaching the cross, genuflecting before it and kissing the feet of the ‘corpus’, the figure of Christ in humble thanksgiving His love and Sacrifice for our eternal salvation. (The feet of the figure are wiped after each person.)
When everyone has Venerated the Cross, it is placed standing on the Altar with candles, and the Altar is prepared for Holy Communion: the Altar cloth (symboling the burial sheets of Christ) is spread on the Altar (symbolising Christ), and a fair linen corporal.
There is no new celebration of the Eucharist, the priest (or deacon) solemnly brings from the Altar of Repose the Blessed Sacrament reserved at the end of the Mass of the Lord's Supper on Maundy Thursday. The Lord's Prayer is said together and Holy Communion received. After the Prayer After Communion, a Prayer over the People is said (no Blessing) and the priest and ministers process out in silence after genuflecting to the unveiled cross. Afterwards complete silence is observed.
Just as there is no Introductory Rite, so there is no concluding rite to the Solemn Celebration of the Lord’s Passion. It forms the second 'act' of one continuous liturgical dramatic action that begins with the Mass of the Lord’s Supper and ending with the Easter Vigil.
Good Friday, like Ash Wednesday, is a day of fasting and abstinence.