Good Friday: the Holy Week Liturgy

Some of us, in Holy Week, have a tendency to think that the special acts of worship which are so important to us, and so characteristic of this time, in some ways don’t need much explanation: they can be allowed to speak for themselves. The Passion narratives which we hear on Palm Sunday and today each year are the same – what more can we say? Well celebrated liturgy in Holy Week, and it’s taken very seriously in this parish, does affect us in ways which don’t need explanation. On the other hand, when we’re deprived of the ability to be physically present we can actually reflect about the different things that happen: or, indeed, the things which are not happening this year. So this afternoon at the Solemn Liturgy in our church Fr Simplicio reflected in his homily on the kissing of the cross which is normally a centre point of the Good Friday service, in which we cannot share in the same way this year; he suggested we try to venerate a crucifix in our homes.

But we also have the chance to think about the whole liturgy. Although, as I have written, the keynote of the liturgy is Jesus’ triumph and victory through his crucifixion, we’re still marking the death of the Son of God: so there’s an austerity and a sense of being ‘lost’ in our response. This is the way to understand the prostration by the clergy on the floor, in stark silence, at the very beginning. We don’t know what to do at 3pm, the hour of the Lord’s death: so we lie flat on our faces.

The scripture readings follow some of what we have already heard during the week – Isaiah 52:13 – 53: 12 is the most poignant of what are called the ‘Servant songs’ in the second part of Isaiah, a chilling portrayal, as the Church sees it, pointing forward to the Lord’s sufferings, and the same is true of the psalm (31). The again we listen to the letter to the Hebrews, portraying Jesus as the ‘supreme high priest’, who has become the source of eternal salvation.

On Palm Sunday we hear a different Passion narrative each year, but on Good Friday it is always from the gospel of John (18:1- 19:42). In this gospel, even more than in Matthew, Jesus is shown as being in control of events, passing to his victory on the cross; there is very little stress on his sufferings. In the garden at the beginning of the account the guards sent to arrest him move back and fall to the ground when Jesus identifies himself.

In the Good Friday liturgy the homily is followed by the ‘Universal Prayer’, much more solemn than the bidding prayers we normally have at Mass, and following a set formula. This year Pope Francis has inserted a special prayer for those suffering from Covid-19. Normally at each intention we show our seriousness by kneeling down briefly.

The veneration of the Cross normally follows. I think what makes it memorable for people is the sheer physicality of what we do, queuing up (as Fr Simplicio reminded us this afternoon) to greet someone special to us. Normally it can’t be rushed; it is meant not to be!

The Good Friday liturgy is not a Mass; we don’t celebrate Mass today because of what the day marks (in the Eastern liturgies there are a number of days like this). Normally after this we receive Holy Communion from the Blessed Sacrament consecrated last night at the Mass of the Lord’s Supper. Until the revision of the Holy Week rites began in the 1950s, only the priest received Communion.

Perhaps if we notice things this year because we’ve been deprived of ordinary participation in future we will understand things more deeply and appreciate them more.

Normally at the Good Friday liturgy there is the papal collection for the Holy Places. This has been deferred all over the world, but the Cardinal is supporting a special initiative to enable us to support Christians in the Holy Land and I put up details of this yesterday.

I imagine many of you this evening joined Pope Francis in the Way of the Cross in St Peter’s Square. You can access it in different ways from the Vatican website: CLICK HERE. It was very moving; pray for the Holy Father at this time.

I hope you have found Good Friday this year has strengthened your faith. God bless and take care.

Fr Ashley

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