What Catholics Do During Holy Week: Good Friday

Good Friday is a day of great silence, prayer, penance, fasting, and abstinence from meat. Know here the meaning of the rich Liturgy of this day.

Newsroom (15/04/2022 1:00 PM Gaudium Press) On Good Friday, we remember the Passion and Death of Our Lord Jesus Christ. For this reason, all the Liturgy of the day is overlaid with heavy mourning.

Black vestments. The omission of Dominus vobiscum (The Lord be with you). The lack of instruments of music. No ringing of bells. The altar is cold and bare. The tabernacle is empty and open. In front of it, we may find a cross with a black veil. On the candlesticks, yellow wax candles as on funeral days. Sadness reigns in everything. A deep desolation mourns the death of Jesus.

Good Friday: day of silence, prayer, penance, fasting, and abstinence

For the Church, it is a day of deep silence, prayer, penance, fasting and abstinence from meat. There is no offertory or consecration; communion is distributed only once.

Traditionally, the faithful even sidestepped and, in some regions, avoided the sound of clashing objects to avoid even the slight sensation of that terrible noise of the hammer nailing Jesus to the Cross.

But above all, Good Friday meant no singing, no music, no signs of joy, no recreation. People worked as little as possible, only on what was extremely necessary. The time was for prayer, reading, meditation, evaluation of life, and sharing the suffering of Jesus.

The Celebration of the Lord’s Passion

The celebration of the Lord’s Passion, consisting of the Liturgy of the word, the adoration of the Cross and the Eucharistic communion, begins at three o’clock in the afternoon. Wearing black vestments as a sign of mourning, the celebrant prostrates at the foot of the altar and prays in silence for a few moments, expressing the immense sorrow evoking the great mystery of Calvary.

At this moment, a towel is spread out on the altar, recalling the Shroud that was used to wrap Our Lord’s Body. Then the priest climbs the steps of the altar.

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The first two readings are followed by the respective psalm. Immediately after, the Passion of Jesus Christ, according to St. John, is read or sung. The ‘fourth evangelist’ remained under the Cross, an eyewitness to the crucifixion. When it reaches the part where it says that Our Lord gave up his spirit, everyone kneels and remains in prayer for a few moments.

The Universal Prayer

After the Passion hymn, the celebrant begins the prayers known as “admonitions”, because in the prelude to each there is an announcement in the style of a preface.

The intentions of these prayers are for: 

1st – the Holy Church;

2nd – the Pope;

3rd – all orders and categories of the faithful;

4th – the catechumens;

5th – the unity of Christians;

6th – the Jews;

7th – all those who do not believe in Christ;

8th – all those who do not believe in God;

9th- the Government and public powers;

10th – all those who suffer trials.

In these prayers, the Church prays for those who have never belonged or no longer belong to her guild. Yet, we recall that the Savior died for humanity and implore the fruits of his Passion for the benefit of all.

Between each of the prayers, the deacon or the celebrant announces: “Let us kneel.” Then everyone kneels for a few moments and prays in silence until the ‘Let us rise’ is given, so everyone stands up.

The Adoration of the Holy Cross

On Good Friday, the Holy Cross is solemnly adored. Our Lord Jesus Christ, having been nailed and died on the Cross on that day, sanctified the Cross with his Blood. This ceremony originated around the fourth century through the veneration of the true Cross preserved in Jerusalem.

The Cross is generally placed on a table covered by a white cloth, where the faithful may adore it.

Ritual of the Adoration of the Holy Cross

The ritual of this ceremony has its own procedure: The celebrant takes off his chasuble and, standing at the foot of the altar, uncovers the top of the Cross and sings: “Behold the wood of the Cross from which has hung the salvation of the world” The ministers answer: “Come, let us adore him,” while everyone kneels down.

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The celebrant then goes to the right side of the altar, uncovers the right arm of the Cross and repeats in a louder tone: “Behold the wood of the Cross …”, and is followed by the assistants, who repeat: “Come, let us adore him” and kneel down.

Then the celebrant goes to the middle of the altar. When he arrives there, he uncovers the Cross completely, raises it and sings for the third time, even louder: “Behold the wood of the Cross …”, the assistants respond: “Come, let us adore him” and again they kneel down.

The Cross is then placed on a purple cloth spread out on the steps of the altar or choir, to be adored by all the clergy and faithful present.

Meaning of the ceremony of Adoration of the Holy Cross

The stripping of the Cross reminds us that the Son of God was stripped naked by his executioners. This ceremony is done in three acts to recall the three acts of mockery of which our Lord Jesus Christ was the victim.

The first was when, in the court of the high priest, they covered the holy face of Our Lord, and slapped him. This is why the face of the crucifix is not discovered the first time (Lk 23:64).

The second was when the King of glory, crowned with thorns, was mocked by the soldiers with genuflection and the words, “Hail, King of the Jews.” So the second time, the holy head and face of the King of the universe are shown (Mt 27:27-30).

And the third, when the Son of the Almighty, crucified and stripped of his garments, was insulted with the blasphemy, “You can destroy the temple and build it again; save yourself!” Therefore, the third time the crucifix is shown completely. (Mt 27:40).

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The ‘Reproaches’

During the adoration of the Cross, the antiphons called “Improperia” (from the Latin improperium, which means “reproach”) are sung. They contain reproaches addressed to the Chosen people by the voice of the prophets.

Each of these antiphons enumerates a certain benefit with which God favored them, and shows an ingratitude corresponding to that favour.

Formerly the third part of the celebration of the Lord’s Passion was called the “Mass of the Pre-sanctified gifts.” The term is not very proper since there is no consecration and, therefore, no sacrifice. However, it repeats a certain number of the rites of the Mass.

The term “Pressantified” comes on account of the Eucharist consecrated at the Holy Thursday Mass. The word “Pressantified” means gifts sanctified or consecrated beforehand.

Good Friday communion

As the Adoration of the Cross comes to an end, the candles on the altar are lit. A silent procession leads to the chapel, where the consecrated hosts are kept. The procession returns with the Holy Reserve with the consecrated particles. A chant is intoned. Instead of Pange lingua, (a hymn of jubilation), the choir sings Vexilla Regis, a hymn dedicated to the Cross.

The celebrant places the Blessed Sacrament on the altar. The Sacred Host is raised on the paten so that those present can adore it. As at Mass, the Holy communion takes place.

Vespers are recited without singing and without candles or lights, showing that Our Lord Jesus Christ, the light of the world, died on the Cross.

The celebrant also omits The peace of the Lord, and the first prayer before communion, because peace cannot be given on the day when Our Lord was rejected by those who killed him with the cry: “We have no king.”
The Priest also omits “The Lord be with you,” because Jesus Christ, the Royal Priest was killed and can no longer speak as He is no longer with us.

By Emílio Portugal Coutinho.

Compiled by Gustavo Kralj

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