Good Friday1 (also called "Great
Friday" or "Holy Friday") is the most somber day of the entire year. A
silence pervades, socializing is kept to a minimum, things are done
quietly; it is a day of mourning; it is a funeral. The Temple of the
Body of Christ is destroyed, capping the the penitential seasons begun
on Septuagesima Sunday and becoming
more intense throughout Lent.
Traditional Catholics wear black, cover their mirrors, extinguish
candles and any lamps burning before icons, keep amusements and
distractions down, and go about the day in great solemnity.
Jesus was put on the Cross at the very end of the third hour (the time
between 9 and noon), and almost the sixth hour. He died at the ninth
Mark 15:25, 33
And it was the third hour, and they crucified Him... And when the sixth
hour was come, there was darkness over the whole earth until the ninth
was on the Cross between the hours of Noon and 3:00 PM, these three
hours today are considered the most sacred of all. A devotion called
"Tre Ore" or "Three Hours' Agony" might be held at this time; if not,
you can do it yourself by meditating on His Passion -- reading the
Gospel narratives of the Passion, making the Stations
of the Cross by yourself, praying the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary, praying the Litany of the Passion, etc. Draw
the curtains, take the phone off the hook, turn off televisions and
radios, quiet your environment and yourself, and meditate on what
Christ has done for you. At 3:00, "The Hour" He died, the atmosphere
should be as if you are standing next to the deathbed of your father
who died a moment ago.
Catholics also focus their attention on Mary this day and tomorrow (Holy Saturday), empathizing with the
pain she endured as Our Lady of Sorrows. In another break in the
tradition of veiling statues since Passion
Sunday, they might dress the image of Our Lady in a black dress or
veil, placing flowers of mourning before it in her honor.
Though a somber atmosphere will last until the Easter Vigil, after "The
Hour" (3:00 PM) passes, it eases a bit, and life can go back to a
"somber normal." The phone can put back on the hook, etc., but candles
and other symbols of Christ shouldn't be used, music shouldn't be
played, raucous games should be eliminated, etc., while Christ is "in
His Tomb" -- i.e., until after Vigil of Holy Saturday when Eastertide
No true Mass is offered today (or tomorrow until the Vigil tomorrow
evening); instead a liturgy called the "Mass of the
Presanctified" is offered, which is not a true Mass because no
consecration takes place. Instead, we consume Hosts consecrated at
yesterday's Mass. Vestment colors will be black, and the liturgy
consists of lessons, prayer, St. John's version of the Passion, and
ends with a long series of prayers for various intentions: the Church,
the Pope, the faithful, those engaged in public affairs, catechumens,
the needs of the faithful, unity, the conversion of the Jews, the
conversion of infidels. These intentions are called the Great
Intercessions, and we kneel after each.
Then the Cross will be unveiled and and elevated to be adored by our
kneeling three times before it at the words "Venite, adorémus" (come,
let us adore). We kneel thrice because He was mocked thrice: in the
high priest's courtyard, in Pilate's house, and on Mt. Calvary. Then
the priest lays the Cross on a cushion and covers it with a white veil
to symbolize the Entombment. He takes off his shoes, like Moses before
God, and kneels three times as the choir chants. He and his acolytes
kneel and kiss the Cross.
The Cross is held up for us, and we file past - - men first, then women
-- to kneel and kiss the Cross while the choir sings the Improperia
(the Reproaches) of Christ, in which Our Lord reminds of us all He has
done for us and our ingratitude towards Him. Note the use of the
singular "thee" in these Reproaches. Our Lord is speaking to you.
The first three of the twelve Reproaches are:
O My people, wha
have I done to thee? Or wherein have I afflicted thee? Answer Me.
Because I led thee out of the land of Egypt, thou hast prepared a Cross
for thy Savior.
Because I led thee out through the desert forty years: and fed thee
with manna, and brought thee into a land exceeding good, thou has
prepared a Cross for thy Savior.
What more ought I to have done for thee, that I have not done? I
planted thee, indeed, My most beautiful vineyard: and thou has become
exceeding bitter to Me: for in My thirst thou gavest Me vinegar to
drink, and with a lance thou hast pierced the side of thy Savior.
A second choir
responds to each of those Reproaches with a trisagion in Greek and
Latin. You might recognize its English translation if you've ever
prayed the Divine Mercy chaplet:
O holy God!
O holy God!
O holy strong One!
O holy strong One!
O holy immortal One, have mercy on us.
O holy immortal One, have mercy on us!
nine Reproaches are answered with the response " O my people, what have
I done to thee? or wherein have I afflicted thee? Answer me." ("Popule
meus, quid feci tibi? aut in quo constristavi te? responde mihi."). The
words evoke awe in reminding us of our ancient Israelite heritage --
and evoke humility in recalling how our ancestors failed repeatedly:
For thy sake I
scourged Egypt with its first-born: and thou didst deliver Me up to be
I led thee out of Egypt having drowned Pharao in the Red Sea: and thou
to the chief priests didst deliver Me.
I opened the sea before thee: and thou with a spear didst open My side.
I went before thee in a pillar of cloud: and thou didst lead Me to the
judgment hall of Pilate.
I fed thee with manna in the desert; and thou didst beat Me with blows
I gave thee the water of salvation from the rock to drink: and thou
didst give Me gall and vinegar.
For thy sake I struck the kings of the Chanaanites: and thou didst
strike My head with a reed.
I gave thee a royal scepter: and thou didst give My head a crown of
I exalted thee with great strength: and thou didst hang Me on the
gibbet of the Cross.
Reproaches, we receive Communion, receiving Hosts consecrated at
It is customary for churches to offer the Way
of the Cross devotion on this day, especially around 3:00, the hour
of His death. And, again, there may be a tenebrae service (consisting
of the Matins and Lauds for Holy Saturday).
Our Lord was laid in the tomb
owned by St. Joseph of Arimethea, at a site over which stands now the
Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre, first built on the spot by St. Helena,
mother of Constantine the Great. In Jesus's time, the tomb was outside
the city; by the time St. Helena was told of it, it was inside the city
walls because Hadrian expanded the city's perimeter -- and had built a
pagan temple over the site. The basilica built by St. Helena was
destroyed by Caliph al-Hakim in A.D. 1009, and was later re-built over
The exact spot where "the New Adam" was crucified is marked
inside the Basilica, and is said to stand over the place where the
first Adam was buried. Matthew tells us what happened when Our Lord's
Soul left His Body:
And behold the veil of the temple was rent in two from the top even to
the bottom, and the earth quaked, and the rocks were rent.
us that among those rocks which were rent were those beneath the Cross,
and that His Blood dripped down into the crevices (visible today) and
reached the spot where the first Adam was interred. The Blood of the
New Adam covers the sins of the first Adam! 3
A chapel to the first Adam sits under the area marked as the place Our
We know the names of the thieves between whom Jesus was cruficied from
the apocryphal "Acts of Pilate" (or "Gospel of Nicodemus"), attributed
to St. Nicodemus, the member of the Sanhedrin who, along with St.
Joseph of Arimethea, entombed Jesus (John 19:39). Book IX:5 reads
commanded the veil to be drawn before the judgement-seat whereon he
sat, and saith unto Jesus: Thy nation hath convicted Thee as being a
king: therefore have I decreed that Thou shouldest first be scourged
according to the law of the pious emperors, and thereafter hanged upon
the Cross in the garden wherein Thou wast taken: and let Dysmas and
Gestas the two malefactors be crucified with Thee.
considered a Saint -- the patron of prisoners -- and his memorial is on
25 March, the date believed to be the date of the Crucifixion. You'll
note that the date is the same as the Feast
of the Annunciation, when St. Gabriel visited Mary to tell her she
was to have a son; it is ancient tradition that the Prophets died on
the same day they were conceived. Legend has it that when the Holy
Family went on their "flight to Egypt" to escape Herod's wrath, they
were accosted by thieves, among whom were Dismas and Gestas. Dismas
felt that there was something different about this Family, and ordered
his comrades to leave them alone. His act of natural virtue was repaid
by the supernatural gift of faith he received when being crucified next
to Our Lord. This pious tale is recounted in the Arabic Infancy Gospel,
an apocryphal book likely dated to the 4th c., and originally in
Syriac. In it, the thieves' names are given as Titus and Dumachus:
And turning away
from this place, they came to a desert; and hearing that it was
infested by robbers, Joseph and the Lady Mary resolved to cross this
region by night. But as they go along, behold, they see two robbers
lying in the way, and along with them a great number of robbers, who
were their associates, sleeping. Now those two robbers, into whose
hands they had fallen, were Titus and Dumachus. Titus therefore said to
Dumachus: I beseech thee to let these persons go freely, and so that
our comrades may not see them. And as Dumachus refused, Titus said to
him again: Take to thyself forty drachmas from me, and hold this as a
pledge. At the same time he held out to him the belt which he had about
his waist, to keep him from opening his mouth or speaking. And the Lady
Mary, seeing that the robber had done them a kindness, said to him: The
Lord God will sustain thee by His right hand, and will grant thee
remission of thy sins. And the Lord Jesus answered, and said to His
mother: Thirty years hence, O my mother, the Jews will crucify me at
Jerusalem, and these two robbers will be raised upon the cross along
with me, Titus on my right hand and Dumachus on my left; and after that
day Titus shall go before me into Paradise. And she said: God keep this
from thee, my son. And they went thence towards a city of idols, which,
as they came near it, was changed into sand-hills.
The symbology of the three crosses of Our Lord, Dismas, and the unrepentant thief is interesting. First you have to know that "tree" is a word used to describe a method of execution in which the body is suspended. Deuteronomy 21:22-23:
When a man hath committed a crime for which he is to be punished with death, and being condemned to die is hanged on a gibbet: His body shall not remain upon the tree, but shall be buried the same day: for he is accursed of God that hangeth on a tree: and thou shalt not defile thy land, which the Lord thy God shall give thee in possession.
That information in place, know that according to tradition, the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil -- the tree from which Adam and Eve were forbidden to eat -- was a fig tree, and the tree of life was an olive tree. The symbology of the fig and olive are found throughout Scripture: Adam and Eve dress in fig leaves after eating of the Tree of Knowledge, Christ's cursing of the fig tree on Passion Monday, etc., as contrasted with, for ex., the story of Noe's dove returning to the ark with an olive branch promising hope. And on Maundy Thursday was the Chrism Mass, during which Bishops bless the holy oils used in Baptism, Confirmation, Ordination, and Unction -- the olive oils that give life.
In imagining Christ's "tree" standing between the "trees" of the two thieves, we see an image of the Ancient of Days standing between the unrepentant thief's Tree of Death, and the repentant thief's Tree of Life. It's up to us to choose which thief to emulate.
wouldn't be complete without telling you of something that writer and
Jewish convert Roy Schoeman wrote about at the old Seattle Catholic
website. Please read!:
Shortly put, the
Talmud recounts that when the Temple stood in Jerusalem, the sins of
the Jewish people were taken away each year on one day, Yom Kippur, the
holiest day of the year, when the High Priest would enter the Holy of
Holies with a sacrifice to atone for the sins of the people for the
preceding year. Each year, a scarlet thread was affixed to the entry to
the Holy of Holies, and miraculously, when the sacrifice within was
accepted, the thread would turn white as a sign that the sins had been
forgiven. Well, the Talmud recounts that, for no clearly identifiable
reason, the miracle ceased to take place about 40 years before the
destruction of the Temple. In other words, after about 30 A.D. the
thread never again was turned white! We know, as Christians, that that
was precisely when the Temple sacrifices lost their efficacy — at the
moment of the Crucifixion, about 30 A.D., when as a sign of the fact
the curtain in the Temple was rent in two (Matthew 27:51). Thus to
Christian eyes it is evident that the Talmud itself attests to the
truth of Christianity. Jewish scholars have an alternative, not very
convincing, explanation of why the miracle ceased to occur — that God
had stopped forgiving the Jews their sins because too many of them had
committed the unforgivable sin of following Jesus !
See also: the page on the Holy Shroud of Turin and the Sudarium of Oviedo to learn about what Christ suffered for us; the footnotes of the
Mary Gardens page for information about and pictures of the flowers
that the women used for Jesus's funeral; and the page on the Feast of the Exaltation of the
Holy Cross for information about the True Cross.
spent 40 hours in His tomb (from 3 PM Good Friday until 7 AM Pascha
morning -- a span covering 3 separate Jewish days as even a part of one
day is counted as "a day"), from the very earliest Christian times,
it's been customary for some to fast and keep vigil during this entire
period, which is known as "40
Hours' Devotion" (Quarant'ore).
As to foods, Hot Cross Buns are traditionally eaten for breakfast on
this day, and are about the only luxury afforded in this time of
mourning. Legend says that a priest at St. Alban's Abbey in
Hertfordshire gave these to the poor on Good Friday beginning in A.D.
1361, and the tradition was born. Below is a recipe for them:
Hot Cross Buns
1 cup milk
2 TBSP yeast
1/2 cup sugar
2 tsp. salt
1/3 cup butter, melted, cooled
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
||5 cups flour
1 1/3 cups currants or raisins
1 egg white
1 1/3 cups confectioner's sugar
1 1/2 tsp. lemon zest
1/2 tsp. lemon extract
1- 2 TBSP milk
In a small
saucepan, heat milk to very warm, but not hot (110°F if using a candy
thermometer). Fit an electric mixer with a dough hook. Pour warm milk
in the bowl of mixer and sprinkle yeast over. Mix to dissolve and let
sit for 5 minutes.
With mixer running at low speed, add sugar, salt, butter, cinnamon,
nutmeg and eggs. Gradually add flour, dough will be wet and sticky, and
continue kneading with dough hook until smooth, about 5 minutes. Detach
bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let the dough rest for 30-45 minutes.
Return bowl to mixer and knead until smooth and elastic, for about 3
more minutes. Add currants or raisins and knead until well mixed. At
this point, dough will still be fairly wet and sticky. Shape dough in a
ball, place in a buttered dish, cover with plastic wrap and let rise
overnight in the refrigerator. Excess moisture will be absorbed by the
Let dough sit at room temperature for about a half-hour. Line a large
baking pan (or pans) with parchment paper (you could also lightly
grease a baking pan, but parchment works better). Divide dough into 24
equal pieces (in half, half again, etc., etc.). Shape each portion into
a ball and place on baking sheet, about 1/2 inch apart. Cover with a
clean kitchen towel and let rise in a warm, draft-free place until
doubled in size, about 1 1/2 hours.
In the meantime, pre-heat oven to 400° F.
When buns have risen, take a sharp or serrated knife and carefully
slash buns with a cross shape all the way across the top (an
equilateral Greek Cross). Brush them with egg white and place in oven.
Bake for 10 minutes, then reduce heat to 350° F, then bake until golden
brown, about 15 minutes more. Transfer to a wire rack. Whisk together
glaze ingredients, and spoon over buns in the cross pattern made
earlier. Serve warm with butter, if possible.
It is customary,
because of the Cross on the buns, to kiss them before eating, and to
share one of these Hot Cross Buns with someone, reciting these words:
Half for you and
half for me,
Between us two shall goodwill be.
Hot Cross buns
are said to never corrupt and Catholics used to keep a few all year to
grate some of it into water for the sick to consume. There's also an
old nursery rhyme about this bread that might amuse your children. It's
the verse that was sung by the Hot Cross Bun vendor back when England
was Merry Olde England. Click here
for the melody:
Hot Cross Buns!
Hot Cross buns!
One a penny, two a penny, Hot cross buns!
If you have no daughters give them to your sons,
One a penny, two a penny Hot cross buns
Passion Plays, and other dramatizations of our Lord's sufferings are
customary on this day in some places. The most famous of Passion Plays
is the one that takes place at Oberammergau, Germany, in the Bavarian
Alps once each decade. In 1632, the plague even penetrated the remote
mountain valleys of those mountains, and although the villagers kept
guard to prevent the plague reaching the village, a man from
Oberammergau working as a farm labourer in a village a few miles away
carried the disease home. Within a year, the Black Death had claimed
over a fifth of the approximately 1,500 inhabitants of Oberammergau.
Suffering badly and seeing no end to the plague in sight, the village
elders gathered in their parish church on October 27, 1633 and vowed to
perform Passion plays depicting the passion of Christ every ten years
if God would only show mercy and release their village from the
clutches of the plague.
After they kept
their part of the vow in 1634 (at Pentecost) by performing the play for
the first time, no villager died of the plague -- and every ten years
since then, the people of Oberammergau stage the most celebrated
Passion Play of all time. The city of Spearfish, South Dakota in the
United States also puts on a large Passion Play -- the "Black Hills
Passion Play" -- each year, and has so since 1938 after it was
instituted by a German immigrant. Iztapalapa, a district of Mexico
City, has a very large, very communal reenactment of Christ's Passion
each year, too.
And I imagine that in many Catholic homes, watching Mel Gibson's
cinematic "Passion Play" -- "The Passion of the Christ" -- will become
a custom on this day. If you haven't seen it, you must!
As to symbols, there is a beautiful one recounted in this tale to tell
your children -- the legend of the dogwood tree:
It is said at
the time of the Crucifixion, the dogwood was comparable in size to the
oak tree and other monarchs of the forest. Because of its firmness and
strength it was selected as the timber for the Cross, but to be put to
such a cruel use
greatly distressed the tree. Sensing this, the crucified Jesus in His
gentle pity for the sorrow and suffering of all said to it: "Because of
your sorrow and pity for My sufferings, never again will the dogwood
tree grow large enough to be used as a gibbet. Henceforth it will be
slender, bent and twisted and its blossoms will be in the form of a
cross -- two long and two short petals. In the center of the outer edge
of each petal there will be nail prints -- brown with rust and stained
with red -- and in the center of the flower will be a crown of thorns,
and all who see this will remember."
See also the Christmastide Overview page
for a legend about the robin on Good Friday.
A relatively recent devotion that begins this day is the praying of the
Novena to the Divine Mercy,
which will end on the eve of the Sunday after Easter ("Low Sunday," or
"Divine Mercy Sunday"). This novena, and its associated chaplet,
incorporates some of the words of the trisagion mentioned above.
A Poem on the
Passion of the Lord
By Lactantius, 4th c.
Whoever you are
who approach, and are entering the precincts of the middle of the
temple, stop a little and look upon me, who, though innocent, suffered
for your crime; lay me up in your mind, keep me in your breast. I am He
who, pitying the bitter misfortunes of men, came hither as a messenger
of offered peace, and as a full atonement for the fault of men. Here
the brightest light from above is restored to the earth; here is the
merciful image of safety; here I am a rest to you, the right way, the
true redemption, the banner of God, and a memorable sign of fate. It
was on account of you and your life that I entered the Virgin's womb,
was made man, and suffered a dreadful death; nor did I find rest
anywhere in the regions of the earth, but everywhere threats,
First of all a wretched dwelling in the land of Judged was a shelter
for me at my birth, and for my mother with me: here first, amidst the
outstretched sluggish cattle, dry grass gave me a bed in a narrow
stall. I passed my earliest years in the Pharian regions, being an
exile in the reign of Herod; and after my return to Judaea I spent the
rest of my years, always engaged in fastings, and the extremity of
poverty itself, and the lowest circumstances; always by healthful
admonitions applying the minds of men to the pursuit of genial
uprightness, uniting with wholesome teaching many evident miracles: on
which account impious Jerusalem, harassed by the raging cares of envy
and cruel hatred, and blinded by madness, dared to seek for me, though
innocent, by deadly punishment, a cruel death on the dreadful Cross.
And if you yourself wish to discriminate these things more fully, and
if it delights you to go through all my groans, and to experience
griefs with me, put together the designs and plots, and the impious
price of my innocent Blood; and the pretended kisses of a disciple, and
the insults and strivings of the cruel multitude; and, moreover, the
blows, and tongues prepared for accusations. Picture to your mind both
the witnesses, and the accursed judgment of the blinded Pilate, and the
immense Cross pressing my shoulders and wearied back, and my painful
steps to a dreadful death.
Now survey me from head to foot, deserted as I am, and lifted up afar
from my beloved mother. Behold and see my locks clotted with blood, and
my blood-stained neck under my very hair, and my head drained with
cruel thorns, and pouring down like rain from all sides a stream of
blood over my divine face. Survey my compressed and sightless eyes, and
my afflicted cheeks; see my parched tongue poisoned with gall, and my
countenance pale with death. Behold my hands pierced with nails, and my
arms drawn out, and the great wound in my side; see the blood streaming
from it, and my perforated feet, and blood-stained limbs. Bend your
knee, and with lamentation adore the venerable wood of the Cross, and
with lowly countenance stooping to the earth, which is wet with
innocent blood, sprinkle it with rising tears, and at times bear me and
my admonitions in your devoted heart.
Follow the footsteps of my life, and while you look upon my torments
and cruel death, remembering my innumerable pangs of body and soul,
learn to endure hardships, and to watch over your own safety. These
memorials, if at any time you find pleasure in thinking over them, if
in your mind there is any confidence to bear anything like my
sufferings, if the piety due, and gratitude worthy of my labours shall
arise, will be incitements to true virtue, and they will be shields
against the snares of an enemy, aroused by which you will be safe, and
as a conqueror bear off the palm in every contest.
If these memorials shall turn away your senses, which are devoted to a
perishable world, from the fleeting shadow of earthly beauty, the
result will be, that you will not venture, enticed by empty hope, to
trust the frail enjoyments of fickle fortune, and to place your hope in
the fleeting years of life.
But, truly, if you thus regard this perishable world, and through your
love of a better country deprive yourself of earthly riches and the
enjoyment of present things, the prayers of the pious will bring you up
in sacred habits, and in the hope of a happy life, amidst severe
punishments, will cherish you with heavenly dew, and feed you with the
sweetness of the promised good. Until the great favour of God shall
recall your happy soul to the heavenly regions, your body being left
after the fates of death. Then freed from all labour, then joyfully
beholding the angelic choirs, and the blessed companies of saints in
perpetual bliss, it shall reign with me in the happy abode of perpetual
1 Catholic Encyclopedia:
"The origin of the term Good is not clear. Some say it is from "God's
Friday" (Gottes Freitag); others maintain that it is from the German
Gute Freitag, and not specially English."
2 Many Protestants claim that a
lovely spot known as "The Garden Tomb" was the site of Our Lord's
Entombment and Resurrection, but, pretty as the place is, the tombs
there date to the 7th century before Christ, and there's
absolutely no tradition to buttress the idea. Jesus was laid in
a tomb that had never been used -- John 19:41: "Now there was in the
place where he was crucified, a garden; and in the garden a new
sepulchre, wherein no man yet had been laid" -- from "virginal womb" to
"virginal tomb." The "Garden Tomb" doesn't fit this description, but
the tombs in and around the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre, on the
other hand, are first century tombs, and Jesus' Tomb was
pointed out to St. Helena -- born ca. A.D. 250 -- by the Christians who
lived in the area.
3 It is because of
this tradition that one often sees a skull -- the skull of Adam -- at
the foot of the Cross in depictions of the Crucifixion and on