The Good Friday Liturgy, known in the Roman Missal as the Celebration of the Lord’s Passion is not a Mass as some people may call it. The bread and wine is not consecrated at this celebration. Before the reform of the Liturgy, the Celebration of the Lord’s Passion was known as the “Mass of the Pre-Sanctified”, as the faithful who attended received communion consecrated the previous day, as we still do in today’s Good Friday Liturgy.
It is the most somber and silent of all Liturgies of the year. The Liturgy of Good Friday is consisted of three parts. The first is the Liturgy of the Word, then followed by the Veneration of the Cross and finally, the Communion Rite.
The celebrant (and concelebrants and deacons) proceed out to the Sanctuary with red vestments. The red vestments symbolize the blood poured out in Christ’s Passion. This was not the case before the Second Vatican Council. The vestments were to be black, a colour which had died down in the New Liturgy. The first part of the Liturgy is not a procession. It is a simply the act of the ministers moving to the Sanctuary in silence. The celebrant prostrates as the other ministers and the congregation kneels in silence. The gesture reminds me of John 10:11, when Jesus says, “The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” Literally, the priest through this gesture says this. However, prostration is also an action of full surrender to God and an act of penitence. There is a silent moment of prayer by the congregation. As the priest rises, the congregation stand. All this is done is silence, without an opening hymn or bells.
The opening prayer is said without “Let us pray” at the start as the congregation have already prayed through the moment of silence prayer.
The reading from Isaiah 52:13-53:12 records the prophecy of Christ’s passion, describing the fourth canticle of the servant of God. It is a very emotional reading, recognizing the innocence and pain the Man had to go through.
The response of the Psalm (Psalm 31) is, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit” and is one of the seven last words of Jesus on the Cross. Luke 23:46 records these words. When hearing these words, I have the image that Jesus was totally obedient to the Father’s will and did so in excruciating pain on the cross until His last breath.
The second reading is from the Letter to the Hebrews chapters 4:14-16; 5:8-9. It talks about Christ the High Priest who died for our sins and understands our weaknesses as human beings.
The Passion is read in the same form as Palm Sunday. This Passion however, is from
the Gospel of St. John and is read every Good Friday.
The priest or deacon may give a brief homily as usual. However, after the Homily is the Solemn Intercessions. Unlike the usual Prayers of the Faithful, the Solemn Intercessions includes fixed prayers from the Roman Missal. The priest reads the prayer, not a layperson as seen as usual Mass. A lay minister says an invitation to help the people recollect themselves so to pray for that specific intention. Today, the Solemn Intercessions include ten prayers, (1) For the Church, (2) For the Pope, (3) For all orders and degrees of the faithful, (4) For the Catechumens, (5) For Christian Unity, (6) For the Jewish people, (7) For those who do not believe in Christ, (8) For those who do not believe in God, (9) For those in public office, and (10) For those in tribulation. These prayers were composed to pray for the WHOLE world, not specific for any parish or community. The faithful, with the priest raise their prayers to Christ, the one slain on the cross but have redeemed the world from the power of sin.
The second part is known as the Adoration of the Cross. In the ancient days of the Church, the faithful literally venerated the wood of the true cross. Due to the widespread of Christians in the world, it was not possible for every community to have a sliver of the wood of the true cross. Therefore, a dignified crucifix is used, large enough for the faithful to see and venerate. The minister (priest/deacon) sings three times, “Behold the wood of the Cross, on which hung the salvation of the world.” The faithful respond, “Come, let us adore”. After each responsorial, a moment of brief silencer takes place as everyone adores the Cross. After the third responsorial, the celebrant kisses the cross first, then the ministers and finally the lay faithful. In services where there are many people attending such as that of St. Peter’s Basilica, the ordained ministers and representatives of the faithful kiss the Cross and then the Holy Father raises the Cross up for a period so that everyone can venerate.
The third part is the Communion Rite. In silence, a minister goes to the Altar of Repose to bring back to the Altar the Eucharist consecrated the Mass of the night before (Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper). This is all done in silence, without solemnity as the focus of the service is on the Cross of Our Lord, therefore keeping the somber mood of the service. The celebrant begins the Our Father as usual. Once the faithful respond, “For the kingdom, the power and glory are yours, now and forever”, the prayer for peace is omitted and everyone kneels for the Ecce Agnus Dei (Behold the Lamb of God…) prayer in preparation for Holy Communion. Communion is distributed to the faithful as usual. Everyone goes up to receive Christ, truly present as the Sacrifice Victim on the Cross. Everyone goes back to their pew in silence, reflecting on the Mystery of the Cross and of the Eucharist.
A Prayer After Communion is said by the celebrant as usual with a short Prayer over the People. There is no blessing. Everyone leaves in silence. As we depart that Good Friday Service, keep our hearts the thought of Jesus loving us until the end, becoming the Passover Lamb so that we may be saved.