Most of us aren’t strangers to the Good Friday service, or Good Friday itself, for that matter — but sometimes we go through the motions and miss the richness behind the liturgy we’re partaking in. What’s so special about celebrating Good Friday liturgy?
The most important thing to note is that the service is an opportunity to enter into Jesus’ suffering and death — and realize in a deeper, or even new, way — that he died for you personally. We can arrive at that place by having a disposition of fully entering into the rites and letting our hearts be moved through them, according to Father Daniel Cardo, pastor at Holy Name Parish and chaplain at Christ in the City.
“We should experience it in a very personal way — through the rites, we don’t need to change anything — it’s very ancient and that’s very moving,” Father Cardo said. “But through that, we should arrive to the experience of, ‘He died for me,’ to be able to say that and mean that.”
“The most important disposition is entering into the rites — it’s clearly unique. We start in silence, and then the priest prostrates himself. Those prayers are very ancient, and we’re not aware of how ancient they are,” Father Cardo added. “The main point would be to pay attention, to listen, to see the gestures, seeing and adoring the cross as an expression of love.”
The rite of Good Friday offers us the opportunity to actually participate in Christ’s suffering through its various parts.
It’s important to note, however, that it’s not Mass we’re celebrating. It’s technically a communion service with four main parts: the Liturgy of the Word, general intercessions, veneration of the cross and communion. So why a communion service instead of celebrating Mass?
“Traditionally, there’s never been a Mass on Good Friday per se. The main reason is that it’s seen by the Church as a day of mourning, a day of participating in the suffering of Christ, experiencing that absence,” Father Cardo said.
In the Church’s tradition, the Good Friday rites developed organically over time, so that the structure that formed by the eighth century is what we still celebrate today, according to Father Cardo.
The first part of the rite, the Liturgy of the Word, is special because we enter into the story of Jesus’ passion and death on the cross. But we shouldn’t listen to it just like any other Sunday Mass readings.
“The main benefit is participating in that suffering and experiencing that pain. We shouldn’t be afraid of it,” Father Cardo said. “We have a very emotional understanding of joy, but there is room for participating in the pain of Christ, because we want to be where he is. We suffer with hope, and it’s important to let our hearts be moved by what the Church offers.”
In participating in Jesus’ offering of himself to God the Father, we have a special opportunity to offer intercessions with him, and participate in the ancient tradition of the Church, where intercessions originated. Next, the service offers a veneration of the cross — one of the most moving parts of the liturgy, said Father Cardo.
“That rite comes from Jerusalem, when St. Helena discovered the cross. People would go and see the cross exposed and kiss the cross. That’s why today we approach and kiss the cross,” Father Cardo explained. “The Church invites us to break the routine so that we can appreciate more deeply the gift of the cross, and so, we cover all crosses until we see the cross again as we adore it on Good Friday.”
“The other part is the communion service, a liturgy in which you don’t consecrate the Eucharist, but receive what’s been previously consecrated,” Father Cardo added.
These various parts offer for the faithful an opportunity to “stay awake” with Jesus.
“It’s saying to Christ, ‘I’m going to be with you in your suffering so I can continue to be with you in your victory,’” said Father Cardo.
We can do this by making an extra effort “to listen, to see, to let those gestures inform our way of feeling, to let him take us to his passion and resurrection,” he said.
This experience of entering into the liturgy in such a profound way isn’t just a “remembering,” Father Cardo said.
“One of the unique aspects to the Church is liturgy makes those events a reality — it performs what it signifies. We’re not just remembering, we are suffering with him because he’s suffering for us.”
It’s saying to Christ, ‘I’m going to be with you in your suffering so I can continue to be with you in your victory.’”
He pointed out, that because the Triduum rites are so intense and carefully observed, it signals how carefully the rites are preserved from what was practiced in ancient times.
“There’s a difference between the Western and the Easter Church [rites]. Originally, the Roman liturgy was very sober, and what we celebrate now was the first part of the celebration. Later, we assumed some practices of the Eastern Church, like the adoration of the cross,” Father Cardo said. “With the most intense times of the liturgy, we’ve preserved more carefully the most primitive elements — they’re more sober, but extremely eloquent.”
If we allow our hearts to be moved by Jesus’ death for us, the liturgy won’t just a one-day experience, but something that changes the way we live daily.
“Maybe we can think again back to the experience of saying, ‘He did it for me, he was thinking of me,’” Father Cardo said. “Good Friday is one day a year that we contemplate exclusively love until the end, so hopefully we unfold a profound gratitude and live the consequences of that love every day in a very humble and honest way.”