Updated: Mar 31, 2021
The Meaning Behind the Good Friday Liturgy
Remembering the passion and death of Jesus Christ on Good Friday makes it the most solemn day in the entire year. In the liturgy, we reflect on the agony and crucifixion of our Lord, which He endured for our sins and salvation. There is no Mass celebrated today, instead the Church offers a service which consists of the readings, veneration of the cross, and distribution of Holy Communion that was consecrated on Holy Thursday. St. Thomas Aquinas offers my favorite explanation for why there is no Mass on Good Friday in his Summa Theologiae. "The figure (the Mass) ceases on the advent of the reality. But this sacrament is a figure and a representation of our Lord's Passion, as stated above. And therefore on the day on which our Lord's Passion is recalled as it was really accomplished, this sacrament is not consecrated." In other words, on Good Friday, we are personally entering into and fully partaking in Jesus' suffering and death. That which we remember and re-member every time we go to Mass, is a reality on this day. As a side note, every year on Good Friday I take a moment to quietly stand outside. It seems as if regardless of what state of affairs the world is in, I always a feel a sense of transcendent stillness. It's as if all of creation inherently knows what happened on this day, and bows down. At some point on Good Friday, take a minute to just go quietly stand outside and see if you notice this too.
(Image: Catholic Company)
Festivity on Good Friday
Yes, you read that title correctly, but let me explain. Most people think that festivity means happiness or merriment, but that is a misconception. Take for example a funeral, on these days no one is laughing or having fun, yet we are there in celebration of a life. In fact, most Catholic feast days are in celebration of a holy person that is no longer alive! So what exactly are we doing? At the core, we are affirming life! Josef Pieper says, "festivity lives on affirmation. Even celebrations for the dead, All Souls and Good Friday, can never be truly celebrated except on the basis of faith that all is well with the world and life as a whole. If there is no consolation, the idea of a funeral as a solemn act is self-contradictory. But consolation is a form of rejoicing..." (In Tune with the World, 28). Consolation exists out of death, tragedy, and grief, as a form of rejoicing in life's meaning and purpose. Therefore festivity, true festivity, is there to affirm the goodness of our very existence. On Good Friday, we can still be truly festive in our sorrow and pain because God deserves our thanksgiving. In doing this, we are proclaiming everlasting life!
(Image: Good Friday Procession/Passion Play in Malta)
Good Friday Traditions
On this day there are a variety of Catholic traditions that you can continue with your family to keep your heart and mind focused on Christ's death.
Make a simple vegetable soup for lunch and dinner. Remember, today is a day of fasting and abstinence.
For members of the Latin Catholic Church, the norms on fasting are obligatory from age 18 until age 59. When fasting, a person is permitted to eat one full meal, as well as two smaller meals that together are not equal to a full meal. The norms concerning abstinence from meat are binding upon members of the Latin Catholic Church from age 14 onwards. (USCCB)
Pray the Stations of the Cross.
Attend the Good Friday service and venerate the cross.
Spend 12:00PM-3:00PM, the sacred hours when Jesus was on the cross, in silence. I usually spend this time in prayer or reading scripture, but here are some silent activities for the kids.
For smaller children
Read a religious book.
No technology, instead try a meditation or prayer book.
Pray the rosary with them.
Teens like coloring pages for prayer too, print a couple.
Read from scripture.
Journal about any reflections you may have from the day.
As a family you could go outside for a silent walk.
Watch The Passion of Christ together as a family. If you have never seen this, check the rating to assess the viewability for your children. I would only recommend this for older children that are more mature and equipped to handle the intensity of some scenes.
Make Hot Cross Buns. They are significant on Good Friday because each bun is marked with a cross to symbolize Jesus' death. The spices in the hot cross buns also represent the spices that were used to embalm Jesus after His death.
Today begins the Divine Mercy Novena so you could pray that together as a family.
Put a crucifix out in a prominent place in your home to allow your mind to be more focused on this throughout the day.
Remove distractions: no shopping, errands, television shows, social media, or chatting on the phone.
Sing the hymn, Behold the Wood of the Cross!
Bonus: If you have enough people in the family, put on your own Passion Play!
Dying with Christ, to Rise with Christ
We are called in a special way to closeness with Jesus and participation in His pain. We walk the cross alongside Him, so we pray the stations of the cross. We kneel at the foot of the cross when He dies, so we walk up and venerate the cross by kissing it. Then we stay awake in waiting for Jesus to return, and through silent and prayerful anticipation we attend the Easter Vigil. These aren't just nice things that we do to remember something that happened many years ago! The action and celebration is done to make His death real again, we say to Jesus, we are dying to ourselves with you so that we can rise with you! I like to ask for the intercession of St. Helena, the mother of Constantine, on this day and in a spiritual way I strive to be like her. In short, St. Helena was a honored woman who was determined to spread the faith and was tasked with locating Christian relics. During a trip to Jerusalem, she destroyed a pagan temple dedicated to Venus that was built over the location believed to be the site of Jesus' death. She then had the area excavated and found the True Cross, after which Constantine ordered the Church of the Holy Sepulchre to be built. In a way, we all have some sort of pagan temple over our heart, something that we worship besides God. Whatever that thing is, ask St. Helena to help you remove it so that you can discover the cross more fully!
Praying that you have blessed Easter Triduum filled with grace.
Peace & Good,