Commentary of the ceremony of Good Friday
Canon Dr. Daniel Meynen
On the afternoon of Good Friday, the day we commemorate the death of the Lord Jesus, we celebrate, in most churches, two distinct ceremonies: the first, the Way of the Cross, is celebrated around three o'clock, at the moment when Jesus died on the Cross of Calvary; the second, which we will discuss, takes place a little later, in the late afternoon or early evening.
This ceremony of the evening or late afternoon was once celebrated in the morning, as were the ceremonies of Holy Thursday and Holy Saturday. When I say "once", I mean before 1955, just fifty years ago, which was not that long ago. So, in the year 1955, Pope Pius XII, of holy memory, promulgated a complete reform of the Missal for Holy Week, a reform that came into effect in the Holy Week of 1956. From that moment on, we celebrated the offices of Holy Week at the hours corresponding to the precise times of the historical events: the Last Supper on the evening of Holy Thursday; the Passion and Death of Jesus on the afternoon of Good Friday; and the wait for the Resurrection from the night of Holy Saturday until Easter Sunday.
If, before 1955, we celebrated these offices in the morning, it is because a Mass was celebrated each time. Now, in those days, due to the Eucharistic fast that was observed from the previous midnight, the Mass was celebrated in the morning, before the hour of noon. So, in the morning of each of the three holy days, we celebrated the Mass of the day in question. On Holy Thursday, we celebrated the Last Supper of the Lord; on Good Friday, a ceremony in which we used hosts that had been consecrated, or sanctified, on the previous day, a ceremony called the Mass of the Presanctified; on Holy Saturday, we celebrated Easter Vigil, a rather early vigil, as it began around nine in the morning...
On Good Friday, from time immemorial, the Church does not celebrate Mass. For the Mass is the sacrament and the memorial of the victory of Christ over death. The Church did not want, and still does not want, to celebrate the Mass on Good Friday, on the day the Lord Jesus died: we do not rejoice at Jesus' Easter morning victory because his death plunges us into sadness.
Nevertheless, the ceremony of Good Friday has long been called the Mass of the Presanctified. We wanted, in this way, to make a connection between this particular ceremony and the daily celebration of the Mass. Why? Simply because the ceremony of Good Friday unfolds just like a Mass, although we consecrate neither hosts or wine. I will explain what I mean.
As the basis for my explanation, I will, of course, use the ceremony of Good Friday as it will unfold now, in 2005. We use the Missal promulgated in 1969 by Pope Paul VI. In this Missal, the fruit of the liturgical reform of the Council of Vatican II, the Holy Week is very slightly different from that promulgated fifteen years earlier by Pope Pius XII. The Holy Week of 1955 had been perfectly elaborated: all that was needed was to make this reform coincide with that of the entire Missal.
Here is the outline of the ceremony of Good Friday: silent prayer, prayer, readings, universal prayer, the introduction of the Cross into the church, the unveiling of the Cross, the adoration of the Cross, the "Our Father" followed by communion, postcommunion, and the prayer of blessing.
These ceremonies correspond to those of the Mass in the following manner:
silent prayer > act of penitence
prayer > Collect prayer
readings > readings and gospel
universal prayer > prayer of the faithful
introduction of the Cross into the church > offertory procession and offering
unveiling of the Cross > consecration of the bread and wine
adoration of the Cross > Eucharistic prayer
"Our Father" followed by communion > idem
postcommunion > idem
prayer of blessing > gestural blessing
This correspondence does not require any supplementary explanation, except for the unveiling of the Cross and its adoration.
1. The unveiling of the Cross.
The Cross is brought while veiled, representing the bread and wine brought at the offertory of the Mass: ordinary substances, part of creation, the fruits of the earth. The unveiling of the Cross signifies the change brought about by the consecration of the bread and wine: the bread and wine now truly signify the Body and Blood of Christ present substantially.
This is a simple analogy: there is no Mass today, the Cross is not the substance of Christ. But the relation is perfect with respect to the thing signified: the Cross signifies the Passion, just as the sacrifice of Christ is made present in and through the signs of the bread and wine consecrated into the Body and Blood of Christ. The unveiling of the Cross makes present the signs of the Passion; the consecration at Mass additionally, and above all, makes present the substance of the risen Christ.
Finally, the unveiling of the Cross, taken in the sense of the removal of a veil, and thus in the sense of a revelation, can be associated with the consecration in that, through faith and in faith, believers receive from the priest, who consecrates the bread and wine, this revelation, which must be believed, that what we see is no longer bread and wine, but rather the Body and the Blood of Christ: "This is my Body... This is my Blood..."
2. The adoration of the Cross.
This is a ceremony which, in the Eucharistic celebration, corresponds to the Eucharistic Prayer, or anamnesis.
First, let us note the following significant detail. In the Latin edition of the Missal, in Gregorian chant, the antiphon of the adoration of the Cross, which begins with the words "Crucem tuam" possesses the same musical composition as the response to the post-consecratory acclamation "Mysterium fidei", which is: "Mortem tuam..."
In adoring the Cross, we express our faith in the redeeming sign, just as the Church prays and offers to the heavenly Father the Body and Blood of his Son by invoking the Holy Spirit with faith and hope.
But the most beautiful analogy is to be found in the kiss that the Christian places on the feet of the Crucifix: it is like the kiss a Wife gives her Husband, crucified for love. Each of the members of the Church thus testifies to his faith and love for Christ: he thus shows that he fully ratifies in his heart the eternal Covenant founded in the Blood of Christ. He thus opens his heart wide with his love, and to its depths with his humility, in order that the Holy Spirit might penetrate it and transform it in Christ through communion, as he says with Saint Paul: "It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me." (Gal. 2:20)
I wish everyone a holy wait for the Resurrection of the Lord, under the watch of the Virgin Mary, the only one who, according to Tradition, continued to believe in her dead Son! May the Mother of God be our strength during the Holy Sabbath between Good Friday and Easter morning!