Magazine article U.S. Catholic

Lip Service: The Liturgy of Good Friday Gathers Believers of Every Generation before the Tree of Life

Magazine article U.S. Catholic

Lip Service: The Liturgy of Good Friday Gathers Believers of Every Generation before the Tree of Life

Article excerpt

THOSE OF US IN OUR 60S AND BEYOND REMEMBER SOMETHING like this from our youthful Good Fridays: After what seemed like an eternity of Latin readings (mostly John's account of the Passion), followed by another eternity (during which the interesting part was seeing if you could actually get both knees on the kneeler before the pastor semi-chanted, "Levate"), we got something more than words: a procession.

This involved the gradual unveiling of a crucifix (first the left arm, then the head, then the whole body), while the servers and the pastor moved from the back to the front, and while all of us were again down and up from the kneelers until this large crucifix was placed in the sanctuary.

Then there was a sudden multiplication of the clergy as they appeared with little crosses and tissues and stood here and there along the communion rail. We all came forward to kiss the corpus on one of these small crosses. Kiss. Wipe. Kiss. Wipe.


Undoubtedly, some parishes did this with far more of a sense for the power of this once-a-year gesture, but even the usual production-line approach could not entirely rob it of significance. To kiss this cross made a kind of climax to all of Lent. Few of us returned for the long liturgy on Holy Saturday morning, and Easter Sunday at church had already become more social than religious. That little kiss had to bear a lot of liturgical weight.

This was Good Friday. We fasted as on all the weekdays of Lent, we abstained (as on all Fridays during the year), and we waited for Lent to end at some vague moment on Holy Saturday--maybe when the Easter foods were blessed and the fast broken. The Good Friday liturgy was usually tied vaguely in our minds to some hour-by-hour chronology as in the bestseller The Day Christ Died (HarperOne). Silence and prayer and "visits" were encouraged throughout the day.

IN ASSEMBLIES THAT HAVE ATTENDED TO THE LITURGICAL renewal of the Second Vatican Council, however, I have known Good Friday in a different way. I know it is not Lent, for Lent ended on Thursday night with the Mass of the Lord's Supper, which begins the Triduum. I have experienced these three days as the core of our year, founded on communal fasting (a fasting of excitement and anticipation rather than of penance and sorrow) and prayer and keeping vigil.

We need all these before we gather on Saturday night and finally approach the font and then the table. Little by little some of our assemblies have been discovering that the hours between the assembly on Thursday night and that of Saturday night are marked by several other assemblies, small or large, each with its own task and beauty. The assembly of Friday afternoon or evening is central to these.

When we come for the solemn liturgy that includes the "veneration of the cross," we have no entrance rite. The church has been gathered since last night, and we do not need rites to make us ready to hear Isaiah and the Letter to the Hebrews and John's Passion. We're assembled and ready.

We do the basic things: listening and pondering our scripture, then the lengthy intercessions that give us a sort of model for what all our interceding (at Sunday liturgy or at our bedtime prayer) is to be doing--that is, the church making the noises it was baptized to make and clamoring to a seemingly absent God about all the needs and troubles and suffering of the world. …

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