English Works of John Fisher, Bishop of Rochester (1469-1535): Sermons and Other Writings, 1520-1535

By John Fisher; Cecilia A. Hatt | Go to book overview

6 A Sermon Preached on a Good Friday

Introduction

Good Friday was one of the two days of the liturgical year on which Mass might not be celebrated. There was no consecration of bread and wine on that day and if, for instance, a priest needed to take the sacrament to a dying person, he would take hosts, or viaticum, which had been consecrated the previous evening at the solemn Mass of Maundy Thursday which commemorated Christ's Last Supper. The Good Friday liturgy was therefore unique among the important celebrations of the Church in being not sacrificial but essentially meditative, consisting of readings and prayers. Its focus was the solemn recital of St John's account of the Passion, which could take on a semi-dramatic character. 1 The emotional effect of this recitation, in a church which had been stripped the previous evening of all its usual hangings and embellishments, was very powerful. The first lesson of the liturgy, Hosea 6: 1-6, calls for the tenderness of heart which will bring the penitent back to God the bridegroom, who laments that the love of man 'is like morning mist, like the dew that quickly disappears'. At a later point in the service, the practice arose of 'creeping to the Cross':

foreasmechil as Crist was mest dyspisyd of menkende on Good Fryday, þerfore holy cherche hatz ordeynyd þat on Good Fryday men shuldyn doon hym most wurshepe. And for þis skyl we doon þat heye wurshepe þat day, nought to þe cros þat þe preist heldyzt in his hond but to hym þat deyidde þat day for vs alle vpon þe cros, 2

during which the Improperia, or reproaches were sung. 3 These were in the form of an appeal from the crucified Christ, derived from a sermon first composed by Caesarius of Arles, De Iudicio extremo, 4 and originally conceived as an address given on Judgement Day. Carleton Brown remarks,

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