Good Friday

Good Friday is the Friday before Easter, which is calculated differently in Eastern Christianity and Western Christianity. Easter falls on the first Sunday following the Paschal Full Moon, the full moon on or after 21 March, taken to be the date of the vernal equinox. The Western calculation uses the Gregorian calendar, whilst the Eastern calculation uses the Julian calendar, whose 21 March now corresponds to the Gregorian calendar’s 3 April. The calculations for identifying the date of the full moon also differ. In Eastern Christianity, Easter can fall between 22 March and 25 April on Julian Calendar (thus between 4 April and 8 May in terms of the Gregorian calendar, during the period 1900 and 2099), so Good Friday can fall between 20 March and 23 April, inclusive, or between 2 April and 6 May in terms of the Gregorian calendar. Good Friday itself is a Christian holiday commemorating the crucifixion of Jesus and his death at Calvary and it is observed during Holy Week as part of the Paschal Triduum. Members of many Christian denominations observe Good Friday with both fasting and church services. In many Catholic, Lutheran, Anglican and Methodist churches the ‘Service of the Great Three Hours’ Agony’ is held from noon until 3:00pm, the time duration that the Bible records as darkness covering the land to Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross, whilst the Communicants of the Moravian Church have a Good Friday tradition of cleaning gravestones in Moravian cemeteries. The date of Good Friday varies from one year to the next in both the Gregorian and Julian calendars. However, Eastern and Western Christianity disagree over the computation of the date of Easter and therefore of Good Friday, which is regarded as a widely instituted legal holiday around the world, including in most Western countries and twelve U.S. states. Some predominantly Christian countries, such as Germany, have laws prohibiting certain acts such as dancing and horse racing, in remembrance of the sombre nature of Good Friday. The name ‘Good Friday’ comes from the sense ‘pious, holy’ of the word “good”. Less common examples of expressions based on this obsolete sense of “good” include “the good book” for the Bible, “good tide” for “Christmas”. A common folk etymology incorrectly analyses “Good Friday” as a corruption of “God Friday” similar to the linguistically correct description of “goodbye“ as a contraction of “God be with you”. In Old English, the day was called “Long Friday”, and equivalents of this term are still used in Scandinavian languages and Finnish. I have learned that in Latin, the name used by the Catholic Church until 1955 was “Friday of Preparation [for the Sabbath]”), then in the 1955 reform of Holy Week, it was renamed “Friday of the Passion and Death of the Lord”, then in the new rite introduced in 1970, shortened to “Friday of the Passion of the Lord”. In Dutch, Good Friday is known as ‘Goede Vrijdag’, in Frisian as ‘Goedfreed’. In German-speaking countries, it is generally referred to as ‘Karfreitag’’, or “Mourning Friday”, with ‘Kar’ from Old High German ‘kara’‚ “bewail”, “grieve”‚ “mourn”, which is related to the English word “care” in the sense of cares and woes), but it is sometimes also called ‘Stiller Freitag’ (“Silent Friday”) and ‘Hoher Freitag’ (“High Friday, Holy Friday”). In the Scandinavian languages and Finnish it is called the equivalent of “Long Friday” as it was in Old English (“Langa frigedæg”). In Irish it is known as ‘Aoine an Chéasta’, “Friday of Crucifixion”, from ‘céas’, “suffer;” similarly, it is ‘DihAoine na Ceusta’ in Scottish Gaelic. In Welsh it is called ‘Dydd Gwener y Groglith’, “Friday of the Cross-Reading”, referring to ‘Y Groglith’, a medieval Welsh text on the Crucifixion of Jesus that was traditionally read on Good Friday. In Greek, Polish, Hungarian, Romanian, Breton and Armenian it is generally referred to as the equivalent of “Great Friday” whilst In Serbian, it is referred either as “Great Friday” or, more commonly, “Loved Friday”. In Bulgarian, it is also called “Great Friday”, or, more commonly, “Crucified Friday”. In French, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese it is referred to as “Holy Friday”, and in Arabic, it is also known as “Great Friday”.

‘The Judas Kiss’ by Gustave Doré, 1866.

According to the accounts in the Gospels, the royal soldiers, guided by Jesus’ disciple Judas Iscariot, arrested Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. Judas received 30 pieces of silver for betraying Jesus and told the guards that whomever he kisses is the one they are to arrest. Following his arrest, Jesus was taken to the house of Annas, the father-in-law of the high priest, Caiaphas. There he was interrogated with little result, bound and sent to Caiaphas where the Sanhedrin, an assembly of elders known as rabbi’s who were appointed to sit as a tribunal in every city in the ancient [Land of Israel, had assembled. Conflicting testimony against Jesus was brought forth by many witnesses, to which Jesus answered nothing. Finally the high priest adjured Jesus to respond under solemn oath, saying “I adjure you, by the Living God, to tell us, are you the Anointed One, the Son of God?” Jesus testified ambiguously, “You have said it, and in time you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Almighty, coming on the clouds of Heaven.” The high priest condemned Jesus for blasphemy and the Sanhedrin concurred with a sentence of death. One of the disciples of Jesus, Peter, who was waiting in the courtyard, also denied Jesus three times to bystanders while the interrogations were proceeding just as Jesus had foretold. In the morning, the whole assembly brought Jesus to the Roman governor Pontius Pilate under charges of subverting the nation, opposing taxes to Caesar, and making himself a king. Pilate authorised the Jewish leaders to judge Jesus according to their own law and execute sentencing, but the Jewish leaders replied that they were not allowed by the Romans to carry out a sentence of death. Pilate questioned Jesus and told the assembly that there was no basis for sentencing. Upon learning that Jesus was from Galilee, Pilate referred the case to the ruler of Galilee, King Herod, who was in Jerusalem for the Passover Feast. Herod questioned Jesus but received no answer so sent Jesus back to Pilate, who told the assembly that neither he nor Herod found Jesus to be guilty. Pilate resolved to have Jesus whipped and released, but under the guidance of the chief priests, the crowd asked for Barabbas, who had been imprisoned for committing murder during an insurrection. Pilate asked what they would have him do with Jesus, and they demanded, “Crucify him”. Pilate’s wife had seen Jesus in a dream earlier that day, and she forewarned Pilate to “have nothing to do with this righteous man”. Pilate had Jesus flogged and then brought him out to the crowd to release him. The chief priests informed Pilate of a new charge, demanding Jesus be sentenced to death “because he claimed to be God’s son.” This possibility filled Pilate with fear, and he brought Jesus back inside the palace and demanded to know from where he came.

Antonio Ciseri’s nineteenth century depiction of Jesus with Pontius Pilate.

Coming before the crowd one last time, Pilate declared Jesus innocent and washed his own hands in water to show he had no part in this condemnation. Nevertheless, Pilate handed Jesus over to be crucified in order to forestall a riot. The sentence written was “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.” Jesus carried his cross to the site of execution (assisted by Simon of Cyrene), called the “place of the Skull”, or “Golgotha“ in Hebrew and in Latin “Calvary”. There he was crucified along with two criminals. Jesus agonised on the cross for six hours and, during his last three hours on the cross, from noon to 3pm, darkness fell over the whole land. Jesus spoke from the cross, quoting the messianic Psalm 22: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Then, with a loud cry, Jesus gave up his spirit. There was an earthquake, tombs broke open, and the curtain in the Temple was torn from top to bottom. The centurion on guard at the site of crucifixion declared, “Truly this was God’s Son!”. Then Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the Sanhedrin and a secret follower of Jesus, who had not consented to His condemnation, went to Pilate to request the body of Jesus. Another secret follower of Jesus and member of the Sanhedrin named Nicodemus brought about a hundred-pound weight mixture of spices and helped wrap the body of Jesus. Pilate asked confirmation from the centurion of whether Jesus was dead. A soldier pierced the side of Jesus with a lance causing blood and water to flow out and the centurion informed Pilate that Jesus was dead. Joseph of Arimathea took Jesus’ body, wrapped it in a clean linen shroud, and placed it in his own new tomb that had been carved in the rock in a garden near the site of the crucifixion. Nicodemus also brought 75 pounds of myrrh and aloes, and placed them in the linen with the body, in keeping with Jewish burial customs. They rolled a large rock over the entrance of the tomb, then they returned home and rested, because Shabbat had begun at sunset. Matt. 28:1 “After the Shabbat, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb”. i.e. “After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week,…”. “He is not here; he has risen, just as he said….”. (Matt. 28:6)

A Crucifix, prepared for veneration.

The Catholic Church regards Good Friday and Holy Saturday as the Paschal fast. In the Latin Church, a ‘fast day’ is understood as having only one full meal and two ‘collations’ (a smaller repast, the two of which together do not equal the one full meal) – although this may be observed less stringently on Holy Saturday than on Good Friday. Interestingly the Roman Rite has no celebration of Mass between the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday evening and the Easter Vigil, unless a special exemption is granted for rare solemn or grave occasions by the Vatican or the local bishop. The only sacraments celebrated during this time are Baptism, for those in danger of death, Penance and Anointing of the Sick. Whilst there is no celebration of the Eucharist, it is distributed to the faithful only in the Celebration of the Lord’s Passion, but can also be taken at any hour to the sick who are unable to attend this celebration. The Celebration of the Passion of the Lord takes place in the afternoon, ideally at three o’clock, however for pastoral reasons (especially in countries where Good Friday is not a public holiday) it is permissible to celebrate the liturgy earlier, even shortly after midday, or at a later hour. The celebration consists of three parts, these being the liturgy of the word, the adoration of the cross, and the Holy communion. The altar is laid bare, without cross, candlesticks and altar cloths. It is also customary to empty the holy water fonts, in preparation of the blessing of the water at the Easter Vigil. Traditionally, no bells are rung on Good Friday or Holy Saturday until the Easter Vigil. The liturgical colour of the vestments used is red. Before 1970 vestments were black, except for the Communion part of the rite when violet was used and if a bishop or abbot celebrates, he wears a plain mitre. Before the reforms of the Holy Week liturgies in 1955, black was used throughout. The Vespers of Good Friday are only prayed by those who could not attend the Celebration of the Passion of the Lord. Also the Three Hours’ Devotion that is based on the Seven Last Words from the Cross begins at noon and ends at 3pm, the time that the Christian tradition teaches that Jesus died on the cross.

The Great Intercessions, sung at Heiligenkreuz Abbey, Austria.

There is also the Liturgy, which is a customary public ritual of worship that is performed by a religious group. The Good Friday liturgy consists of three parts, these being the Liturgy of the Word, the Veneration of the Cross, and the Holy Communion. The Liturgy of the Word consists of the clergy and assisting ministers entering in complete silence, without any singing. They then silently make a full prostration which signifies the abasement or fall of humans on Earth. It also symbolises the grief and sorrow of the Church. Then follows the Collect prayer, and the reading or chanting of Isaiah 52:13–53:12, Hebrews 4:14–16, Hebrews 5:7–9, and the Passion account from the Gospel of John, traditionally divided between three deacons, yet usually read by the celebrant and two other readers. In the older form of the Mass known as the Tridentine Mass, the readings for Good Friday are taken from Exodus 12:1-11 and the Gospel according to St. John (John 18:1-40); (John 19:1-42). The Great Intercessions, also known as ‘orationes sollemnes’, immediately follow the Liturgy of the Word and consists of a series of prayers for the Church, the Pope, the clergy and laity of the Church, those preparing for baptism, the unity of Christians, the Jews, those who do not believe in Christ, those who do not believe in God, those in public office, and those in special need. After each prayer intention, the deacon calls the faithful to kneel for a short period of private prayer, the celebrant then sums up the prayer intention with a Collect-style prayer. As part of the pre-1955 Holy Week Liturgy, the kneeling was omitted only for the prayer for the Jews. The Adoration of the Cross has a crucifix, not necessarily the one that is normally on or near the altar at other times of the year, solemnly unveiled and displayed to the congregation, and then venerated by them, individually if possible and usually by kissing the wood of the cross, whilst the ‘Improperia’ or Reproaches with the appropriate hymns are chanted. Holy Communion is bestowed according to a rite based on that of the final part of Mass, beginning with the Lord’s Prayer, but omitting the ceremony of “Breaking of the Bread“ and its related acclamation, the Agnus Dei. The Eucharist, consecrated at the Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday, is distributed at this service. Before the Holy Week reforms of Pope Pius XII in 1955, only the priest received Communion in the framework of what was called the ‘Mass of the Presanctified’, which included the usual Offertory prayers, with the placing of wine in the chalice, but which omitted the Canon of the Mass. The priest and people then departed in silence, and the altar cloth removed, leaving the altar bare except for the crucifix and two or four candlesticks.

In the Protestant church, the 1662 Book of Common Prayer did not specify a particular rite to be observed on Good Friday but local custom came to mandate an assortment of services, including the Seven Last Words from the Cross and a three-hour service consisting of Matins, Ante-communion (using the Reserved Sacrament in high church parishes) and Evensong. In more recent times, revised editions of the Prayer Book and Common Worship have re-introduced pre-Reformation forms of observance of Good Friday corresponding to those in today’s Roman Catholic Church.

The chancel of a Lutheran church.

The chancel of this Lutheran church is adorned with black paraments, or hangings on and around the altar, such as altar cloths, as well as the cloths hanging from the pulpit and lectern, this being the liturgical colour associated with Good Friday in the Lutheran Churches. Also, in Lutheran tradition from the sixteenth to the twentieth century, Good Friday was the most important religious holiday, and abstention from all worldly works was expected. During that time, Lutheranism had no restrictions on the celebration of the Eucharist on Good Friday. On the contrary, it was a prime day on which to receive the Eucharist, and services were often accentuated by special music such as the St Matthew Passion by Johann Sebastian Bach.
More recently, Lutheran liturgical practice has recaptured Good Friday as part of the larger sweep of the great Three Days: Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Vigil of Easter. Along with observing a general Lenten fast, many Lutherans emphasise the importance of Good Friday as a day of fasting within the calendar. ‘A Handbook for the Discipline of Lent’ recommends the Lutheran guideline to “Fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday with only one simple meal during the day, usually without meat”.

The altar of a Methodist church on Maundy Thursday.

On Maundy Thursday, the altar of this Methodist church was stripped and the crucifix veiled in black for Good Friday, as black is the liturgical colour for Good Friday in the United Methodist Church. A wooden cross sits in front of the bare chancel for the veneration of the cross ceremony, which occurs during the United Methodist Good Friday liturgy. Many Methodist denominations commemorate Good Friday with fasting, as well as a [service of worship based on the Seven Last Words from the Cross. This liturgy is known as the Three Hours Devotion as it starts at noon and concludes at 3pm, the latter being the time that Jesus died on the cross. Other churches have practices only performed at this particular time, for example in the Moravian Church, communicants practice the Good Friday tradition of cleaning gravestones in Moravian cemeteries. It is also not uncommon for some communities to hold interdenominational services on Good Friday. As well as the United Kingdom, Good Friday is observed as a public or federal holiday in many other countries and territories with a strong Christian tradition such as Australia, Bermuda, Brazil, Canada, the countries of the Caribbean, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Czech Republic, Ecuador, Finland, Germany, Hungary, Malta, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, the Philippines, Portugal, the Scandinavian countries, Singapore, Spain, Switzerland and Venezuela. In the United States, just twelve states observe Good Friday as state holiday, these being Connecticut, Texas, Delaware, Hawaii, Indiana, Tennessee, Florida, Kentucky, Louisiana, New Jersey, North Carolina and North Dakota.

A Good Friday service in Ireland.

In the Republic of Ireland, Good Friday is not an official public holiday, but most non-retail businesses close for the day. Up until 2018 it was illegal to sell alcoholic beverages on Good Friday, with some exceptions, so pubs and off-licences generally closed. Critics of the ban included the catering and tourism sector, but surveys showed that the general public were divided on the issue. In Northern Ireland, a similar ban operates until 5pm on Good Friday. Other countries also make Good Friday a public holiday or at least have ‘restricted trading’. In the United States, Good Friday is not a government holiday at the federal level but individual states, counties and municipalities may observe the holiday. Some Baptist congregations and some non-denominational churches oppose the observance of Good Friday, regarding it as a so-called “papist“ tradition, and instead observe the Crucifixion of Jesus on Wednesday to coincide with the Jewish sacrifice of the Passover Lamb, to which a number of Christians believe is an Old Testament pointer to Jesus Christ). A Wednesday Crucifixion of Jesus allows for Him to be in the tomb for three days and three nights as he told the Pharisees he would be (Matthew 12:40), rather than two nights and a day by inclusive counting, as was the norm at that time if he had died on a Friday. Further support for a Wednesday crucifixion based on Matthew 12:40 includes the Jewish belief that death was not considered official until the beginning of the fourth day, which is disallowed with the traditional Friday afternoon to Sunday morning period of time.

Hot cross buns are traditionally toasted and eaten on Good Friday in Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

Here in the United Kingdom, Good Friday was historically a common law holiday and is recognised as an official public holiday, also known as a Bank Holiday. All state schools are closed and most businesses treat it as a holiday for staff, although many retail stores now remain open. Government services in Northern Ireland operate as normal on Good Friday, substituting Easter Tuesday for the holiday. Traditionally there has been no horse racing on Good Friday in the UK, but in 2008, betting shops and stores opened for the first time on this day and in 2014 Lingfield Park and Musselburgh staged the UK’s first Good Friday race meetings. The BBC has for many years introduced its 7am News broadcast on Radio 4 on Good Friday with a verse from Isaac Watts‘ hymn “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross“. That is something I only found out as part of my research for this blog, but it really is a lovely hymn with very well-suited words.

This week…Walls Have Ears
Or, be careful what you say as people may be eavesdropping. It is said that the Louvre Palace in France was believed to have a network of listening tubes so that it would be possible to hear everything that was said in different rooms. People say that this is how the Queen Catherine de Medici discovered political secrets and plots.

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