Isaiah 52:13 - 53:12; Hebrews 4:14-16; 5:7-9; John 18:1 – 19:42
It may seem a little bit odd, but even as a child, I was mysteriously drawn into the liturgy of Good Friday. Everything about it was so different: the somber quiet of the congregation as we gathered, the altar stripped bare of its embroidered linens, statues and crucifixes shrouded with purple drapery, the extra-long gospel of the Passion according to John, solemn intercessions punctuated by repetitive invitations of “let us kneel – let us stand,” the procession and gradual unveiling of the cross followed by its adoration, and Holy Communion with hosts consecrated and reserved from the preceding day. The rich symbolic meaning of each of these elements occupies a permanent niche in the vault of my memories.
It is not uncommon to hear complaints about Catholic liturgy. Some will say it is routine, too formalistic, even boring. We live in an era when novelty is preferred over tradition, when the desire for entertainment frequently trumps the awe and reverence of ritual worship. As a result, even those who faithfully attend church are prone to a certain nonchalance, a pattern of “just going through the motions” on a week-to-week basis without investing the attention and energy needed to comprehend or appreciate the profundity of liturgical ceremonies. This should not be so today; however, as the distinctive features of the Good Friday service provide an opportunity to wake us from our slumber, to sit up and take notice of the unique events that we commemorate on this fateful holy day.
Indeed it is altogether fitting that our celebration of Good Friday be different from any other liturgy throughout the year, for the crucifixion of our Lord was a singular moment, the central fulcrum of salvation history. For on that afternoon, at the “Place of the Skull,” Jesus of Nazareth, whom Pontius Pilate dubbed with irony “the King of the Jews,” died on the cross for the sake of us all. Jesus, the Son of God, became the great high priest and the source of our eternal salvation (cf. Hebrews 4-5). Jesus, whom Christians see prefigured in the descriptions of Isaiah’s “Servant of the Lord,” gave his life as an offering for sin, surely not his but ours; he took upon himself our guilt so that our sins might be taken away and all of our offenses pardoned (Isaiah 52-53).
May the extraordinary significance of this day give us reason to pause and reflect on God’s great love and mercy, as we enter fully into the Paschal Mystery of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Kenneth D. Snyder, Ph.D.
The Saint Paul Seminary School of Divinity
Of the University of St. Thomas