Today marks the darkest day of the Church year. It is the sobering remembrance of the Word Incarnate, crucified. Liturgically, it is the only day of the entire year that no Eucharistic hosts will be consecrated as a reminder of Christ’s temporary absence. We fast and fall into line to venerate a cross, representing the Cross on which the Savior hung. The universal Church enters the empty, in-between time where Jesus is no longer with us, and not yet returned.
Mystics and theologians have various names for this kind of space—both the heaviness and anguish that can exist here alongside experiences of deep peace. The Irish call these “thin places,” noting that the space between Heaven and earth feels particularly thin, almost as though one could reach out and touch the other side. Others have referred to it as “liminal space,” the space in time where we are on the way. Our ship has left port and not yet arrived at its destination, so to speak. Our role as pilgrims is perhaps never more felt than on Good Friday.
In the cadence of the Triduum (Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday), the “good” in Good Friday has been confusing at best, and unsettling at worst. In its proper context, with an understanding of Salvation History, the “good” in Good Friday makes sense; but without that, it is hard to hear. Perhaps, even difficult to stomach—after all, how can we possibly find reason to celebrate the darkness of this day?
Why is Good Friday “Good?”
If you have ever talked through Holy week with a child, it is likely that you have already fielded this question. Or maybe you prefer to call it “Passion Friday” because it feels a more apt description. Either way, it can feel uncomfortable to put “good” in front of anything heart-wrenching.
The answer is part semantics and part theology. Linguists share that Good Friday may very well have gotten its name because the words “good” and “holy” used to be used somewhat interchangeably.
Ultimately though, we can name this day good because of what it accomplished for humanity in the same we proclaim, “O happy fault” of Adam and Eve’s sin. Each celebrate God’s victorious hand in history which offered salvation to humanity: God’s “drawing straight with crooked lines.”
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Already and Not Yet
Celebrating Good Friday well is embracing our “already and not yet” understanding of salvation.
As Catholic Christians, of course we know how the story ends, and it can be difficult to explain the sobering ritual to children or non-believers alike. Yes, Jesus was crucified, died and rose from the dead once and for all. And we embrace that reality in new ways each year of our lives.
I remember, as a child, being horrified by the living Stations of the Cross at our parish—it was so real for me, I sobbed as though Christ were being hung on a cross before my very eyes while we all stood around, watching.
Good Friday meant something entirely different to me the year we experienced a death in our family,than it has having had the joy of witnessing friends join the Church during Easter Vigil.
Just as I imagine I would have a different experience entering into the Lenten season in the southern hemisphere where winter is dawning and light waning, rather than what I am accustomed to in the northern hemisphere where spring is just unfurling.
In the same way the sacrifice of the Mass brings us back to the heart of the Paschal Mystery (Jesus’ Passion, Death, and Resurrection) each time it is celebrated, our annual return to the darkness of Good Friday is integral to our celebration of Easter Sunday.
Each year I appreciate the wisdom of the liturgical year on a deeper level. The story doesn’t change, but we do. There is no need to come up with a flashy, new theme or logo. Holy Week will provide all that we can ask for in terms of mourning and celebrating well, arriving just as we are. Thank God the Church is ever ancient and ever new, and has different things to teach us each year we find ourselves walking the Lenten road.
Beginning last night with the Holy Thursday foot-washing and remembrance of the last supper, we have ended our Lenten walk and entered into the beauty of Holy Week. However we are arriving this year, my prayer is that we might do so ready to receive whatever it is we need, and that that gift would remain with us throughout the celebration of the Easter season and beyond!
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