Friday, April 06, 2007

Good Friday Post

No. 35 Scenes from the Life of Christ: 19. Crucifixion
Artist: Giotto di Bondone
Date: 1304-06
Fresco, 200 x 185 cm
Location: Cappella Scrovegni (Arena Chapel), Padua

Good Friday1 (also called "Great Friday" or "Holy Friday") is the most somber day of the entire year. A silence pervades, socializing is kept to a minimum, things are done quietly; it is a day of mourning; it is a funeral. The Temple of the Body of Christ is destroyed, capping the the penitential seasons begun on Septuagesima Sunday and becoming more intense throughout Lent. Traditional Catholics wear black, cover their mirrors, extinguish candles and any lamps burning before icons, keep amusements and distractions down, and go about the day in great solemnity.

Jesus was put on the Cross at the very end of the third hour (the time between 9 and noon), and almost the sixth hour. He died at the ninth hour:
Mark 15:25, 33 And it was the third hour, and they crucified Him... And when the sixth hour was come, there was darkness over the whole earth until the ninth hour.

Because Jesus was on the Cross between the hours of Noon and 3:00 PM, these three hours today are considered the most sacred of all. A devotion called "Tre Ore" or "Three Hours' Agony" might be held at this time; if not, you can do it yourself by meditating on His Passion -- reading the Gospel narratives of the Passion, making the Stations of the Cross by yourself, praying the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary, praying the Litany of the Passion, etc. Draw the curtains, take the phone off the hook, turn off televisions and radios, quiet your environment and yourself, and meditate on what Christ has done for you. At 3:00, "The Hour" He died, the atmosphere should be as if you are standing next to the deathbed of your father who died a moment ago.

Catholics also focus their attention on Mary this day and tomorrow (Holy Saturday), empathizing with the pain she endured as Our Lady of Sorrows. In another break in the tradition of veiling statues since Passion Sunday, they might dress the image of Our Lady in a black dress or veil, placing flowers of mourning before it in her honor.

Though a somber atmosphere will last until the Easter Vigil, after "The Hour" (3:00 PM) passes, it eases a bit, and life can go back to a "somber normal." The phone can put back on the hook, etc., but candles and other symbols of Christ shouldn't be used, music shouldn't be played, raucous games should be eliminated, etc., while Christ is "in His Tomb" -- i.e., until after Vigil of Holy Saturday when Eastertide officially begins.

No true Mass is offered today (or tomorrow until the Vigil tomorrow evening); instead a liturgy called the "Mass of the Presanctified" is offered , which is not a true Mass because no consecration takes place. Instead, we consume Hosts consecrated at yesterday's Mass. Vestment colors will be black, and the liturgy consists of lessons, prayer, St. John's version of the Passion, and ends with a long series of prayers for various intentions: the Church, the Pope, the faithful, those engaged in public affairs, catechumens, the needs of the faithful, unity, the conversion of the Jews, the conversion of infidels. These intentions are called the Great Intercessions, and we kneel after each.

Then the Cross will be unveiled and and elevated to be adored by our kneeling three times before it at the words "Venite, adorémus" (come, let us adore). We kneel thrice because He was mocked thrice: in the high priest's courtyard, in Pilate's house, and on Mt. Calvary. Then the priest lays the Cross on a cushion and covers it with a white veil to symbolize the Entombment. He takes off his shoes, like Moses before God, and kneels three times as the choir chants. He and his acolytes kneel and kiss the Cross.

The Cross is held up for us, and we file past - - men first, then women -- to kneel and kiss the Cross while the choir sings the Improperia (the Reproaches) of Christ, in which Our Lord reminds of us all He has done for us and our ingratitude towards Him. Note the use of the singular "thee" in these Reproaches. Our Lord is speaking to you. The first three of the twelve Reproaches are:

O My people, wha have I done to thee? Or wherein have I afflicted thee? Answer Me. Because I led thee out of the land of Egypt, thou hast prepared a Cross for thy Savior.

Because I led thee out through the desert forty years: and fed thee with manna, and brought thee into a land exceeding good, thou has prepared a Cross for thy Savior.

What more ought I to have done for thee, that I have not done? I planted thee, ineed, My most beautiful vineyard: and thou has become exceeding bitter to Me: for in My thirst thou gavest Me vinegar to drinkL and with a lance thou hast pierced the side of thy Savior.

A second choir responds to each of those Reproaches with a trisagion in Greek and Latin.
You might recognize its English translation if you've ever prayed the Divine Mercy chaplet:

O holy God!
O holy God!
O holy strong One!
O holy strong One!
O holy immortal One,
have mercy on us.
O holy immortal One,
have mercy on us!

The remaining nine Reproaches are answered with the response " O my people, what have I done to thee? or wherein have I afflicted thee? Answer me." ("Popule meus, quid feci tibi? aut in quo constristavi te? responde mihi."). The words evoke awe in reminding us of our ancient Israelite heritage -- and evoke humility in recalling how our ancestors failed repeatedly:

For thy sake I scourged Egypt with its first-born: and thou didst deliver Me up to be scourged.

I led thee out of Egypt having drowned Pharao in the Red Sea: and thou to the chief priests didst deliver Me.

I opened the sea before thee: and thou with a spear didst open My side.I went before thee in a pillar of cloud: and thou didst lead Me to the judgment hall of Pilate.

I fed thee with manna in the desert; and thou didst beat Me with blows and scourges.

I gave thee the water of salvation from the rock to drink: and thou didst give Me gall and vinegar.

For thy sake I struck the kings of the Chanaanites: and thou didst strike My head with a reed.

I gave thee a royal scepter: and thou didst give My head a crown of thorns.I exalted thee with great strength: and thou didst hang Me on the gibbet of the Cross.

After the Reproaches, we receive Communion, receiving Hosts consecrated at yesterday's Mass.

It is customary for churches to offer the Way of the Cross devotion on this day, especially around 3:00, the hour of His death. And, again, there may be a tenebrae service (consisting of the Matins and Lauds for Holy Saturday).

Our Lord was laid in the tomb owned by St. Joseph of Arimethea, at a site over which stands now the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre, first built on the spot by St. Helena, mother of Constantine the Great. In Jesus's time, the tomb was outside the city; by the time St. Helena was told of it, it was inside the city walls because Hadrian expanded the city's perimeter -- and had built a pagan temple over the site. The basilica built by St. Helena was destroyed by Caliph al-Hakim in A.D. 1009, and was later re-built over time. 2

The exact spot where "the New Adam" was crucified is marked inside the Basilica, and is said to stand over the place where the first Adam was buried. Matthew tells us what happened when Our Lord's Soul left His Body:

Matthew 27:51 And behold the veil of the temple was rent in two from the top even to the bottom, and the earth quaked, and the rocks were rent.

Tradition tells us that among those rocks which were rent were those beneath the Cross, and that His Blood dripped down into the crevices (visible today) and reached the spot where the first Adam was interred. The Blood of the New Adam covers the sins of the first Adam! 3 A chapel to the first Adam sits under the area marked as the place Our Lord died.

We know the names of the thieves between whom Jesus was cruficied from the apocryphal "Acts of Pilate" (or "Gospel of Nicodemus"), attributed to St. Nicodemus, the member of the Sanhedrin who, along with St. Joseph of Arimethea, entombed Jesus (John 19:39). Book IX:5 reads :

Then Pilate commanded the veil to be drawn before the judgement-seat whereon he sat, and saith unto Jesus: Thy nation hath convicted Thee as being a king: therefore have I decreed that Thou shouldest first be scourged according to the law of the pious emperors, and thereafter hanged upon the Cross in the garden wherein Thou wast taken: and let Dysmas and Gestas the two malefactors be crucified with Thee.

Dismas is considered a Saint -- the patron of prisoners -- and his memorial is on 25 March, the date believed to be the date of the Crucifixion. You'll note that the date is the same as the Feast of the Annunciation, when St. Gabriel visited Mary to tell her she was to have a son; it is ancient tradition that the Prophets died on the same day they were conceived. Legend has it that when the Holy Family went on their "flight to Egypt" to escape Herod's wrath, they were accosted by thieves, among whom were Dismas and Gestas. Dismas felt that there was something different about this Family, and ordered his comrades to leave them alone. His act of natural virtue was repaid by the supernatural gift of faith he received when being crucified next to Our Lord. This pious tale is recounted in the Arabic Infancy Gospel, an apocryphal book likely dated to the 4th c., and originally in Syriac. In it, the thieves' names are given as Titus and Dumachus:

And turning away from this place, they came to a desert; and hearing that it was infested by robbers, Joseph and the Lady Mary resolved to cross this region by night. But as they go along, behold, they see two robbers lying in the way, and along with them a great number of robbers, who were their associates, sleeping. Now those two robbers, into whose hands they had fallen, were Titus and Dumachus. Titus therefore said to Dumachus: I beseech thee to let these persons go freely, and so that our comrades may not see them. And as Dumachus refused, Titus said to him again: Take to thyself forty drachmas from me, and hold this as a pledge. At the same time he held out to him the belt which he had about his waist, to keep him from opening his mouth or speaking. And the Lady Mary, seeing that the robber had done them a kindness, said to him: The Lord God will sustain thee by His right hand, and will grant thee remission of thy sins. And the Lord Jesus answered, and said to His mother: Thirty years hence, O my mother, the Jews will crucify me at Jerusalem, and these two robbers will be raised upon the cross along with me, Titus on my right hand and Dumachus on my left; and after that day Titus shall go before me into Paradise. And she said: God keep this from thee, my son. And they went thence towards a city of idols, which, as they came near it, was changed into sand-hills.

See also: the footnotes of the Mary Gardens page for information about and pictures of the flowers that the women used for Jesus's funeral, and the page on the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross for information about the True Cross.

(copied directly from

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