He was offered because he himself willed it; and he himself has borne our sins. – Antiphon on Canticle 14 from Good Friday Morning Prayer.
There is an admirable simplicity to the Good Friday liturgy’s opening. So ancient is its source that it has almost no preface. In early Christian worship, many liturgies began abruptly. The people assembled and the service “began” with the reading of Scripture. That is quite close to what we do this evening.
The Good Friday Liturgy, the middle part of the Triduum, is largely a service of the Cross and is soaked in the Scriptures.
We hear the prophesy of the Suffering Servant from Isaiah 52/53, fulfilled in Christ. We sing again the moving and unutterably exact Passion Psalm (22). Through a reading from the Letter to the Hebrews, we are taught again the effect of the Cross, in which God “forgets” our “sins and lawless deeds” through his mercy. Finally, we participate in the Passion Gospel once more – though on this day, always from the unique and penetrating perspective of St. John. Like someone carefully examining a precious jewel from all sides, we contemplate from many perspectives this “means of shameful death become the means of life” for us.
Then, we move from contemplation to action. That action begins by taking up our priestly ministry, given us by Christ. For, as the Revelation to John so boldly states, Christ the Great High Priest through his death has made us a “kingdom, priests, to serve his God and Father.” We do this by praying for the world, for this intercessory work is at the heart of what it means to be a priest. It was just this priestly identity that Adam and Eve forsook by trading their communion with God for life apart from the Trinity. It was restored to us in Christ. When Jesus “reigned from the tree” of the Cross, he interceded – stood between – God and the world. He entered into full communion with us even as he shared full communion with the Father. He gave us back our priestly nature, and so we exercise it on this day in the Solemn Collects.
The next action we take is to venerate the Cross of Christ. This, too, is a priestly deed. A priest receives from the hand of God and offers “the sacrifice of thanksgiving.” No other sacrifice is needed or, after this day, desired. And so we come before the Cross in profound gratitude for the “love shed abroad to the ends of the cosmos” there, singing hymns of praise even as we lament the sins of humanity that made this awesome sacrifice necessary.
Finally, we receive the Holy Mysteries of Christ in the one time of the year the Mass of the Pre-sanctified is offered. Since every celebration of the Eucharist is a proclamation of the Resurrection, it has long been the tradition of the catholic faith to fast from celebrating this Sacrament on the days commemorating his death through to his Resurrection. However, a tradition arising in the 6th century (originally to counter a heresy about the Divine Nature of Christ at the time of his death) whereby reserved Sacrament was used for communions on this day is allowed. At St. Timothy’s, we offer the Blessed Sacrament on Good Friday as direct participation in the “eternal yes” of God in Christ, even on this most solemn day. For, we know that Christ has the victory over death, and that nothing can take this away from us. We must be reminded that this is a “Good” Friday. As the antiphon at the beginning of this entry soberly reminds us, this is not a day of disaster or failure: it is the day of Christ’s own choosing. He willed it, and from it comes our salvation.
Then, suddenly, the liturgy stops and goes into recess once more. We will gather again on Holy Saturday for the distinctive “Little Tomb Service,” and then go into recess once again until the Great Vigil, keeping in mind that everything we do, everything we witness, is part of one great Mystery of Redemption. Only when we arrive at the dismissal concluding the Easter Vigil will we have come to the end of this Great Day made of three calendar days.