Thursday, November 15, 2012

In the Light of the Cross: On the Friday Observance

What it is…

The spiritual practice of marking Friday as specially consecrated to God in honor of the Crucifixion is very ancient. This practice is often called the Friday Observance, and is specifically enjoined in the Book of Common Prayer, which says:

Fridays throughout the year (except for Fridays in the Christmas and Easter seasons, and any Feasts of our Lord which occur on a Friday) are observed by special acts of discipline and self-denial in commemoration of the Lord’s crucifixion.” (p. 17)

Probably the most familiar tradition associated with a Friday Observance is to abstain from meat.

Sadly in keeping with our consumer culture, many Episcopal churches are silent on this topic (even though it has long been part of our tradition). As a community in the catholic tradition of Anglicanism, St. Timothy’s frequently encourages and references this practice as part of an over-all attitude of applying our faith to daily life. But, one may ask, what does it mean—in practical terms—to keep a Friday Observance?

Perhaps it might be best to begin with what it does not mean:
  • We are not buying God’s love for us by doing spiritual “extra credit.”
  • A Friday Observance is not a form of spiritual anorexia or showmanship
  • The Crucifixion is not, in itself, what we mourn on Fridays: we mourn the sins that made the crucifixion necessary.
  • We don’t feel bad about sin on Fridays so that we can cut ourselves slack at other times.
Instead, a Friday Observance is a positive choice for bringing to mind God’s love for us in Christ, and his complete identification with us through his suffering and death. Each Friday (outside of Feasts) is an opportunity to contemplate this truth, and to give thanks for it.

Being mindful of this helps us learn to live more consciously in the radiant light of the Cross—always for us a sign of God’s victory over sin and death. It also helps us to reject the deceptions of our passions, which seek to convince us that by heeding them we will be able to avoid the reality of our mortality and vulnerability. A Friday Observance is just one more way we learn to live whole and integrated spiritual lives before God and with our neighbor.

How to do it…

Though the Prayer Book tells us of the importance of a Friday Observance, it does not give detailed direction about how to keep it. This is, in itself, a window into the mindset of Anglicanism. Ours is not supposed to be a legalistic form of Christianity. It is meant always to preserve the balance between sacred tradition arising from the ancient Apostolic Church and the liberty of Christians who follow Jesus as Lord and Master today.

The Prayer Book’s language does, however, give us some key points to consider when developing our own Friday Observance practices. It speaks of “special acts of discipline” and of “self-denial.”

Discipline here is directly related to its Latin root: instruction or knowledge. This part of a Friday Observance emphasizes learning through prayer, sacred reading, or service. This might include various acts, such as:
  • Reading one of the Gospel accounts of Christ’s Passion or other passages of Scripture (especially the Psalms), with time for silence, prayer, or journaling.
  • Offering this prayer by Lancelot Andrewes (17th century Anglican bishop), summarizing Christ’s Passion.
  • Saying these prayers through the day on Friday
  • Making Friday a day of special intercession for those in need around the world, and locally, prayed in the light of the Cross of Christ
  • Praying the Great Litany
  • Singing hymns or songs in praise of the Crucifixion
  • Serving in a soup kitchen or other place of outreach to those in need
  • Attending a Friday worship service, where and when possible
  • Going to a church at lunch time and spending the time before the Holy Sacrament
  • Giving alms directly, or setting aside alms on Friday for a particular cause, in thanksgiving for Christ’s love poured out on the Cross
  • Using any of the prayers from this section of the Rector’s blog
The other part of this observance is self-denial. This is not a rejection of good things in order to feel miserable, but an acknowledgement of the greater good of the Cross. As with Lent, we are reminded by our Friday Observance that we do not “live by bread alone” (or by any earthly thing alone). In a society glutted by excess, this is an essential message and practice. Fasting is, let us remember, expected not only by the Church, but by Christ himself. Some practices of self-denial on Fridays might include:
  • Not eating meat
  • Abstaining from one meal (and using the time for prayer, and the money saved for alms)
  • Abstaining from alcohol
  • Fasting from electronic entertainment, dinners out, &c.
All of these are simply suggestions. The important point is to weave a loving consciousness of the Cross into the very fabric of our lives.

The fruit of a Friday Observance is an awareness that the Cross is not a symbol of death, alienation, or shame for the Christian, but a way of life leading to freedom, joy, and union with God.

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