Good Friday Liturgy


Today is Good Friday.

Catholics do not celebrate a complete Mass on Good Friday. There is no Mass at all on Holy Saturday. There is a hiatus between Holy Thursday which commemorates the Last Supper and the institution of the Eucharist and Easter Sunday which commemorates Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. In the Church calendar, Jesus is dead and in his tomb. Just as Jesus’ disciples mourned him from the time of his death on Friday until Sunday when Mary Magdalene (Mark 16:9-11, John 20:1-2, 11-18) came and brought the good news that he had risen and she had seen him, so too the Catholic Church mourns the death of Jesus from Good Friday until Easter. (See the Daily Roman Missal. Midwest Theological Forum Inc. 2011)

If Jesus is dead, it is illogical to bring him back to life again in the Mass on either Friday or Saturday since at every Catholic Mass; Jesus transforms the host and the wine into his own body and blood.  He is truly and substantially present at every Mass. So to try to commemorate and enter into the grief his disciples felt from the time of his death until his resurrection, the Church too feels the grief of his passion and death. The church exemplifies the emptiness and abandonment the disciples must have felt during those dark days, by having an empty church.

Good Friday is part of Easter week which begins on Passion Sunday, the Sunday before Easter, and runs through Easter Sunday. Holy Thursday is the start of the Easter Triduum, or the three most solemn feasts in the Christian calendar – Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday – are inseparable. They constitute a continuum of events in the life of Jesus.

Holy Thursday, commemorating the Last Supper, and memorializing the institution of the Eucharist, begins the passion and death of Jesus (Mat 26:1727:66; Mark 14:12-15:47; Luke 22:1 – 23:56; John 13:1-15). The tabernacle has been entirely emptied for this liturgy. At the consecration, only enough hosts are consecrated for the congregation present as well as a sufficient amount for those who might be attending the Good Friday liturgy. The unconsumed host is taken to an “Altar of Repose.” After the Mass the altar is stripped of cloths, candles and/or cross.

If there are crosses or crucifixes in the church, they are either moved out of the Church or covered. In effect, the Church is declaring that Jesus is “gone from us.”

Good Friday commemorates the agony in the Garden, the trials, crucifixion, death and burial of Jesus with a liturgy that omits the central part of the Mass, the consecration of the host and wine into the body and blood of Jesus. Until The Second Vatican Council, a Tre Hore (three hour) service was celebrated on the afternoon of Good Friday beginning at 3 PM. Today, in large parishes, a morning liturgy is also celebrated to accommodate those wishing to be present.

The liturgy for Good Friday begins with the Priest, in red vestments, entering the church and kneeling at the altar steps to pray. When he and his attendants climb the altar steps, he turns to the people and begins the first prayer. The congregation is asked to sit. The first scripture reading is taken from Isaiah (52:13 – 53:12). The second reading is from Hebrews (4:14-16; 5:7-9) followed by the Gospel of John (18:1-19:42).

The Liturgy of the word concludes with prayers of Intercession.

The second part of the liturgy is the veneration of the cross. The priest, deacons, lay ministers and the faithful approach the cross silently, and make reverence to it before returning to their seats. Then the cross is carried to the altar and the communion of the faithful begins.

The priest, or a deacon, goes to the Altar to Repose and brings the ciborium (a large covered chalice holding the hosts that were consecrated on Thursday), to the altar which is now covered by a clean cloth.  The Our Father is said by all followed by the usual prayers before communion. The Eucharist is distributed to all Catholics present.  Following communion, the empty ciborium is either taken from the church or placed back in the tabernacle. After a period of silence, the priest recites the concluding prayers of dismissal, then after genuflecting to the cross, he and his deacons leave the church. The faithful may then leave. All is done in reverential silence.

The altar is once again stripped, but the cross may remain with two to four lit candles beside it. The red sanctuary light indicating the presence of Jesus in the tabernacle, is now out.

Holy Saturday is a day of waiting for the solemn vigil of Easter that begins at midnight. No one may receive communion on this day except someone who is dying. The church is empty. There will be no liturgy and no sacraments of any kind on Holy Saturday.

The Good Friday liturgy is similar to but not identical with the usual celebration of the Eucharist (Mass). Although the Liturgy of the Word follows a similar pattern and there is the communion of the faithful, the actual consecration of the host and wine into the body and blood of Jesus is omitted and the veneration of the cross is substituted.