The saddest day in Christianity: Good Friday

Holy Week, which begins with Palm Sunday, is the week of preparation for redemption through the suffering, death, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. Today is Good Friday. It is the second and saddest day of the Three Holy Days (Latin Sacrum Triduum Pascale). On this day, Christian churches commemorate the suffering and death of Christ. On Good Friday, there is no Holy Mass, the altar is empty. The service color is red. In Hungary, Good Friday has been a public holiday since 2017. Many folk customs of Christian origin are also associated with this day.

This article originally appeared on our sister site, Ungarn Heute. Translated by Julia Tar.

The service (important to emphasize: not a holy mass, because on this day, according to Christian tradition, Jesus, the Eternal High Priest himself represents the sacrifice = the Lamb of God) consists of three main parts on Good Friday .

  1. Liturgy with readings
  2. Reading of the Passion of John
  3. General Petitions (Great Intercessions), in which the Church prays for all mankind

Then comes the highlight of the service: the homage to the Holy Cross. Originally, Christians in Jerusalem revered the true cross (on which the Lord suffered and died). In addition, this day is a strict day of fasting for the Catholic faithful.

The transformation of hosts is completely absent. At communion, the transformed hosts of Holy Thursday are given. There is no celebration of the Eucharist in the classical sense, on the basis of which we call the service the Mass of the Presanctified, in Latin: missa praesanctificatorum or missa sicca.

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Among the oldest “celebratory elements” of the service on this day are the omission of the opening rites (the priest enters without greeting the congregation and begins the mass “in medias res”), singing or reading of the Passion narrative (Passion of the Lord) according to John, the use of wooden rattles instead of bells and altar bells, the Great Intercessions and the absence of music (organ, at most singing is allowed ).

The structure of the liturgy in Lutheran congregations is similar to Good Friday. However, there are some differences, such as the liturgical color: for Lutherans it is black, in some cases purple. Also, floral decorations and candles are not common, as they are for Catholics. The celebration is centered on the story of the Passion, which is celebrated through sermons, prayers and songs. Here the liturgy, the sermon, plays a more important role than communion, which theologically has a very different meaning and emphasis than in the Catholic Church.

Another important element of Protestant ceremony is church music in the form of Passion chorales such as “O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden”. Passion music later developed into an independent genre: the Passion oratorio. The most famous Passion oratorios were written by JS Bach, who was also a Lutheran and contributed much musically to the development of Protestant church music.

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The celebration of Good Friday in the Eastern Orthodox and Catholic Churches (Byzantine and Slavic) begins on Thursday evening with the morning service (Orthros/Utrenja). This service is characterized by twelve readings from the Gospels. During the service, the Passion texts from the four Gospels are sung.

In the Greek ceremony, the 15th antiphon is sung at the climax. The text of the first stanza of antiphon 15 reads as follows:

Today hangs on the wood that suspended the earth above the waters.
In a crown of thorns is enveloped the king of angels.
False is covered in purple, which covers the sky with clouds.
Blows received him who freed Adam in the Jordan.
With nails was tied the bridegroom of the church.
With a lance was pierced the Son of the Virgin.
We revere your sufferings, Christ.
Show us also your glorious resurrection!

(Source: Wikipedia)

The following offices, already celebrated on Friday morning, are the “royal hours”. During these, in the Greek tradition, the crucifixus is removed from the cross and wrapped in a white sheet. During Vespers, there is a solemn display of Christ’s funeral shroud (=epitaphios or plashchanica). On Good Friday there is also no Eucharist celebrated, as in the Catholic Church. This day is a strict fasting day in Orthodox churches.

Good Friday was declared a public holiday in Hungary in 2017.

In Hungary there are also many folk customs related to Good Friday. The first traces of the festival date back to the 4th and 5th centuries. Its rituals were established as early as the 8th and 9th centuries; they also emphasize veneration and worship of mourning and the cross. Although it was not considered a feast day in the early church because it was a day of fasting, it has been associated with many pre-Christian images, beliefs and customs related to the onset of spring throughout centuries of Christianity. Until recent decades, the best known of these was bathing at dawn: around 2 or 3 in the morning, young people would go to the stream to wash themselves. In some places the animals were watered at the stream, in others the horses were bathed in the river. It symbolized purification. It was a widespread belief that one who washes in the water of the river will become healthy and not sick, will have no pain in the eyes, and will become agile in work. Girls were expected to bathe to look beautiful, not to get freckles.

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In the Christian Middle Ages, bonfires were lit on Good Friday to commemorate the dawn when Jesus was brought before Pilate and the servants and soldiers lit a fire and warmed themselves.

In Felsőpetény, before World War I, a fire was lit next to the church on Good Friday evening in remembrance of the vigil by the fire when the tomb of Jesus was guarded. In some places the custom of “burning Pilate” was practiced on this day. The custom was to beat and burn a straw or cloth doll representing Pilate (who, according to the Gospel, had Jesus crucified). In some cases, Judas was also symbolized by such a doll.

Featured Image: Pope Francis at the Good Friday Service of the Stations of the Cross in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican, nearly empty due to the coronavirus outbreak, on the evening of April 2, 2021. Photo by Angelo Carconi/MTI /EPA /ANSA Pool

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