Friday, April 14, 2017 - Updated: 8:00 am
QUESTION: I have always wondered why the Catholic Church does not celebrate Mass on Good Friday.
ANSWER: Not celebrating the Eucharist on Good Friday is an extremely ancient custom, which some authors attribute to the church’s response of mourning on this day. Most sources also note that there is no mention of the distribution of holy Communion on Good Friday in the Roman liturgical tradition before the eighth century.
This ancient custom is also rooted in an appreciation within the church for a liturgy that encompassed more than Mass. The liturgy is essentially the gathering of the assembly for common prayer. For this reason, we can speak of the Liturgy of the Hours, the daily prayer of the church. It is truly a corporate prayer offered by and for the church. Therefore, on Good Friday the church gathers for a “liturgy” that is beautiful in its simplicity and profound in its content.
The church employs this liturgy to “celebrate” the day of the Lord’s passion and death. This unique liturgy might help us to appreciate the variety and potential of our liturgical gatherings and enable us to more deeply appreciate those times when we do gather to celebrate the Eucharist.
The distribution of Communion on Good Friday with the Blessed Sacrament reserved from the Eucharist celebrated the previous evening at the Mass of the Lord’s Supper is a means of remaining spiritually united to Christ when we recall the suffering servant who died so that we could live eternally.
QUESTION: Why do we call Good Friday “good?”
ANSWER: Interestingly enough, this day in the Christian calendar has been called by many names. In some of the earliest calendars it was known as the Friday of Preparation (for the paschal feast). St. Ambrose termed it the “Day of Bitterness.”
As early as the third century, it was the Pasch of the Crucifixion (as Easter was known as the Pasch of the Resurrection). Incidentally, some churches in the East retain that title.
While the official liturgical books use the formal title “Good Friday of the Lord’s Passion,” “Good” Friday seems to be the most common way of designating this day. It would seem that it became known as “good” not because of betrayal, suffering or ingratitude but because of what resulted from this day and the entire paschal mystery of the death, resurrection and glorification of the Lord.
We speak of this day as “good” because it has brought good to us. It is similar to the “good” of childbirth — an example of pain and suffering that brings forth new life. It is also similar to the way in which the Easter Vigil liturgy speaks of the “happy” fault of Adam, “which gave to us so great a Redeemer.” The “goodness” of this day is also seen in the response of Christ on the cross when he asks the Father to forgive those who have persecuted him because “… they know not what they do” (see Luke:23:34). This incredible example of loving forgiveness is “good” for us to see.
Father Bober is pastor of St. Kilian Parish in Adams and Cranberry townships.