Friday, April 07, 2017 - Updated: 8:00 am
QUESTION: I always thought that Good Friday was a holy day of obligation. But now I find out that this is not the case. Is that true, and why isn’t it?
QUESTION: I have never attended any of the days between Palm Sunday and Easter. What actually goes on there?
ANSWER: The first of the two questions sets the tone for Holy Week. Some of the most important and meaningful moments in our lives do not involve “obligation.” If a child were to ask why we have to visit grandma on Mother’s Day, would we give the answer that “it’s an obligation.” From the beginning of the church, the days that recalled the events of the final days of the life of Christ were considered sacred. When they came to be commemorated in the church’s liturgy, no one would have thought of not being there. It was as if the church were celebrating its very life.
So it is with Holy Thursday, when we have the privilege of participating in the liturgical remembrance of the example of service Jesus gave in washing the feet of the disciples. We also share in the Last Supper made present. Each parish celebrates this solemn Eucharist of the Lord’s Supper as a feast of joy and thanksgiving.
At the end of this Mass, the Eucharist is carried through the church in procession to a place where the sacrament may be adored late into the night. It is there, in the silence, that one can contemplate the great mystery of the Eucharist and anticipate its celebration once again at the great vigil of Easter.
On Good Friday, at a convenient time in the afternoon or evening, the church again gathers to hear the Gospel narrative of the passion and death of Jesus, to pray the ancient prayers of petition, to venerate the cross on which the Savior died and to receive the Eucharist consecrated the previous evening. This four-part ceremony is marked by its focus and simplicity. On Good Friday, this liturgical gathering takes precedence over all other devotions and prayers, both private and public.
The church remains in vigil throughout Holy Saturday. The regular Saturday evening Masses are never celebrated. The attention of the entire church awaits the great vigil that is celebrated at nightfall.
This celebration begins with the lighting of the new fire and the illumination of the church from the Easter candle. After the sung praise of that candle, we listen to the narrative of our salvation as unfolded through the Scriptures. Following the Gospel proclamation, the initiation of new members takes place. Through the waters of baptism and the anointing of the Holy Spirit, these new members are prepared to join the entire assembly at the Eucharist. This solemn vigil is the culmination of the church’s entire liturgical year.
To be a Christian is to have celebrated this week in its fullness. We owe it to ourselves and our children to celebrate every moment of these awe-inspiring days. While Holy Thursday and Good Friday are not an obligation of law, these days are a celebration of faith we should never miss.
Father Bober is pastor of St. Kilian Parish in Adams and Cranberry townships.