‘Now is the judgement of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.’ John 12:31-32
This evening we continue to explore the rites and liturgies that accompany our Easter celebration in the Easter Triduum. Yesterday we talked about Maundy Thursday and the institution of the Eucharist as the Sacrament in which the love of Christ for us is manifested ‘to the end’ (John 13:1); today I would like to share with you some thoughts about the Good Friday Liturgy. First of all we call it “liturgy” because it is not a Eucharist. We will indeed receive Holy Communion at the end of that service, but the sacrifice of praise of the Mass will not be celebrated; Communion will be administered from the reserved Sacrament consecrated on Maundy Thursday. This is the only day of the year in which Mass cannot be celebrated at any time. So in some church traditions a rather peculiar name for this service has come about, the “Mass of the Pre-Sanctified”; meaning that the liturgy looks a bit like a Mass – with readings, intercessions, and distribution of Communion – but the Sacrament has been “pre-sanctified”, that is consecrated in advance.
Central to this celebration will be the reading of the Passion of Our Lord according to John. On this sombre day, when the church building is deprived of ornaments, the priests prostrate themselves before the barren altar, and the sorrow of death is palpable, John’s passion offers a unique perspective into the mystery of Calvary. In John, Jesus remains in control of the situation even to the bitter end; he is the new Passover Lamb sacrificed for the sins of all; the One who willingly undergoes the suffering of the Cross as his glorification; the One who is willingly lifted up from the earth to draw everyone to himself. In this Passion reading the story of Moses lifting up the serpent in the wilderness, so that those who looked on it found healing from snake poison, finds its right fulfilment (Cf. Numbers 21:8-9).
After the reading of the Passion and the homily, we will have a time of formal prayer, called the “General Intercessions”, for the needs of the world, the Church, and other faith communities. Sure, we pray for the world all the time; but at the Good Friday Liturgy we will make our prayers especially for those who do not know or who refuse Jesus Christ. Therefore, when we will get to that moment in the service, I ask you to pray earnestly, with all your heart, that unbelievers and lapsed Christians may turn to the Cross of Christ to find healing.
After this, we ourselves we will be invited to draw near the Cross of Jesus, as an image of it will be carried to the altar. We will be invited to go up to venerate the Cross, to kiss the wood, to genuflect or bow towards it so that the outward gestures of our bodies may inspire the inward motions of our hearts to turn anew to the Cross and find healing for ourselves.
The distribution of Holy Communion – under the form of bread alone – will conclude our liturgy and then the Church will be silent again in preparation for the Easter Vigil and the day of resurrection.
Look at Jesus on the Cross and be saved! Look at the Crucified Lord; approach, draw near to the Cross and be saved. This is the message of our Good Friday Liturgy. This we will do both by meditating on the Scriptures, and by venerating that instrument of death and torture, which through the death of Our Lord Jesus has become the instrument of salvation for all.