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Good Friday

The day of Good Friday is observed as a day of fasting and penance in the memory of crucifixion of Jesus Christ. This day symbolizes the victory of good over evil. Read on to know more about this day.

A day of mourning

Every year I get many phone calls from people who want to wish me on Good Friday. They are not to be blamed, for the name is misleading. They assume that if it is 'Good' Friday, something good must have happened on this day. They are quite astonished when I tell them that this is a day of mourning for the Christians as Christ was crucified on this day. "Then what's good about it?" they ask. I tell them that the death of Christ symbolizes the victory of good over evil, but that explanation somehow leaves them more puzzled than before.  

Ever since I was a child, Good Friday meant dragging myself out of bed on a school holiday to attend a three hour church service at the end of which we would get hot cross buns and 'kanji' or rice water. The Friday before Easter, known as Good Friday, is observed as a day of fasting and penance every year in memory of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. This custom goes back as early as the 2nd century.  

Reliving the pain

On this day, the church commemorates Jesus' arrest, his trial, crucifixion and suffering, death, and burial. Since services on this day are to observe Jesus' death, and since Eucharist is a celebration, there is traditionally no Communion observed on Good Friday. In addition, all pictures, statues, and the cross in churches are covered in mourning black. The priest and the choir wear black cassocks and the chancel and altar coverings are replaced with black. Even the altar candles are extinguished. They are left this way through Saturday, but are always replaced with more white or other festive colours on Easter Sunday.

In our church, the three-hour service consists of reading passages from the Gospel about the Seven Last Words of Jesus. Each reading is followed by a message from the priest, a few minutes of silent meditation and a hymn. Good Friday services are aimed at allowing worshippers to experience some sense of the pain and humiliation that Christ experienced on this day so many centuries ago and the service ends in the journey to the cross. 

While our service is for three hours, there are other churches that go on for almost six hours. The traditional Catholic service for Good Friday was held in mid-afternoon to correspond to the final words of Jesus from the cross.  However, modern schedules have led many churches to shift the service to a more convenient time to allow more people to participate. 

The Seven Last Words of Christ

The Seven Last Words of Christ are read from the following Bible passages:
      Father, forgive them . . . (Luke 3:34)
      This day you will be with me in paradise (Luke 23:43)
      Woman, behold your son . . .(John 19:26-27)
      My God, my God . . . (Matthew 27:46, Mark 15:34)
      I thirst.  (John 19:28)
      It is finished! (John 19:30)
      Father into your hands . . . (Luke 23:46)

Some churches use the Stations of the Cross as part of the Good Friday Service. This service uses paintings or banners or even actual re-enactments to represent various scenes from Jesus' betrayal, arrest, trial, and death, and the worshippers move to the various stations to sing hymns or pray as the story is told. There is a great variety in how this service is conducted, and various traditions use different numbers of stations to tell the story.

The Service of Darkness

Another common service for Good Friday is Tenebrae (Latin for "shadows" or "darkness"), also known as the Service of Darkness or Service of Shadows. It is usually held in the evening of Good Friday. As the service progresses through the Scripture readings and meditation, the lights and/or candles are gradually extinguished to symbolize the growing darkness not only of Jesus' death but also of hopelessness in the world without God. The service ends in darkness, sometimes with a single candle, the Christ candle, being carried out of the sanctuary, to symbolize the death of Jesus.

Some churches observe communion on Good Friday. However, traditionally Eucharist is not served on Good Friday since it is a celebration of thanksgiving.  Good Friday is not a day of celebration but of mourning, both for the death of Jesus and for the sins of the world that his death represents. Yet, although Friday is a solemn time, it is not without its own joy, as the somberness of Good Friday should always be seen with the hope of Easter Sunday. I guess that's what's good about Good Friday. 

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