Good Friday - Encyclopedia

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GOOD FRIDAY (probably "God's Friday"), the English name for the Friday before Easter, kept as the anniversary of the Crucifixion. In the Greek Church it has been or is known as r&axa [a-7- au 7rapaaK€v?7, 7rapao-Kan) A y&X?7 or &yia, acorrlpta or T& acorilpca, 'ijµEpa Tou aravpoii, while among the Latins the names of most frequent occurrence are Pascha Crucis, Dies Dominicae Passionis, Parasceve, Feria Sexta Paschae, Feria Sexta Major in Hierusalem, Dies Absolutionis. It was called Long Friday by the Anglo-Saxons 1 and Danes, possibly in allusion to the length of the services which marked the day. In Germany it is sometimes designated Stiller Freitag (compare Greek, Ef3bo,u&s t17rpaKro; Latin, hebdomas inoficiosa, non laboriosa), but more commonly Charfreitag. The etymology of this last name has been much disputed, but there seems now to be little doubt that it is derived from the Old High German chara, meaning suffering or mourning.

The origin of the custom of a yearly commemoration of the Crucifixion is somewhat obscure. It may be regarded as certain that among Jewish Christians it almost imperceptibly grew out of the old habit of annually celebrating the Passover on the 14th of Nisan, and of observing the "days of unleavened bread" from the 15th to the 21st of that month. In the Gentile churches, on the other hand, it seems to be well established that originally no yearly cycle of festivals was known at all. (See Easter.) From its earliest observance, the day was marked by a specially rigorous fast, and also, on the whole, by a tendency to greater simplicity in the services of the church. Prior to the 4th century there is no evidence of non-celebration of the eucharist on Good Friday; but after that date the prohibition of communion 1 See Johnson's Collection of Ecclesiastical Laws (vol. i., anno 957): "Housel ought not to be hallowed on Long Friday, because Christ suffered for us on that day." became common. In Spain, indeed, it became customary to close the churches altogether as a sign of mourning; but this practice was condemned by the council of Toledo (633). In the Roman Catholic Church the Good Friday ritual at present observed is marked by many special features, most of which can be traced back to a date at least prior to the close of the 8th century (see the Ordo Romanus in Muratori's Liturg. Rom. Vet.). The altar and officiating clergy are draped in black, this being the only day on which that colour is permitted. Instead of the epistle, sundry passages from Hosea, Habakkuk, Exodus and the Psalms are read. The gospel for the day consists of the history of the Passion as recorded by St John. This is often sung in plain-chaunt by three priests, one representing the "narrator," the other two the various characters of the story. The singing of this is followed by bidding prayers for the peace and unity of the church, for the pope, the clergy, all ranks and conditions of men, the sovereign, for catechumens, the sick and afflicted, heretics and schismatics, Jews and heathen. Then follows the "adoration of the cross" (a ceremony derived from the church of Jerusalem and said to date back to near the time of Helena's "invention of the cross"); the hymns Pange lingua and Vexilla regis are sung, and then follows the "Mass of the Presanctified." The name is derived from the fact that it is celebrated with elements consecrated the day before, the liturgy being omitted on this day. The priest merely places the Sacrament on the altar, censes it, elevates and breaks the host, and communicates, the prayers and responses interspersed being peculiar to the day. This again is followed by vespers, with a special anthem; after which the altar is stripped in silence. In many Roman Catholic countries - in Spain, for example - it is usual for the faithful to spend much time in the churches in meditation on the "seven last words" of the Saviour; no carriages are driven through the streets; the bells and organs are silent; and in every possible way it is sought to deepen the impression of a profound and universal grief. In the Greek Church also the Good Friday fast is excessively strict; as in the Roman Church, the Passion history is read and the cross adored; towards evening a dramatic representation of the entombment takes place, amid open demonstrations of contempt for Judas and the Jews. In Lutheran churches the organ is silent on this day, and altar, font and pulpit are draped in black, as indeed throughout Holy Week. In the Church of England the history of the Passion from the gospel according to John is also read; the collects for the day are based upon the bidding prayers which are found in the Ordo Romanus. The "three hours" service, borrowed from Roman Catholic usage and consisting of prayers, addresses on the "seven last words from the cross" and intervals for meditation and silent prayer, has become very popular in the Anglican Church, and the observance of the day is more marked than formerly among Nonconformist bodies, even in Scotland.

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