If the Friday on which Jesus died to save us is “Good,” why do so many churches treat the service like a funeral? If Easter happened, why do most liturgies of Good Friday function as though it never did? These are the questions I ask myself having seen Good Friday celebrated in many churches – most Catholic, some not. I am proud to say that the parish community of Saint Mary of Mount Carmel / Blessed Sacrament in Utica, New York, where I am presenting consulting for Holy Week services, while giving the Liturgy of the Passion all of its appropriate solemnity, does not fall into the trap of surrounding it with a funereal aura.
The texts of the liturgy, in fact, without mincing words about suffering and pain, all point toward Easter’s triumph, without letting it encroach on this day’s important focus on the cross. However, what is venerated is not a crucifix with a corpus celebrating death, but the cross, empty, as a reminder of the Christ who suffered out of the depth of integrity he felt for his relationship with God, and who, in so doing, transformed an ultimate act of violence into a force for new life.
Good Friday’s liturgy is a reminder that where we think God is least present, there God is most active.
Mount Carmel celebrates this liturgy in a way that expands liturgical rubrics but holds with integrity the deep structure of the liturgy of this day, which is not a Mass, as the Eucharist is not celebrated by the Catholic Church anywhere in the world on this day. Rather a communion service of pre-sanctified elements from the night before are used.
A prelude of classical instrumental music set the mood. The liturgy proper begins in silence. Readings and prayers are simply proclaimed and prayed. During the psalm, two young dancers enact a choreography of faithful surrender to God as the refrain “I put my life in your hands” is repeated. The Passion from the Gospel of John is proclaimed – a story very different from that found in Matthew, Mark and Luke in terms of emphasis if not content. In the other Gospels, Jesus is acted upon and brought to trial, to Pilate, and to the cross. In John’s Gospel, Jesus is presented as being the one in control of everything and bringing things to fulfillment in his own way and his own terms. This does not mean there is not suffering and death; there is that but there is a theological reflection at work here that Christ conquers death through his “exaltation” on the cross. The work of salvation reaches its climax when Christ “bows his head and hands over his spirit.” Hands over to whom? To God, to be sure, but also, and perhaps more importantly, to those who follow him, to the church. Good Friday and Pentecost are united theologically in John’s Gospel.
At Mount Carmel, the assembly does not play act the crowds responses; instead a musical response is woven into the Gospel reading, reminding us of Christ’s exaltation on the cross according to John with words from elsewhere in his Gospel: “And lifted up from earth he draws all people to himself.”
The homily and Prayers of the Church follow, in which care is taken to lift up those who have faith, those who struggle with faith, places in the world wracked by violence, those who are sorrowful, ill or without hope and a simple sung refrain is offered for each: “Crucified, Lord receive our prayer.”
The veneration of the cross is made with both well-worn songs such as “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” and a more recent reflection of the suffering of Christ in our own time with Bob Hurd’s “Behold the Cross.” The simple communion rite is capped by the beautiful reflection song on John 3:16-17 from Marty Haugen, “For God So Loved the World.”
Here are a few photos from earlier today, with more to come following the service tonight at 7 p.m.
Cantors, a young clarinet player and two young ladies will enrich the setting of Psalm 31 in the Good Friday Liturgy of the Passion. This picture is from a practice early in the day.
Now that the Easter weekend is over I can add some additional videos from Good Friday’s Liturgy of the Passion.
Here is the enactment of the gesture with the Responsorial Psalm of the Day – the setting entitled “I Put My Life in Your Hands” by David Haas.
Here is a creative proclamation of the Great Intercessions of the Church. The adapted text for seven intercessions was proclaimed by a different member of the assembly who came forward with a candle that was lifted up during the prayer. The candle was then placed by a memorial to Christ Entombed and the sung refrain was an adaptation of the response to the General Intercessions composed by Fr. Ray East. Instead of “O Lord, receive our prayer,” the refrain on this day was “Crucified Lord, receive our prayer.”
A brief excerpt of “Pie Jesu” by Andrew Lloyd Weber sung beautifully as a post-communion meditation.