April 7, 2023 // Bishop's Column: In Truth and Charity

Good Friday

April 7, 2023
St. Matthew Cathedral, South Bend

I sometimes get asked why we call this day of Christ’s death “Good Friday” since it is the day of Our Lord’s horrible crucifixion.  I usually answer with the words I learned when I was a little boy, the answer that was given in the Baltimore Catechism: Good Friday is good because on this day Christ “showed His great love for man and purchased for him every blessing.”

Good Friday has different names in different parts of the world.  In many places, it is called “Holy Friday.”  That’s what our Latino brothers and sisters call today: “Viernes Santo.”  Our Eastern Catholic brothers and sisters and Orthodox Christians refer to today as “Great and Holy Friday” or simply “Great Friday.”

Today is truly good; it is great and holy, because it is the day of our redemption.  It is a day of hope.  But it is also a day of sorrow.  In fact, German-speaking countries call today “Karfreitag” (“Sorrowful Friday”).  Similarly, Saint Ambrose, back in the fourth century, called it the “Day of Bitterness.”

Good Friday is both a day of sorrow and a day of hope. First, it is a day of great sorrow.  We express our sorrow for our sins by fasting today and by abstaining from meat. It is also the only day of the year, in both the East and the West, when Mass is not celebrated.  Back in the third century, the ancient Christian writer, Tertullian gave the reason.  He said: “It is not fitting that we should celebrate a feast on that day when the Bridegroom is taken from us.”

Yes, Good Friday is indeed a day of sorrow.  Today we contemplate the passion and death of our Lord.  We contemplate the man of sorrows, the suffering servant prophesied by Isaiah in the first reading, “whose face was marred beyond human semblance,… spurned and avoided by people, a man of suffering,…one of those from whom people hide their face”.  We heard this prophecy fulfilled in Saint John’s account of the Passion of Jesus.  We heard, as Isaiah foretold, the prophecy fulfilled that “though the servant was harshly treated, he submitted and opened not his mouth; like a lamb led to the slaughter or a sheep before the shearers, he was silent and opened not his mouth.  Oppressed and condemned, he was taken away…”.  Jesus, mostly silent during the passion and his trial, was condemned to death by Pilate, and he was taken away was to the Place of the Skull, Golgotha, and nailed to the cross.

After Jesus died, a soldier thrust a lance into Jesus’ side.  Saint John tells us that this fulfilled another prophecy from Scripture, a passage from Zechariah, which says: “They will look upon him whom they have pierced.”  On Good Friday, we do so.  We gaze in contemplation upon the face of Jesus nailed to the cross, on the Suffering Servant of God, on Him whose heart was pierced with a sword.  We are filled with sorrow today because we know, as Isaiah prophesied, that Jesus “was pierced for our offenses, crushed for our sins” and that He bore our iniquities when He carried the cross.  As the Catechism says: “the Church has never forgotten that ‘sinners were the authors and the ministers of all the sufferings that the divine Redeemer endured.”  Saint Francis of Assisi once said to his brother friars words that can be addressed to us: “demons did not crucify Jesus. It is you who have crucified him and crucify him still, when you delight in your vices and sins.”  So, today, Good Friday, should be a day of repentance and sorrow for our sins.  We will hear the chanting of the Reproaches when we venerate the cross today: the Lord saying to us, as God said to His chosen people Israel: “My people, what have I done to you? Or how Have I grieved you?  Answer me.”  This part of our Good Friday liturgy may be uncomfortable.  The Reproaches are difficult to hear.  But they help us to remember that Jesus died for our sins.  Yet, we should listen to the Son of God asking us these questions “not with the accusatory voice of a judge, but with the quiet cry of a lover.”  Otherwise, we could fall into the sin of despair.  When we look at Jesus on the cross, we should be filled with sorrow for our sins, but not fall into despair because we are looking at the face of God’s mercy, the face of the One who loved us to the end.  We are looking at the pierced heart of Jesus from which flowed cleansing water and the blood of the new covenant that was poured out for the forgiveness of sins.  We are looking at the Sacred Heart of Jesus from which the Church was born and the sacraments of Baptism and the Eucharist came forth.  We are gazing at the Heart which reveals to us the love of God for every human being and from which we receive His Spirit.  So we do not despair like Judas.  We repent like Peter.  At the same time, we must beware of the sin of presumption which is why we need to hear the Reproaches and recognize that we are sinners who need to repent and turn to our merciful Savior with true sorrow for our sins.

We heard in the second reading from the letter to the Hebrews, that “we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God.”  The author writes: “So let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help.”  We believe, as the letter says, that when Jesus “was made perfect (by his obedience to death), he became the source of salvation for all who obey him.”

So today is not only a day of sorrow, it is a day of hope.  It really is Good Friday.  It truly is Great Friday because it is the day of our redemption.  We will venerate the cross today, not as an instrument of torture and death or as a sign of defeat, but as the luminous sign of God’s love.  We venerate the cross of Jesus because by His holy cross, He has redeemed the world.  We venerate the cross as the tree of life because our crucified Lord overcame evil and death with the power of merciful love.  His Resurrection, the celebration of which will be the climax of this Paschal Triduum, gives us this certainty.  Our crucified Lord became our risen Lord.

Finally, brothers and sisters, I invite you to entrust yourselves today to the Blessed Virgin Mary who accompanied her Son on this day of sorrow.  From the cross, Jesus gave her to us as our mother and entrusted us to her loving care.  She accompanies us in our sorrows. Our Blessed Mother is always with us, especially when we are hurting and going through trials and sufferings. She gives us comfort with her compassion and love.  Mary is our  to comfort us in the trials and sufferings of our lives.  She is Our Lady of Sorrows and our Mother of Consolation.

As we now proceed in this liturgy to offer the Solemn Intercessions in which the Church prays for the salvation of the whole world, may Mary our Mother offer these prayers with us through Jesus her Son, our great High Priest who intercedes for us at the right hand of the Father.


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