Good Friday

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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, wh