Finding the Good in Good Friday

"St.Martin-Karfreitag36" by Bene16 - eigens Werk. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
“St.Martin-Karfreitag36” by Bene16 – eigens Werk. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

When I was younger, and through my seminary years, I had usually seen the crucifix and Jesus’ suffering on the Cross in somber tones. It was my sin that put Him there, had made Him suffer. The Cross was something that compelled a silent reverence and suggested to me that I meditate deeply on what Jesus had to go through. I would also think of Mary, John, and the other women beneath the Cross mournfully beholding Jesus as He was slowly and painfully dying. These were heavy and somber notes but deeply moving themes.

In addition, the crucifix reminded me that I must carry my cross and go through the Fridays of my life. I needed to learn the meaning of sacrifice.

Liturgically, I also saw the crucifix as a way of restoring greater reverence in the Mass. Through the ’70s and ’80s, parishes had largely removed crucifixes, often replacing them with “resurrection crosses” or just an image of Jesus floating in mid-air. I used to call this image “touchdown Jesus” since He floated in front of the Cross with His arms up in the air as if signaling a touchdown. In those years we had moved away from the understanding of the Mass as a sacrifice and were more into “meal theology.” The removal of the crucifix from the sanctuary was a powerful indicator of this shift. Many priests and liturgists saw the Cross as too “somber” a theme for their vision of a new and more welcoming Church, upbeat and positive.

This “cross-less” Christianity tended to lead to what I thought was a rather silly, celebratory style of Mass in those years and I came to see the restoration of the crucifix as a necessary remedy to restore proper balance. I was delighted when, in the mid ’80s and later, the Vatican began insisting in new liturgical norms that a crucifix (not just a cross) be prominent in the sanctuary and visible to all, and further, that the processional Cross had to bear the image of Christ crucified (it could not just be a bare cross).

Balance Restored – I was (and still am) very happy about these new norms because they restore the proper balance in seeing the Mass as making present the once-for-all, perfect sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross. It is also a sacred meal, but it is the sacrifice that gives it its power. I also thought that such a move would help bring proper solemnity back to the Mass; to some extent this has been true.

All of this background is just to say that I saw the Cross, the crucifix, in somber, serious tones, a theme that was meant to instill solemnity and sobriety, a meditation on the awful reality of sin and our need to repent. And all of this is fine and true.

But the Lord wasn’t finished with me yet. He wanted me to see another understanding of the Cross. He wanted to balance my balance!

In effect, He also wanted me to experience the “good” in Good Friday. For while the Cross is everything described above, it is also a place of victory and love, of God’s faithfulness and our deliverance. There’s a lot to celebrate at the foot of the Cross.

It happened one Sunday in Lent of 1994, one of my first in an African-American Catholic parish. It being Lent, I expected the highly celebratory quality of Mass to be scaled back a bit. But, much to my surprise, the opening song began with an upbeat, toe-tapping gospel riff. At first I frowned. But then the choir began to sing:

Down at the cross where my Savior died,
Down where for cleansing from sin I cried,
There to my heart was the blood applied;
Glory to His name!

Ah, so this WAS a Lenten theme! But how unusual for me to hear the Cross being sung of so joyfully! (You can hear the song in the video below; try not to tap your toe too much.)

It was something quite new for me. Perhaps it shouldn’t have been but it was. The Catholicism of the ’70s and ’80s had found it necessary to remove the Cross to celebrate. But here was celebration with and in the Cross! Here was the good in Good Friday.

The Choir continued,

I am so wondrously saved from sin,
Jesus so sweetly abides within;
There at the cross where He took me in;
Glory to His name!

Congregation and choir were stepping in time and clapping, rejoicing in the Cross, seeing it in the resurrection light of its saving power and as a glorious reflection of God’s love for us. Up the aisle the procession wound and the last verse was transposed up a half-step in an even brighter key:

Oh, precious fountain that saves from sin,
I am so glad I have entered in;
There Jesus saves me and keeps me clean;
Glory to His name!

Yes, indeed, glory to His name! A lot of dots were connected for me that day. The Cross was indeed a place of great pain but also great love; there was grief but also glory; there was suffering but also victory.

Please do not misunderstand my point. There is a time and place for quiet, somber reflection at the foot of the Cross. All the things said above are true. But one of the glories of the human person is that we can have more than one feeling at a time. We can even have opposite feelings at almost the same moment!

The Balance – Some in the Church of the ’70s and ’80s rejected the Cross as too somber, too negative. They wanted to be more upbeat, less focused on sin. And so out went the Cross. There was no need to do this; it was unbalanced. For at the Cross the vertical, upward pillar of man’s pride and sin is transected by the horizontal, outstretched arms of God’s love. With strong hand and outstretched arms the Lord has won the victory for us: there at the cross where he took me in, glory to His name!

The balance is for the individual and for the Church. Some prefer a more somber meditation on the Cross to prevail while others feel moved by the Spirit to celebrate joyfully at the foot of the Cross. The Church needs both and I suppose we all need some of both experiences. Yes, it right to weep at the Cross, to behold the awful reality of sin, to remember Christ’s sacrifice. But we should rejoice, too, for the Lord has won victory for us right there: Down at the Cross. There’s a lot of good in Good Friday.

Here is the song I heard that Sunday in 1994, sung in very much the style I remember.

14 Replies to “Finding the Good in Good Friday”

  1. In my experience especially in France it isn’t just the Crucifix that has been interfered with.

    The faith in many parishes went through a transition towards “happy clappy” Catholicism that still exists today.

    A focus group of parishioners seems to exist in many parishes that seem to bully Priests that may want to actually celebrate mass correctly.

    The tabernacles were chucked at the side of the churches where that glorious red light of reassurance might not offend or disturb anyone.

    The organ and the kneelers were ditched because apparently we no longer needed to kneel to worship (guitars are better than organs apparently).

    Heaven forbid don’t bother genuflecting that’s a bit too much reverence.

    The mentality moved towards, Jesus should be grateful that we bothered to turn up for Holy Mass after all the homilies no longer mentioned God or the meaning of the readings.

    Communion needs an extra pair of hands (unwashed hands of all things) to be distributed even though because of these falsehoods many had decided that Holy mass was no longer necessary and the masses are empty.

    Don’t keep your children in the church for the homily it’s too tiring and uninteresting lets have a playroom attached to the church and after the homily let’s bring the children back into the mass and let’s all clap.

    The sign of peace………..

    Confession is no longer necessary in fact let’s jazz up confession by offering group confessions.

    Sadly our parish is surrounded by these types of parishes. If our Priest left it would most probably take a week for his 14 years of service here to be destroyed and turned into the above.

  2. Yes, we have a huge touchdown Jesus hanging in our church. Funny. I have said that in our church I feel much joy but something is missing, when I have gone to a church that is much more reverent I realize what it is.

  3. I’ve been having this same experience lately, this balance of the joy of Good Friday with the sorrow. I’ve been feeling it quietly in my soul. This post has helped me trust this spiritual consolation I received a bit more as a true one from the Holy Spirit.

  4. The drink offered to Jesus on the cross on a sponge is described as wine , wine vinegar and vinegar, (Jn 19:29, Mk 15:36, Mt 27:48, Lk 23: 36).
    The Roman army drank posca for 300 years which was sour wine mixed with water flavoured with herbs (wiki) and is presumed by historians as beneficial in killing harmful bacteria in drinking water. The drink offered to the crucified Jesus is likely to have been present as posca for the benefit of the crucifixion party and different from the drugged narcotic ( Mk 15:23 ‘wine drugged with myrrh’ and Mt 27:34 ‘wine to drink mixed with gall’) that Jesus refused at the beginning of the crucifixion.
    While Roman soldiers used sponges to line helmets as padding they also carried sponges for personal ablutions. The acceptance of the posca by Jesus would have completed the fourth cup of the Passover, ‘the cup of blessing’ thus extending the completion of the New Passover or New Covenant at the point of his death.
    John mentions hyssop that some translations give as a stalk on which which the sponge was put. Hyssop is a small plant (1King 5:13) scarcely suitable for carrying a sponge. However the Douai Rheims translates the Vulgate Jn 19:29 ‘circumponentes’ as ‘about’ giving
    ‘Now there was a vessel set there, full of vinegar. And they, putting a sponge full of vinegar about hyssop, put it to his mouth.’
    Hyssop sprigs as a flavouring for posca that may cling to a sponge is consistent with Mark describing the sponge on a reed and thus connects it with the hyssop used to daub the blood of the paschal lamb on the doorpost of the Hebrews (Ex 12:22) noting also the Penitential Psalm 51:9
    ‘Cleanse me with hyssop,* that I may be pure;
    wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.e’

  5. Without the Tree of the Cross, there is no redemption, the gates of heaven will not open and there is no resurrection. The Tree of the Cross is The Tree of Life.

    First Name of God the Son: Morning Star
    Second Name of God the Son: Hidden Manna
    Third Name of God the Son: Tree of Life

    The Tree of Life is the Third Name of God the Son:

    The Revelation has been given to you. It is time for us to UNITE THE FAITH!

  6. There is no celebration of the Mass on Good Friday. It is a feast of grief. It is solemn. Yes, we can see what good came of that sacrifice of Our Lord, but this not the liturgy for that. With all due respect, I would find this song highly offensive on Good Friday, regardless of its lyrics. This to me isn’t any different than the rock band excesses of the 80’s in the Church. This is people making Good Friday their own and that is really any different from when a priest decides to make the Liturgy his own.

    1. You’re entitled to your opinion. But your use of the term offensive is itself offensive. When people start a sentence “With all due respect” I almost always know that none is coming. Has it occurred to you that the very piety you profess here becomes an occasion for sin in the way you speak? Like it or not, some people do express their faith in this way. Rock Band? Please. What is shown here is rather standard gospel fare, quite traditional actually. You are free not to like it, but you ought not call offensive, what many call praise and worship. They’re having Church and praising God for his mercy.

  7. I do not disagree with most of this article. I merely wish to add (some readers may not know) that there is a mystical connection between the Last Supper and the Crucifixion and Death of Jesus. Theologians speculate upon the what of this but not the fact that there is connection. I believe that it is most fitting that there be both a crucifix and an altar in the sanctuary. They testify visually to that connection which is verbalized and actualized in the Consecration and Communion of the Mass.

  8. Thank you for a very interesting article – my dad had given all of us children a resurrection cross many years ago before he died. I love the crucifix as reminder of His sacrifice, and without Good Friday we would not have Resurrection – I think God wants everyone to find Him in whatever way He is calling them. There are so many beautiful images of Jesus. It seems so many aspects of worship are debated – how did early Christians worship? Do you think they would have debated over these small details? God wants your heart. Jesus came for sinners, not the just.

  9. Just keep doing what you are doing. Meaningful, helpful homily’s with occasional gospel music at the end is a wonderful way to use the internet wisely in spreading the good and correct word. Thanks again.

  10. Thank you for a wonderful article. As a former evangelical, i grew up with those wonderful songs, that even singing them as a Catholic, I realize their theological ‘correctness’. Actual way deeper theology than some of the drivel we sing at mass sometimes! Yes, I love the crucifix…after buying the ‘whole’ Bible, the first thing I did after converting was to buy a crucifix necklace and crucifixes for all my rooms. 🙂

  11. Of course, this is nothing but my thoughts. When St. Paul says that we don’t know how to pray as we should, I think he especially has the liturgy in mind. In one way that makes sense, because in the act of consecrating the Eucharist the priest does something that is beyond all expectation of human activity, it makes sense that everything we do surrounding that act should be up in the air, so to speak.

    ” And as the sacramental species are the sacrament of Christ’s true body, so is the breaking of these species the sacrament of our Lord’s Passion, which was in Christ’s true body. “–St. Thomas Aquinas

    Summa Theologica > Third Part > Question 77 > Article 7

  12. I went to a Church where we took the children out for the readings and the sermon. While we were out we studied the readings at a level the children could understand, using actions and questions and answers to help them learn. Sometimes it’s better for them to go out and learn than to sit in the pew and get bored because the sermon is over their heads. And the 4 who behaved best got to carry the gifts on the way back in.

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