Good Friday

rose window
The Rose Window at the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Newark, NJ cathedralbasilica.org by greeneydmantis, on Flickr

As a young Catholic boy, I didn’t understand the “Good” in “Good Friday.” It’s a religious holiday observed primarily by Christians commemorating the crucifixion of Jesus Christ and his death at Calvary. How is that good?

The usage of  “good” is from the now obsolete sense of it meaning pious or holy. (Interestingly, the Old English version of good is gōd.) Today is also known as Holy Friday or Great Friday and is observed during Holy Week as part of the Paschal Triduum on the Friday preceding Easter Sunday, and may coincide (as it does this year) with the Jewish observance of Passover.

The Good Friday I remember most vividly was when I was ten years old. I had to go to a service on that day after school. It was a cold, rainy day. I was bored with the service (in that time, much of it was in Latin) but at about midway through the service thunder and lighting started outside. The lightning lit up the deep colors of the large stained glass window behind the altar.  Jesus on the cross lit up. The heavens boomed. It was dramatic, like a movie. It seemed like more than a coincidence to me. I paid attention.

The Catholic Church – and my mom – treated Good Friday as a fast day. Maybe my blood sugar was low. There is no celebration of Mass between the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday evening and the Easter Vigil and no celebration of the Eucharist. During this period crosses, candlesticks, and altar cloths are removed from the altar which remains completely bare. They emptied the holy water fonts in preparation for the blessing of the water at the Easter Vigil. Traditionally, no bells are rung on Good Friday or Holy Saturday until the Easter Vigil.
The vestments used on Good Friday were black back then.

It’s probably not a fair criticism, but going to church as a kid was never well staged for me. I liked the ritual but I wanted better lighting and better speakers and speeches. That aspect actually became less and less and mass seemed to me to be like going to a meeting. I’m surprised that PowerPoint didn’t become part of it.

I occupied myself by reading the book of Gospels during mass and trying to find poetry in the hymnal.

Eventually, I started bringing novels to church. I have a strong memory of reading The Grapes of Wrath in church and it seemed so much more relevant than what was going on around me. That novel has a number of Bible references and the main metaphor, the “grapes of wrath,” is a reference to Revelations and not a real upbeat message. “The cup of iniquity is full, the grapes of wrath are ripe, and now God crushes them in awesome judgment. Those who have rejected His grace feel the terror of His wrath.”

Historians who look at the details of the Canonical gospels say the Crucifixion of Jesus was most probably on a Friday (John 19:42). They estimate the year of Good Friday as AD 33. It is AD 34 according to Isaac Newton who used the differences between the Biblical and Julian calendars and the crescent of the moon to make a calculation. Another astronomical approach is based on a lunar Crucifixion darkness and eclipse model (see the Apostle Peter’s reference to a “moon of blood” in Acts 2:20) points to Friday, 3 April AD 33.

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Ken Ronkowitz

A lifelong educator on and off the Internet. Random by design and predictably irrational. It's turtles all the way down. Dolce far niente.

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