What’s So Good About Good Friday?

AltarSt.NicholasKalkar

Depiction of the Crucifixion on the High Altar of  the Church of St. Nicholas, Kalkar, in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany (built in 1421 A.D.)

Having made the decision early on that I would publish every Friday morning occasionally presents a dilemma.  My normal process for choosing topics is quite random.  But every now and then, my Friday publication date falls on a day that sort of forces me to turn my attention in a certain direction.  And so it is with Good Friday.

Good Friday, for those who might not be fully up on such things, is the most sorrowful day of the year for Christians.  This is the day that Jesus of Nazareth was arrested, tried, tortured and finally nailed up onto the wooden cross which he was forced to drag to the site of the execution himself.  Tradition holds that he went up on the cross at noon and finally died at 3 pm.  He was then taken to a tomb and buried with the body placed under guard lest his groupies might be tempted to make off with it and claim that he was alive.

This is the day that takes us through some of the most historically verifiable events of the ancient world and the events that make the whole Christianity thing relevant.  After all, if Jesus didn’t die on that cross (and did not rise again on Sunday) then the whole thing is just silly.

Some random thoughts:

When I was in public school in the 1970s, schools let out at noon.  I never really cared why then.  With the continuing de-Christianization of American life, I suspect that this is no longer true.  Except in Bloomington, Indiana where it has become “Spring Holiday” in order to satisfy both the secularists (who can’t condone a public religious holiday) and the public sector unions (who can’t condone giving up a paid day off).

I recall early in my career when I had a secretary who was a Jehovah’s Witness.  She was a dear lady who was very devout in her faith, much more than I was in my own at that time.  I could not, however, miss the irony when she asked if our small law office would close at noon on Good Friday – a day which the Witnesses do not commemorate.  We did, though the reactions were mixed.  One lawyer suggested that only the Christians should leave while another suggested that we should all go to church together from work.  This was all tongue-in-cheek, of course.

So, what does a person *do* on Good Friday.  For anyone genuinely looking to make this day unlike every other Spring Friday, here are a few suggestions.

Go to church.  We Catholics offer several opportunities of varying kinds for Good Friday worship, making for several ways in which one can tune into the sorrow marked by this day.  Of course, many other faith traditions do the same thing, and whatever your faith background, I heartily recommend this one.

Watch Mel Gibson’s Passion Of The Christ.  This 2004 film is an extremely powerful depiction of the events of Good Friday, and perhaps the film that will go down in history as Gibson’s masterwork.  It is not an easy film to watch and consequently I do so only every three or four years.  But if you want to immerse yourself in the down and dirty of what happened in the runup to Easter morning, this would be the movie to see.

If you would rather watch a current film, you might check out The Case for Christ that is now in theaters.  I have not seen it yet, but Bishop Robert Barron has and gives us a bit of a preview.  It may not be a “Good Friday movie” in the strict sense of the term, but appears to give the death and resurrection of Christ some historical context that is much needed in our modern world.

Prayer and fasting.  We Catholics make this one of only two days of fasting in our liturgical year (with Ash Wednesday that marks the beginning of Lent being the other).  Our rules for fasting are pretty relaxed, allowing one full meatless meal for the day and two other times for eating that together do not equal a full meal.  There are, of course, exceptions for the young, the old and those whose dietary needs would make this a problem.

If you want to continually make yourself aware of the sorrow of Good Friday, then make fasting part of your day.  You will be amazed at how much you normally stuff into your mouth at random times during a day when you deny yourself most of it for twenty-four hours.  It works like this: 1) See something good you want to eat or drink.  2) Remember that you have sworn off of most food and drink for the day.  3) Remember that you are doing so because it is Good Friday and 4) Get a renewed mental image of Christ on that cross.  It is pretty effective, really, and is probably my favorite example of how “all the stoopid rules” we Catholics live with are actually for our own good if we will just pay attention.

This last one (the fasting part) is going to be a challenge for me this year.  My mother’s 84th birthday falls on Good Friday and my sister and I have committed to take her out for dinner.  Which makes me really happy about that “one full meatless meal” thing.  I would ordinarily avoid celebrations on this day but this birthday is kind of special because she was actually born on Good Friday too.  Also, this will be her first trip out since moving into a new memory care facility a couple of months ago, and who knows what next year may bring.

If nothing else, I hope that those of you who will join me in some kind of Good Friday observance might have an Easter celebration that is all the more joyful.  And for those who don’t, well I hope you have a joyful Easter as well.

8 thoughts on “What’s So Good About Good Friday?

  1. Thank you for the reminder about this being Good Friday. I knew it was, but it just hadn’t quite sank in completely.

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    • It’s coinciding with my mother’s birthday made it loom large this year. From her birth in 1933 Good Friday never hit April 14 again until 1995. It hit again in 2006 and this year, and will again in 2028 before going cold again until 2090.
      In the back of my mind I remember Mark Twain who was born and died in the years of Halley’s Comet. I always wondered if Mom will go out on a year when Good Friday is 4/14. Most likely just a silly superstition.

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  2. “All the stoopid rules” are stoopid only if you mindlessly follow them. I gave up something for Lent for the first time in my life this year (as my faith tradition is light on the stoopid rules) and found it to put me in contact with God in ways I’m not used to experiencing.

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    • I have found that in faith (like with the rest of life) doing what is really good for me is not something I embrace without some outside pressure. It is great that you got something new out of Lent this year. Every February I dread it terribly but as Easter approaches I realize how much I needed it.

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  3. Great post! One of my daughters has school today and one doesn’t. Ones school had no tests this week because of Passover, the others did. Definitely not a consensus out there. But of course their concerns wasn’t the honoring of the holidays, but whether or not they have tests or school. 🙂

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  4. Interesting bit about fasting. I’ve never fasted, I had it drilled into my head by my mother that we should not fast. She was genuinely hungry during the Dutch hunger winter of 1944-45 and figured that no child of hers was going to be hungry, and that it couldn’t come close to the real experience.

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    • I could see where someone who had experienced real hunger would have some resistance. But I have figured out that this slightly overweight guy can handle an occasional day of deprivation.

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