Good Friday Liturgy
Volume Two, Issue I
Good Friday at Old St. Mary’s
Good Friday services at Old St. Mary’s are steeped in the ancient liturgies and devotions of the Catholic Church. Since the 4th century, celebrating the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass has been forbidden on this day while the Church joins the Lord in His Passion and mourns His death on the cross. Following the venerable tradition of representing the time of the crucifixion, Old St. Mary’s offers prayers and liturgy from 12:00 noon until 3:00 p.m.
“For the Christian this day cannot be other than an intense participation: …the believer stands with the apostle John, with Mary Most Holy, and the women at His feet at Golgotha in order to reflect on these dramatic yet exalting events” (Pope John Paul II, General Audience, April 2, 1991).
The fourteen stations of The Way of the Cross begin at Noon using a devotional composed by St. Alphonsus Ligouri during the 18th century. Between each station a verse from the hauntingly beautiful 13th century prayer Stabat Mater is sung:
Who, on Christ’s dear Mother gazing,
Pierced by anguish so amazing,
Born of woman, would not weep?
The Way of the Cross is a devotion traditionally attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, but in some form may predate the 13th century. One ancient Church tradition even holds that the Blessed Virgin Mary herself daily visited the various sites in Jerusalem connected with her Son’s passion. A meditation on the Seven Last Words of the Lord follows the Way of the Cross.
The Liturgy of the Passion begins at 1:30 p.m. with the priest silently entering the bare sanctuary in red vestments and prostrating himself on the floor before the altar. The solemn chanting of the Passion according to St. John by cantors from the choir follows. At the words “Then He bowed His head and delivered over His spirit,” all fall to their knees for silent meditation.
After the Passion and the prayers of intercession for the Church and the world, the faithful are invited forward to venerate the cross. As the priest unveils the cross, the words Ecce lingnum Crucis, in quo salus mundi pependit (Behold the wood of the Cross on which hung the Savior of the world) are chanted. The faithful respond with Venite adoremus (Come, let us worship). During the veneration, the choir chants the Reproaches of our Savior against His people: Popule meus, quid feci tibi? (My people, what have I done to you? How have I offended you?) Responde mihi (Answer me!).
As each Reproach is sung, cantors in the choir respond with the ancient antiphon in Greek and Latin (Holy is God! Holy and strong! Holy immortal One, have mercy on us!):
Hagios o Theos. Sanctus Deus.
Hagios Ischyros. Sanctus Fortis.
Hagios Athanatos, eleison hymas
Sanctus Immortalis, miserere nobis.
The priest then processes to the altar of repose to bring the Blessed Sacrament consecrated on Holy Thursday forward for distribution. The Pater Noster is then sung, the faithful receive Holy Communion, and a final blessing is given. The priest departs in silence leaving the vigil light extinguished and the Tabernacle empty. Even Vespers is not recited or sung on this mournful day as the Church awaits the Resurrection of her Spouse at the Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday.