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Good Friday

Friday, April 22, 2011
Readings: Isaiah 52:13-53:12; Hebrews 4:14-16; 5:7-9; John 18:1:19:42

Rood of St Cyprian'sGood Friday is the only day in the entire year when the Church does not offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Indeed, in the early Church, today was an aliturgical day when no services were held at all. But by the 8th century, the Roman Church gathered on this day for a synaxis, a service of Scripture readings and prayers that was derived from the Sabbath services of the synagogue. To this was added the Veneration of the Cross, which came from the 4th-century liturgy of Jerusalem, in which pilgrims kissed a relic of the True Cross. And finally, monastic communities in medieval Europe added the reception of Holy Communion - a 'Mass of the Pre-Sanctified' - to the liturgy of Good Friday. Nevertheless, this remains a day on which the Holy Mass is not offered.

And yet, this 'fast' from the Eucharistic Sacrifice gives me pause to think about the Mass and the one Victim whose one sacrifice is offered up for our salvation in each and every Mass. It gives me space to consider the Eucharist and its signs and actions which I can take for granted. And three liturgical actions which pertain to the diaconal ministry strike me today as we focus on the Lord's Passion.

After proclaiming the Gospel at Mass each day, I kiss the text and whisper: "May the words of the Gospel wipe away our sins". This prayer is a reminder that Christ, the living Word who speaks to us in the words of the Gospels, saves us from sin. The Gospel has a power to transform our lives if its words take flesh in our lives, so that the Word of God, Christ himself, lives in us. And the deacon who kisses the sacred text is being judged by the Word, because he was told at his ordination to herald the Gospel, and to "believe what you read, teach what you believe, and practise what you teach". On one level, the kiss is an expression of my embrace of this task, and my love for the Word. But sometimes when I kiss the Gospels, I become conscious of my sinfulness and unworthiness, and the image of Judas kissing the Lord comes to mind (see Mt 26:49). The Lord's words spoken to his apostles, to those he commissioned to herald the Gospel, are also recalled: "The spirit indeed is willing but the flesh is weak" (Mt 26:41). And so, we are taken to Gethsemane at this point of the Mass.

At Gethsemane the Lord also said: "My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt". In his Passion Christ embraced this cup, this holy chalice of suffering, and so "he learned obedience from what he suffered" (Heb 5:8). And that too is what we are called to do. So, when the deacon elevates the chalice and drinks from it, he is being asked (as James and John were): "Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?" (Mt 20:22). That question is put to every Catholic who comes forward at Communion. And saying "Amen", they take the chalice of salvation, the cup of Christ's suffering, and drink from it. So, we embrace the Cross, and we are taken to Calvary to stand, as it were, at the foot of the Cross and to be washed in the blood of the Lamb. But even so, in the back on my mind, I also recall St Paul's warning: "Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgement upon himself" (1 Cor 11:28f).

So, both instances - kissing the Gospel and drinking from the chalice - bring me to a point of self-examination and judgement. And perhaps this too is what the aliturgical space of Good Friday is for.

However, a third diaconal action completes the picture lest we be unduly anxious. When I prepare the chalice during Mass, I mix some water with wine, and say: "By the mystery of this water and wine may we come to share in the divinity of Christ who humbled himself to share in our humanity". And so, I am reminded that we are saved not by our own efforts but by the Incarnation for "God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him" (Jn 3:17). That is, we are saved by the grace and mercy of God revealed in Christ crucified. So, today's second reading exhorts us to "confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help" (Heb 4:16). The Cross is that throne of grace and mercy, and hanging there is our Judge who is able "to sympathize with our weaknesses ... one who has similarly been tested in every way, yet without sin" (Heb 4:15). Therefore, today let us confidently approach the Cross, and kiss it as a sign that we believe that we do receive from Christ our merciful Judge all the grace and help we need. St John says: "He who believes in him is not condemned" (Jn 3:17). Hence we do believe, and we profess in every Mass, that Jesus heals our weaknesses, that his grace strengthens us in times of suffering and temptation, and that Christ will raise us from the death of sin and betrayal to the new and eternal life of Easter.

Lawrence Lew OP


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