Today, Good Friday, the day before Easter, Christians in predominantly Christian Philippines, like others of the faith round the world, remember the passion and death of Jesus Christ, the day Jesus was arrested and was forced to carry his own cross to the place of his death.
It is the second year running when Good Friday is observed under the pandemic, when health protocols are imposed by the government and health authorities for everybody’s health and safety as the coronavirus disease is going on a rampage this Holy Week in Metro Manila and four nearby provinces.
From the early days of Christianity, Good Friday was marked as a day of sorrow, penance and fasting, a characteristic that finds expression in the German word Karfreitag which means “Sorrowful Friday.”
Today, believers, had it not been for the implemented social distancing, would gather around the cross, listen to the stories from the Scriptures, the stories offering the faithful a message that is new: suffering acquires meaning in God.
Devotees believe that death never had the last word in Jesus Christ. Through the suffering of Christ, God brings reconciliation for all and this gives, what Rev. Paul Lansu of Pax Christi International says, “many the strength to endure suffering, even today, and to look for a world where every tear will be dried and all the pain will have disappeared.”
A good point for reflection today is that Calvary is not the end, that life will continue, the elders will live on in their descendants, and there is a new beginning.
At time of death, the questioning can be distressing, lugubrious and subdued, if funereal.
The Rev. Lansu asks: “Why death now? What of the bereaved?”
The joyful anticipation is replaced with pain-filled loss and anxiety. Even in the presence of vibrant faith, there is often a sense of finality, of completion of an era.
This atmosphere of finality pervaded Calvary on Good Friday, which appeared to be the end, with the chasing question, “Is this the last moment of life? Is death the end of life?”
The great hopes of a promising life had been dashed. To quote Rev. Lansu, “With hindsight, it was easy to see that it would end in this way if Jesus insisted on justice, forgiveness, love and peace. Now the miracle worker from Nazareth fails to come down from the Cross even though he had raised Lazarus from the dead.
“Dead he was now himself, the same as those who had gone before him.
“But Jesus had the power to take up his life again. That he would do at the Resurrection, but first he would endure the intense pain of the human condition. He must know the loneliness of death first-hand, the sense of abandonment by God.”
Theologians and Bible scholars say Good Friday shows that people without hope die in despair, underscoring that a society or world without hope degenerates into humiliation, indifference, fear and violence.
The Rev. Lansu adds: “Only the person who is prepared to light a candle of goodness at every opportunity rather than curse the darkness of evil.
“Only the person who daily takes that first small step in building a chain of goodness.
“Only the person who believes that oftentimes a majority for hope is just one individual with faith and courage.
“Only the person who knows it is in giving away time, energy and even life itself that one comes to experience lasting love, human and divine.
“It is only such a person that can create new life and joy in today’s world. We are enabled by the Spirit to keep hope alive in the hearts of those whose lives we serve.”
No matter how grim the suffering or bleak the future seems, theologians say the Father has a great dream for the faithful which he will realize just as he did for his Son. Today’s message is not to be afraid: “I have overcome the world, and so can you.”
The liturgical celebration of Good Friday has undergone various changes over the centuries.
In the Roman Catholic Church, in the Philippines and elsewhere, the Mass is not celebrated on Good Friday, though a liturgy is performed.
Beginning in the Middle Ages, only the officiating priest took Holy Communion, which was consecrated in the Maundy Thursday Mass. Since 1955, lay people have also communed on Good Friday.
The liturgy of Good Friday consists of the reading of the Gospel Passion narrative, the adoration of the cross, and Communion.
In the 17th century, following an earthquake in Peru, the Three Hour Service, a prayerful meditation on Jesus’ “Seven Last Words on the Cross,” was introduced to the Catholic liturgy by the Jesuits – the same practice in Catholic and Aglipayan churches in the Philippines.
It takes place between noon and 3 pm. Similar services occur in the Eastern Orthodox tradition, where no Communion is celebrated on Good Friday.