Good Friday is observed as the anniversary of the day that Jesus was crucified. Though the origin of the term Good is not clear, some say it is derived from “God’s Friday” (Gottes Freitag); others maintain that it is from the German Gute Freitag, and not specially English. Sometimes, too, the day was called Long Friday by the Anglo-Saxons; so today in Denmark.
This day is celebrated is a number of different ways, from taking down the Cross in the Orthodox faith to recounting the story of Jesus’ last days, which is called the Passion of Christ. For many churches, Good Friday is the final service of Holy Week, following Holy Thursday and Palm Sunday. Other churches hold an Easter Vigil on Saturday night to bring the light of Christ back into the Church.
In the typical Orthodox tradition, the day is called Holy and Great Friday. In typical Orthodox services a cross is removed from the church sanctuary, and the congregation observes a service that focuses on Christ’s burial in the tomb.
The service of Good Friday is called Tenebrae. It focuses on reading the scriptures that describe Jesus’ arrest, trial, beating, and crucifixion. In the Roman Catholic Church, Tenebrae may be celebrated on Holy Thursday. Another variation, called Tre Ore, or ‘three hours’, is a service that runs typically from noon to 3 p.m., believed to be the time of Jesus’ death. It focuses on the last seven phrases that Christ said before his death based on several different gospels. Each phrase is accompanied by a scripture reading, a hymn, and sometimes a short sermon.
Generally, the service starts anywhere from 12:00-3:00 a.m. During that time priests begin their observance of the most holy day. It commences with a series of prayers and chants, followed by many additional hours of prayer. Noon marks the beginning of the adoration of the Cross where a representation of the True Cross is slowly unveiled. During that time the entire congregation kneels. Members of the clergy sometimes remove their shoes before approaching the True Cross in pairs. Other members of the clergy wear special vestments and present crosses to the congregation to be kissed. This is followed by the Mass of the Persanctified where the Cross is placed above an altar between lighted candles followed by a procession, and then evening prayers. The entire day is one steeped in thousands of years of ritual. It is one of the most sacred and holy days in the Christian tradition. This manner of service may vary church to church.
During Lent crosses in the sanctuary or outside churches are draped with purple cloth, which is a symbol of royalty. Jesus is often referred to in scripture as the Prince of Peace. Churches that have stationary crosses that can’t be removed drape them in black, a symbol of death, on Good Friday.
The Way or Stations, of the Cross is another way that Christians observe Good Friday. It is primarily a Roman Catholic tradition, but some Protestant churches practice it as well. Depictions of the last 12 acts of Jesus’ life are placed in the church or are sometimes permanently stationed outside on the church grounds. Worshipers walk from one station to the next in prayer and contemplation. In some countries of the worlds faithful go so far as to physically be nailed to crosses for a length of time to show their faith. In the Philippines the annual re-enactment draws tens of thousands of tourists. The Church condemns this practice as a distortion of the true meaning of Easter.
In many parts of the world, Good Friday services end with the church bell toiling 33 times for each year of Jesus’ earthly life.
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