Engaging Faith: Practical lesson ideas and activities for Catholic Educators

March 19, 2008

Why Do They Call it Good Friday?


One of the most commonly asked questions by children as they grow in their faith is, "Why do they call Good Friday good if that is the day that Jesus died?" You may have wondered about this yourself.

The answer is easily found in the Good Friday service. After the reading of the Passion from the Gospel of John and the prayer intentions for the needs of the entire world, the priest processes with the crucifix down the center aisle of the church, stopping three times and saying these words: "Behold the wood of the cross on which is hung our salvation."

This day that is outwardly dark and dismal actually commemorates Christ's greatest gift to us: though innocent, he was willing to accept death so that we might be saved from the power of Satan and sin. Good Friday is good because it opens the possibility that we might live forever.

Good Friday is the day that Christ died on the cross for the redemption of the world. Remind your students that redemptionmeans the act of recovering something that was lost. When Adam and Eve sinned, humankind was plunged into sinfulness and lost the chance for eternity. Jesus' death redeemed us from sin. On Good Friday, the Church does not celebrate Mass, the repetition of Christ's sacrifice. This is the only day of the year that this is true.

Rather, a service is offered in three parts: the Scripture reading and prayer, the adoration of the cross, and the reception of Holy Communion. After the procession with the crucifix the congregation likewise processes forward and honors the crucifix by kissing the feet of Jesus or by reverently bowing before him on the cross. For communion, the consecrated bread that has been kept since the Holy Thursday Mass of the Lord's Supper at the altar of repose is retrieved and shared.

After the service the altar is stripped again, the tabernacle is left open, the sanctuary lights are snuffed out, and only the crucifix takes the place of honor in the center of the sanctuary. The congregation leaves the church in silence.

Over the years many other popular devotions of Good Friday have developed. According to Church law, Good Friday is a day of fasting and abstinence. In Ireland, many people hold what is called a "black fast," taking only water or tea on that day. Christians who go to public school often request an exemption from school on Good Friday for religious reasons. In the Middle East, Christians often replace the traditional greeting of "Shalom" ("Peace be with you") because these were the words that Judas Iscariot used to betray Jesus. Instead, on Good Friday they greet each other with "the light of God be with your departed ones."

A Meditation on Good Friday

Linked here is a Good Friday meditation written by Focolare movement founder, Chiara Lubichhttp, who died last Friday. The meditation was written in the Jubilee Year 2000.

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