Good Friday

The Friday of Holy Week has been traditionally been called Good Friday or Holy Friday. On this day, the church commemorates Jesus’ arrest (since by Jewish customs of counting days from sundown to sundown it was already Friday), his trial, crucifixion and suffering, death, and burial. Since services on this day are to observe Jesus’ death, and since Eucharist is a celebration, there is traditionally no Communion observed on Good Friday. Also, depending on how the services are conducted on this day, all pictures, statutes, and the cross are covered in mourning black, the chancel and altar coverings are replaced with black, and altar candles are extinguished. They are left this way through Saturday, but are always replaced with white before sunrise on Sunday.

There are a variety of services of worship for Good Friday, all aimed at allowing worshippers to experience some sense of the pain, humiliation, and ending in the journey to the cross. The traditional Catholic service for Good Friday was held in mid-afternoon to correspond to the final words of Jesus from the cross (around 3 PM, Matt 27:46-50). However, modern schedules have led many churches to move the service to the evening to allow more people to participate. Usually, a Good Friday service is a series of Scripture readings, a short homily, and a time of meditation and prayer. One traditional use of Scripture is to base the homily or devotional on the Seven Last Words of Jesus as recorded in the Gospel traditions.

  • Father, forgive them . . . (Luke 23:34)
  • This day you will be with me in paradise (Luke 23:43)
  • Woman, behold your son . . .(John 19:26-27)
  • My God, my God . . . (Matthew 27:46, Mark 15:34)
  • I thirst. (John 19:28)
  • It is finished! (John 19:30)
  • Father into your hands . . . (Luke 23:46)

Some churches use the Stations of the Cross as part of the Good Friday Service. This service uses paintings or banners to represent various scenes from Jesus’ betrayal, arrest, trial, and death, and the worshippers move to the various stations to sing hymns or pray as the story is told . There is a great variety in how this service is conducted, and various traditions use different numbers of stations to tell the story (see The Fourteen Stations of the Cross).

Another common service for Good Friday is Tenebrae (Latin for "shadows" or "darkness"). Sometimes this term is applied generally to all church services on the last three days of Holy week. More specifically, however, it is used of the Service of Darkness or Service of Shadows, usually held in the evening of Good Friday. Again, there are varieties of this service, but it is usually characterized by a series of Scripture readings and meditation done in stages while lights and/or candles are gradually extinguished to symbolize the growing darkness not only of Jesus’ death but of hopelessness in the world without God. The service ends in darkness, sometimes with a final candle, the Christ candle, carried out of the sanctuary, symbolizing the death of Jesus. Often the service concludes with a loud noise symbolizing the closing of Jesus’ tomb (see The Empty Tomb). The worshippers then leave in silence to wait.

Some churches observe communion on Good Friday. However, traditionally Eucharist is not served on Good Friday since it is a celebration of thanksgiving. Good Friday is not a day of celebration but of mourning, both for the death of Jesus and for the sins of the world that his death represents. Yet, although Friday is a solemn time, it is not without its own joy. For while it is important to place the Resurrection against the darkness of Good Friday, likewise the somberness of Good Friday should always be seen with the hope of Resurrection Sunday. As the well- known sermon title vividly illustrates: "It’s Friday. But Sunday’s a’comin’!"

Dennis Bratcher, Copyright © 2007, Dennis Bratcher, All Rights Reserved