On the day that honors the Passion and death of Jesus, the Church abstains from offering a Mass.
Instead, the Church instructs its believers to host a “Celebration of the Lord’s Passion,” which includes a special reading of the Gospel, the veneration of the cross and the distribution of Holy Communion from the reserved Sacrament.
St. Thomas Aquinas offers in his Summa Theologica one explanation as to why the Mass is not offered. He states that, “The figure [the Mass] ceases on the advent of the reality. But this sacrament is a figure and a representation of our Lord’s Passion, as stated above. And therefore on the day on which our Lord’s Passion is recalled as it was really accomplished, this sacrament is not consecrated.”
In this way we remember the reality of Jesus’ Passion, without celebrating the “figure” or “representation.”
Furthermore, the absence of the consecration of the bread and wine highlight the sorrow of Good Friday, as the Catholic News Agency points out.
The omission of the prayer of consecration deepens our sense of loss because Mass throughout the year reminds us of the Lord’s triumph over death, the source of our joy and blessing. The desolate quality of the rites of this day reminds us of Christ’s humiliation and suffering during his Passion.
The St. Andrew Daily Missal echoes what has already been written, explaining how “Good Friday is the anniversary of our Lord’s death. On this day, when on Calvary the bloodstained throne of the cross stands out before the world, the Church, bowed low in adoration before Him who reigns from the Cross, does not celebrate the sacrifice of the Mass; following an ancient practice, once widespread, she contents herself with receiving the sacred species consecrated yesterday.”
Alternatively, some historians claim that the Good Friday liturgy “represents, according to Duchesne (234), ‘the exact order of the ancient synaxes without a liturgy,’ i.e. the order of the earliest Christian prayer meetings, at which, however, the liturgy proper, i.e. the Mass, was not celebrated. This kind of meeting for worship was derived from the Jewish Synagogue service, and consisted of lessons, chants, and prayers.” In this way we participate in a liturgy that resembles a prayer service that was celebrated by the early Christians.
Above all things, Good Friday is meant to be a day of mourning and sadness, feeling the weight of our sins that were placed on the back of Jesus Christ. The absence of a Mass highlights this feeling and better prepares us for the glories that await us on Easter.
It is a strange day in the calendar of the Church, but one that is designed to prepare our hearts for what will come after.
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