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Good Friday is a holy day celebrated by Christians on the Friday before Easter or Pascha. It commemorates the crucifixion of Jesus at Calvary. Special prayer services are often held on this day with readings from the Gospel accounts of the events leading up to the crucifixion. Mainstream Christian churches view Christ's crucifixion as a voluntary and vicarious act, and one by which, along with his resurrection on the third day, death itself was conquered.
History and observance
Catholic and Orthodox Christians treat this day as a fast day. Orthodox Christians spend all this day in fasting from all food, to the extent that their health permits. Catholics also refrain from more than one normal meal, though they may add up to two small meals as required for good health.
This day is also the only day that the Divine Liturgy or Mass is not celebrated in those churches. Catholics, however, can still receive the Eucharist consecrated the previous day at the Holy Thursday Mass.
Instead of the Divine Liturgy, the Orthodox meet up to three times during the day for prayer: in the forenoon, to pray the Royal Hours appointed for that day; in the afternoon, the Vespers of Holy Friday; and in the evening, the Matins of Holy Saturday.
The congregants relive the events of the day through public reading of the Psalms and Gospels, and singing hymns about Christ's death. Visual imagery and symbolism is also often used: in the morning, a large cross is moved to the front or center of the nave (where the congregation gathers), and a two-dimensional painted body of Christ, or corpus, is placed on it. During the afternoon prayers, it is removed from the cross and taken to the altar in the sanctuary, and an epitaphion is brought down to a low table in the nave representing the tomb; it is often decorated with an abundance of flowers. The epitaphion itself represents the body of Jesus wrapped in a burial shroud, and is a roughly full-size cloth icon of the body of Christ. During the evening prayers, the shroud is part of a procession outside the church, and is then returned to the tomb.
During this time, the hymns do not forget the coming resurrection. Holding both events in tension, the following troparion (type of hymn) is sung during the afternoon prayers while the shroud is being carried to the tomb:
- The noble Joseph, when he had taken down Thy most pure Body from the tree, wrapped it in fine linen, and anointed it with spices, and placed it in a new tomb.
- Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.
- The angel came to the myrrh-bearing women at the tomb and said:
- Myrrh is fitting for the dead, but Christ has shown Himself a stranger to corruption.
Catholic Good Friday services include readings from Scripture, including a reading of the Passion account from the Gospel of John which is often read dramatically, with the priest, one or more readers, and the congregation all taking part. A crucifix is presented, with the people given an opportunity to venerate it. The services also include a long series of formal intercessions known as the Good Friday Prayer.
Many Protestant churches hold special services on this day as well. In the German Lutheran tradition from the 16th to the 20th century, this was the most important holiday. It was the prime day on which to receive Holy Communion, and services were often accentuated by special music such as the St. Matthew Passion by Johann Sebastian Bach.
In many historically Christian countries such as Australia and New Zealand, the day is celebrated with the eating of hot cross buns, the withdrawal of advertising from television and radio, and the closure of most shops for the day. Eastern Orthodox Christians eat as little as possible on this day.
Many Baptist and non-denominational churches do not celebrate Good Friday, instead observing the Crucifixion on Wednesday to coincide with the Jewish sacrifice of the Passover Lamb (which is an Old Testament pointer to Jesus Christ). A Wednesday Crucifixion of Jesus Christ allows for Christ to be in the tomb (heart of the earth) for three days and three nights as he told the Pharisees he would be (Matthew 12:40), rather than two nights and a day if he died on Friday.
On the day of the suffering of Christ (which is believed by many to have occurred on a Friday evening in April) there was a coincidence: at that time the constellation of Southern Cross was entirely visible low in the South from Jerusalem. Due to precession this is no longer the case. The most probable date is 3 April 33 AD, on which date also took place a partial lunar eclipse.
Dates of Good Friday
- 2000 - April 21
- 2001 - April 13
- 2002 - March 29
- 2003 - April 18
- 2004 - April 9
- 2005 - March 25
- 2006 - April 14
- 2007 - April 6
- 2008 - March 21
- 2009 - April 10
- 2010 - April 2
Related holy days
- Friday before Palm Sunday
- Saturday before Palm Sunday
- Palm Sunday
- Holy Monday
- Holy Tuesday
- Holy Wednesday
- Maundy Thursday
- Holy Saturday
- Good Friday agreement, a major step in the Northern Ireland peace process, was signed on Good Friday in 1998
- The Eastern Orthodox commemoration of Holy Friday
- Catholic Good Friday Traditions
- Episcopal Good Friday Service
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