Crucifixion of Jesus Christ
It is widely accepted that the crucifixion of Jesus took place on April 3, 33 AD. Though, physicist and mathematician Sir Isaac Newton argued that the actual year was 34 AD.
Good Friday is observed every year on the last Friday before Easter, and commemorates the crucifixion of Lord Jesus at Calvary. It is the second-last day of the Holy Week, which begins with Palm Sunday and comes to an end on Holy Saturday.
Good Friday is the second day of the 'Triduum'―three days that begins with the Mass of the Lord's Supper on Thursday, and ends with the celebrations on Easter Sunday. This is a day of remembrance of the sacrifice Jesus Christ made to free mankind from the evil of sin. During the days of the Holy Week, and on Good Friday, the faithful observe fast and abstinence from meat. Good Friday is also known as Holy Friday, Great Friday, Black Friday, and Easter Friday, and is a day of solemnity and austerity.
Origin and Early History
There are two probable explanations for the origin of the word 'Good Friday'. In Germanic, the language of Gaul, this day was called 'Gute Freitag', which translates to 'good' or 'holy' Friday. Another possibility is that, earlier, this day was called 'God's Friday', and over time, came to be known as it is known today. However, some are of the opinion that this day was always referred to as the 'Holy' or 'Great Friday'..
As far as its early history is concerned, it is believed that since 1st century AD, it was the tradition of the Church to observe every Friday as a special day meant for prayer and fasting. However, this tradition was, in no way, a commemoration of the crucifixion of Christ. It was only in the 4th century AD that the Friday prior to Easter came to be observed as a day of remembrance of Lord Jesus' sacrifice.
Significance of Good Friday
According to the Gospel, Jesus Christ was enunciated the King of the Jews when He returned to Jerusalem after 40 days of fasting and renunciation in the desert. His growing popularity among the masses was seen as a threat by the religious leaders of the Jews. They plotted against Him and accused Him of blasphemy for claiming that He was the Son of God. However, they had never seen Him, and so they offered to pay his disciple Judas to help the Temple Guards identify Him. Unfortunately, Judas agreed to betray Jesus for thirty pieces of silver. One day, when Jesus and his disciples were in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus was identified, arrested, and later condemned to death by crucifixion.
Jesus carried the cross to Calvary, where He was crucified along with two criminals. Jesus endured suffering for six hours on the cross before his death. After His death on the cross, his secret follower Joseph decided to give Him a proper funeral. He took the body of Jesus, covered it with a clean cloak, and placed it in a new tomb carved on a rock. Then, as per Jewish tradition, he closed the opening of the tomb with a huge stone and went home. After two days, on the Sunday that is now celebrated as Easter Sunday, Jesus rose from the dead.
Traditions and Rituals
The rituals observed on Good Friday are very different from those observed on other days. The church altar wears a comparative bare looks. Priests mostly wear black vestments as a symbol of mourning for the death of the Son of God. Church bells are not rung, and no weddings are permitted during the Holy week. The only sacraments that take place are Baptism, Penance, and Anointing of the Sick.
The Celebration of the Passion of the Lord and Good Friday services consist of three parts: the Liturgy, the Stations of the Cross, and the Acts of Reparation.
The Liturgy: The clergy enter the church in complete silence, and the services begin with the chanting of the Passion account from the Gospel of John, which includes the last seven phrases spoken by Jesus. This is termed as the Liturgy of the Word. The next ritual is the Veneration of the Cross, wherein, a cross is displayed, which is venerated by the people by kneeling before it. The third ritual is that of the Holy Communion, after which everyone leaves the church in silence.
The Stations of the Cross: 'The Stations of the Cross' or the 'Way of the Cross' is a ritual offered by many churches. It commemorates fourteen events associated with the crucifixion of Christ. It represents the 14 sites of Jesus' Passion. People enact the 14 incidents experienced by Lord Jesus on His way to Calvary for crucifixion, along with chanting of prayers and hymns.
The Acts of Reparation: The Acts of Reparation consist of a collection of specific prayers and chants, that are recited with an intention of making amends to the Lord for His sufferings. It is a Roman Catholic tradition, wherein, the faithful pray to repair the sins of others, along with the insults and blasphemies against Jesus Christ.
Good Friday Yearly Dates
In most Christian dominated countries around the world, Good Friday is a Federal/public holiday. In the United States, it is not a Federal government holiday, but is observed as a state holiday in as many as 12 states. In the United Kingdom, it is an official public holiday.
Good Friday is observed in different ways in different parts of the world. However, the spirit of Good Friday is universal, and it speaks about the love of God. So, even if it is the most somber day in the Christian calendar, it is an occasion to thank the Lord and rejoice in His love.