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Entering the Silence of Good Friday

By Archbishop Patrick Kelly
March 20th, 2009
The Catholic Herald (UK) (

Good Friday worship should reveal the face of God in Christ crucified.

LONDON (UK Catholic Herald) - "Did a God
Indeed in dying cross my life that day
By chance, he on his road and I on mine?"

Only a question can lead us into Good Friday. Only a question like that one from Edwin Muir's poem, "The Killing", opens our hearts, minds, feeling, memories and desires to the form worship takes at three o'clock on Good Friday.

And the value of a question is this: every book in the New Testament confronts us with the question: "Who do you say that I am?" And over and over again when anyone in conversation with our Lord declares who he is, they are then made to think again and accept their answer was too small for the whole wonder of who he is.

This is especially true when it comes to knowing, loving and following a crucified Christ. I always felt that one of the most revealing moments in Franco Zeffirelli's film Jesus of Nazareth was this (it is an invention of Zeffirelli): as the camera pulled away from Jesus crucified, there was what at first sounded like a voiceover.

But then we are shown Nicodemus, played by Lawrence Olivier, articulating the suffering servant song from the prophet Isaiah that we receive on Good Friday: "He had no form or majesty that we should look at him... despised and rejected surely he has borne our infirmities... he bore the sin of many and made intercession for the transgressors."

But these words were spoken by Nicodemus watching from a distance, not with the tone of: "So this is what Isaiah meant", but the searching tone of "So could this be what Isaiah meant?"

So we are given a form of worship on Good Friday afternoon that means we walk humbly before this Lord willing to become less foolish about the reconciling deed of God in his son, Our Lord. The form has changed over the centuries; I remember black vestments, only the priest receiving Communion, kneeling at the altar rails to kiss a small cross. And the only constant for us on Good Friday has been no Mass; we do not "Do this in memory of me."

So do nothing. All the signs of action are missing: no song as we gather (it as if we do not gather, we are just there). For many years I have made sure the celebrant and all those assisting take their places well before three-o'clock: no procession at all. After a silent prostration, a prayer, but no: "Let us pray." It is as if we do nothing.

For the proclamation of the Passion no actions such as carrying candles or incense. The homily is demanded; silence may suffice. For the universal prayer people may stand or kneel as if they are not there. The veneration of the cross can either be a coming forward each one, or no action but only silence. We come alone, personally, in hidden silence.

Communion is utterly simple: no chant is provided, to accompany our deliberately coming forward in procession, in community. A song may be sung or there may be silence (it is as if we do not come, we only receive where we are, as we are, personally meeting our Saviour). And at the end: a prayer, but no blessing, no dismissal; we do not go.

For several years I have done something else on Good Friday at noon: lead the Stations of the Cross, but with no vestments, no assistants and no song.

At each station just the title and the acclamation: "We adore you, O Christ and we praise you, because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world." A reading from St John's Gospel and from the Letter to the Hebrews. St John, because his Gospel can be summed up in these words: Jesus crucified is Jesus glorified. And the Letter to the Hebrews because it proclaims: on the first Good Friday, the worship in the Jerusalem Temple was at its most glorious in terms of the building, music, vessels, robes and ritual.

But the worship of God was accomplished on the road to Calvary and on Golgotha: no fine robes, only a garment diced for; no servers, only a Simon, two thieves and soldiers; no song, only the keening of some women.

In the end our worship on Good Friday has to stand up to this scrutiny: does all we sing, the vestments, the ritual, reveal the face of God in Christ crucified, or does, yes, the very beauty allow us to run away from the scandal of the cross?


We adore you, O Christ, and we praise you, because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.

Bible Passages

Isaiah 53:6:
"All we like sheep have gone astray; we have all turned to our own way, and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

1 Corinthians 2:2:
For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified."

Mark 15:34:
At three o'clock Jesus cried out with a loud voice: "Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?"

To do this week

Make the sign of the cross and in silence, refusing to be deluded by any beauty, ponder the face of the Lord.

Allow our desires for our particular taste in beauty to be placed in the scales with the scandal of the crucified and give more time to utterly silent prayer where we do not even use forms of prayer to distract us from the truth of the cross.

Allow our priorities to be judged by these words form Edwin Muir's poem:

But the hardened old
and the hard-hearted young, although at odds
from the first morning, cursed him with one curse,
having prayer for a Rabbi or an armed Messiah
and found the Son of God. What use to them
was a God or a Son of God? Of what avail
for purposes such as theirs

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