Friday, April 6, 2012

Why Good Friday is Good Indeed

Last Wednesday, a parishioner sent me an e-mail asking "Why is Good Friday called 'good'?

He'd have had a better chance of winning the lottery than getting a fast answer from me; Holy Week is just too busy.

So imagine my surprise when another parishioner called this morning to say there was a perfectly good reply to the question in today's Vancouver Sun! Pretty close to the last place I'd look for Christian truth.

But the fact is that the Sun hits the nail squarely on the head. After some interesting history about the name Good Friday, which isn't universal—it's called Mourning Day in German, for instance—the editorial says whatever its origin, and despite the solemn rituals marking this day, "Good Friday is, for Christians, good in every sense of the word."

"After all," the editorial says, "Christianity teaches that Christ's death is not a chance event. Rather, His death was preordained—He was sent to Earth to die for our sins and in so doing, He conquered death and redeemed humanity."

If that were all the newspaper had to say, I'd be very pleased. But there's more to the editorial, and it's even better: because it brings the goodness of Good Friday even closer to each of us.

Here's how it continues. "Christ therefore gave meaning to suffering and death: His sorrows were like a seed—a seed from which He was resurrected and from which a spiritually reborn humanity could flower."

Pure poetry, and the editorial writer adds something I didn't know: that "historically, Good Friday was thought to be a good day for planting seeds." Given the weather today, you gardeners may want to take note of that.

My dear friend Sister Josephine Carney likes to say that "memories are seeds of hope." This afternoon, the liturgy helps remember the terrible sufferings of Jesus. But it's not a history lesson: we are invited to find in his passion and death the seeds of our hope, the seeds that will sprout in the soil of our own sufferings.

The mystery we recall today does not belong only to history, but to this very moment. Blessed John Henry Newman wrote "the Atonement of Christ is not a thing at a distance, or like the sun standing above and separated from us… We are surrounded by an atmosphere and are in a medium, through which His warmth and light flow in upon us on every side."

We all know that seeds cannot flower without sun. In some ways, our Good Friday liturgy is somber, even dark. Yet even in this commemoration of the Lord's death, warmth and light flow in upon us. This is why we dare to offer more prayers of petition today than at any other liturgy of the year—ten solemn intercessions for every imaginable need.

Why do we receive the Eucharist on Good Friday, a day when Mass is not offered? I think it is so that we do not lose touch, even for a moment, with the love that surrounds us, the love in which we exist at all times. The Eucharist makes present the incarnate and crucified Lord, and the risen Lord. Today, and every day, let us remember that—in joy and, especially, in sorrow.


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