March 25, 2005
The epithet "Good" Friday dates back to the Council of Nicea which started in 345 AD and ran on for a number of years. It was ordered to assemble by Constantine, and it certainly changed the face of Christianity in many ways, some positive and some negative. In many ways, its greatest achievements were the Nicean Creed and the harmonisation of the scriptures. Among its many less positive results was the politicisation of the church which resulted in the Medieval notion of the Church as a Secular as well as a Spiritual power.
It was the Council that decided that the day on which Christ was crucified should be known as "Good" Friday, and it was this council that first set the date for the celebration of the Easter "festival". The logic behind this was that without the crucifixion there could be no resurrection. Ergo, the act of crucifixion is a part of the redemptive act and is therefore "good". While I have some difficulty with that sort of reasoning, I can see where they were coming from, especially as they were struggling to find ways to counter several heresies as well. The chief of these, Arianism, decreed that the Jesus of the Nativity and the Jesus of the Cross were not the same; the one, they said, was a human child, the other a "made" being who was "Godlike". Elements of Arianism and of the next big heresy, Origenism, can be found in the teachings of Islam today.
All of that aside, today is Good Friday, and I must shortly away to take part in the Solemn Liturgy for Good Friday at the Abbey.
This liturgy was written relatively recently - in the early 20th Century, in fact - and is an adaptation of one from the Orthodox Church and a similar Roman service from the Middle Ages. In the Anglican Communion, it is simpler, starker, and can be very moving indeed.
It begins with an act of repentance; the three Sacred Ministers enter and prostrate themselves facing East, towards the bare Altar and Sanctuary. After a few minutes silence, they stand and face the congregation while the Collect for mercy is said. This is followed by a reading from the Old Testament, and Psalm 22 is sung, unaccompanied. A new Testament reading follows, and another Psalm is sung unaccompanied. The Passion Gospel is then sung by three male voices. When it is finished, a period of silence is kept, during which the Deacon and two Acolytes move to the West End of the Church and take up a shrouded Crucifix from a place at the West Door and move to the back of the nave.
Here the Deacon raises the Crucifix and uncovers one "arm" intoning, "Behold the wood of the Cross!" and the Congregation respond with the words, "Thanks be to God".. He moves to a new station a third of the way into the nave and, unveiling the second arm, repeats the intonation before moving to the head of the nave and unveiling the figure and the remaining part of the Cross, again repeating the intonation. The crucifix is then placed in a stand on a Prie-Dieu, and the Sacred Ministers kneel before it and kiss the foot of the Cross, followed by the servers, the congregation, and the choir.
Some might say that this is idolatry; however, you need to pause and consider what it is the people are publically doing. First, they are making fools of themselves. We are putting aside our pride and demonstrating that we embrace this mad idea that this man, the Son of the Living God, died so that we might have the life hereafter, so that we might become like God. Second we are acknowledging our faith, not the crucifix before us, but what it represents in terms of suffering, redemption, and promise. It is not the Cross that we worship, it is the risen, ascended Saviour and His Father's love that we acknowledge in our veneration.
Once the veneration is complete, the Crucifix is taken to the High Altar and placed in a stand at its centre. The Sub Deacon and another pair of Acolytes, have, in the meantime gone to the Lady Chapel where the reserved consecrated Host from Maundy Thursday has been "resting" overnight, and once the Crucifix is in place at the High Altar, they bring the sacrament to the Sanctuary. The Priest/President then leads the congregation in a period of intercessions before inviting them to partake of the Body of Christ in the Communion of the bread. It is the only time in the Anglican Church that Communion is made in "one kind only", as there is no wine distributed with the wafer breads.
Once all the bread has been consumed and the vessel it was kept in washed, the President leads the congregation in the Lord's Prayer and a Collect - and then everyone scatters from the Sanctuary and Choir by any and every route.
For myself, it is a very moving service. The Gibson version focusses on the pain, the gore, and the injustice; this service brings some of that, but it also focusses on the Spiritual meaning. As the Sub Deacon last year (and the year before!), it was my task to carry that very large crucifix from the nave to the High Altar. I know precisely what Simon of Cyrene felt! I think I can also claim to have felt something of the devastation that the disciples felt as well.
If this act of worship helps to bring to even one person something of that sense of wonder, then it has served it's purpose. For myself it has always brought some new revelation of my faith and renewed my sense of wonder and adventure as I look forward to the fulfillment of the promise of the Gospel.
May the Lord be with you all on this Good Friday.
Posted by The Gray Monk at March 25, 2005 09:03 AM