What is Good Friday?
Good Friday is the second day of the Sacred Triduum, in between Holy Thursday and Easter Vigil. Good Friday is the commemoration of the passion and death of Jesus Christ on the cross at Calvary. It is always three days before Easter, which marks the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead!
Why Do We Call Good Friday “Good”?
It might be confusing why we call this horrible day “good.” This term comes from an obsolete use of the term in English which means “pious” or “holy.” For hundreds of years in the Latin Church it was called Feria sexta in Parasceve which means “Friday of Preparation” and then after the 1955 Holy Week reform it was renamed Feria sexta in Passione et Morte Domini which means “Friday of the Passion and Death of the Lord.” In the current Latin edition of the Missal, it is Feria sexta in Passione Domini or “Friday of the Passion of the Lord.” ‘
One of the strangest things about Good Friday is that Mass is not offered anywhere in the world. Tabernacles are empty, with the doors wide open. The altar is stripped of cloths and candles. And the holy water receptacles are empty. It is surreal, empty, and solemn. Jesus Christ, God made man, has died on the Cross, and He has been laid in the tomb. (Of course, we know the rest of the story: death could not hold Him down and He rose from the dead three days later!!)
Penance Is The Answer
There is a distinction in the teachings of the Church between forgiveness and communion. God forgives us when we ask with true sorrow for our sins, but there are still eternal consequences to our actions. Our relationship with God can still need healing in terms of conformity to Him and communion with Him. Even after we confess our sins, we can still have attachments to certain sins, for example.
The Lord helps us to grow in cooperation with His grace through the gift and opportunity of doing penance. Followers of Christ are called to do formal penance, such as fasting, and informal penance such as intentionally going out of the way to be kind to someone. In doing penance, whether formal or informal, we are uniting ourselves to superabundant merits won by Christ on the Cross.
For penance to have its full effect in ourselves and to help us grow in holiness, this intentionality is necessary. When we act with Christ, we are drawing nearer to Him just as He is already near to us. Doing penance is our answer to the justice of God. We know that we are sinners in need of grace, and we unite our thoughts, prayers, and actions to communion with Him.
Penance can be done formally or informally, but there are certain times when the whole Church is called to collective penance. Canon Law teaches that “the penitential days and times in the universal Church are every Friday of the whole year and the season of Lent (Canon 1250).” This is why we say that every Friday is a mini Good Friday!
Fasting and Abstinence
In the early life of the Church, there was a fast before every major feast or important event. Historically, fasting comes from the Latin statio which means to stand watch or on guard. Another type of fast is called abstinence which pertains to abstaining from meat or fats. In the second case, this is an act of self-control. For the first meaning of fasting, the idea is in waiting, watching, and anticipating something.
There is a fast in place for the Holy Eucharist. The faithful fast from everything except water and medicine at least one hour prior to receiving Holy Communion. In the past, this fast extended to midnight on the previous day. This is where we get the term breakfast because, after receiving Holy Communion, we are breaking the fast.
Today, there are two days of required fasting: Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. On these two days, in the Latin Rite, we may eat one small meal and two other small meals that when combined are not equal to a normal size meal. This is obligatory for those who are 18 years old up to 59 ½ years old. For those younger than 18 and older than 60, the fast is optional and based on medical fitness to do so.
Abstinence from meat is required on Ash Wednesday and all Fridays for those above the age of 14 years old. Yes, you read that correctly. Canon Law says, “Abstinence from meat, or from some other food as determined by the Episcopal Conference, is to be observed on all Fridays, unless a solemnity should fall on a Friday (Can. 1251).”
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) teach the following:
Put simply: Christ gave up His Flesh for the life of the world on Friday and so we give up flesh for Him on Friday.
The USCCB recommends that the faithful continue meatless Fridays throughout the year, but it is no longer “binding under pain of sin.” Outside of Lent, the faithful may eat meat, but they must do some other penance in its stead.