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What is Good Friday?

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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 03 November 2016
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Good Friday is a day of reflection on the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. It occurs two days before Easter is celebrated, so the date each year differs. Unlike other days that are considered holy by Christians, Good Friday is never “celebrated.” Rather it is observed with a variety of ceremonies in different sects of Christianity.

Most Christian congregations hold either prayers, meetings or solemn gatherings in churches on Good Friday, but in most cases, participation in these meetings are not considered mandatory. Even in the Catholic Church, no one is obligated to attend Mass on Good Friday, and in fact, a true Mass does not take place. There is no consecration of the host or reception of communion, but usually a reading of the New Testament account of Christ’s crucifixion, and many prayers. Also, for Catholics, Good Friday is often a day of fasting and abstention from meat. Especially during the three hours between 12pm and 3 pm, no food is taken.

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For Christians who observe Good Friday, the day is one to reflect on the sacrifice Christ made so that all people would be welcomed into heaven. Some focus on Christ’s suffering, by performing Passion Plays that reenact the death of Christ. It should be noted that the Catholic Church frowns on Passion Plays, though they are performed in some predominantly Catholic countries like the Philippines. Some Passion Plays have sparked reactions of anger and hatred towards Christ's executioners, taking away from the solemnity of Good Friday and detracting from Christ's sacrifice.

While many may read the sections of the New Testament dealing with Christ’s death, some find this section of the New Testament extremely tragic and almost overwhelming. In places like Poland, representations of the tomb of Christ may be set up and people may spend the night mourning Christ’s death at them. It is not uncommon for those who focus on the crucifixion aspect of Good Friday to weep.

Some Christians also argue that the focus on Christ’s death on Good Friday is only important in so far as it allows people to understand that Christ rose from the dead. The actual crucifixion is far less important and diverts focus from the life of Christ. Emphasis on the crucifixion and blow-by-blow accounts of it tend to focus on the evil done to Christ rather than the good Christ did.

In many countries, Good Friday is a national holiday. Banks may close, and it’s not uncommon in predominantly Catholic countries for all businesses, like pubs and restaurants to close as well. This is the case in Ireland, where drinking on Good Friday is considered sacrilege.

In the US, customs vary as to what institutions remain opened or closed. Most school districts used to close on Good Friday, but now this varies from district to district. If the district is located in an area with a large population of Catholics or Christians who attend church services on the day, normally schools will close because too many children would be absent. Catholic and Christian schools almost always close on Good Friday.

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hamje32
Post 5

@allenJo - At our church we showed The Passion of the Christ to illustrate the meaning of Good Friday. That was a pretty heavy illustration there, but the church hall was packed. Many of the parishioners had seen the movie before but we did have some newcomers. A few people couldn’t take in the intensity of the whole thing and had to walk out. That wasn’t the response we were hoping for, but it was a big risk to use that film in the church service. We have a huge auditorium with a big projector and it was just like being in the movie theater. At the end the pastor spoke and gave an altar call.

NathanG
Post 4

@ allenJo - Yea, I’ve noticed that churches from other denominations use different approaches. They may have a responsive reading, or a short sermon from the pastor or the associate pastor. Sometimes Sunday school teachers will have special services for the kids during the evening where they use object lessons, using flannel board or other material to illustrate what happened to Jesus on that day.

allenJo
Post 3

Here are some Good Friday service ideas for those of you who hold worship services on that day. The most obvious idea is to hold Mass, but of course that’s only useful to Catholic congregations. Other ideas include having the youth re-enact the Passion Play. There are some great online resources you can use to help you get started with the scripts and so forth. Young people can also put on contemporary plays that dramatize the meaning of Good Friday. Youth are a great resource in this regard.

Some people do responsive readings from the Scriptures or devotional books. These tend to be common in the liturgical services. Some of the contemporary churches have worship services during the evening where all the songs focus on the cross. This seems to be a common thing in the area we live in.

MrMoody
Post 2

@eastwest - Our company closes on the Good Friday holiday. I work for a small business and the owners are Catholic, so they attend Catholic Mass on the day. It’s actually the first business I’ve ever worked for that closes on Good Friday. Most corporations stay open on that day. Schools in my area tend to stay open on that day as well, which I find surprising since we live in a fairly religious community.

eastwest
Post 1

I was surprised to find out that a lot of financial institutions close on Good Friday - I didn't realize that the Christian calendar affected even stock markets.

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