Friday, March 29, 2013

The Day of Preparation

I've always liked the old name for Good Friday, which it had until 1955 - Feria sexta in parasceve ("Friday, the Day of Preparation"). By New Testament times, the term had become standard - at least among Greek-speakign Jews for Fridays and the eves of major festivals like Passover. John's Passion narrative, which we will hear later today, uses the term to refer to the day of Jesus' death, making it clear that Jesus died onn the afternoon of the 14th of Nisan, the eve of Passover, indeed at roughtly thew hour at which the Passover lambs were being sacrificed in the Temple. The paschal character and symbolism of Jesus' death was thus empahsized in John's account, which has guided the liturgical observance of Holy Week for most of the Church's history.
Popular devotions - e.g., the Stations of the Cross - while admirable and spiritually very effective - have a certain incompleteness about them. they tend to focus on only one aspect of the Easter story - e.g., the passion and death of Jesus - detached fromt he totality of the story. The liturgy itself, however, never did that. (At least the pre-1970 liturgy never did that.) For centuries until 1969, the account of the institution of the Passover (Exodus 12:1-11 was read at the Good Friday litrugy, clearly connecting the Passion account which followed (and indeed the entire day) with the paschal mystery. Until 1955, that reading was also repeated at the Easter Vigil, further bringing home the connection. The 1970 lectionary moved the Exodus reading to the Mass of the Lord's Supper. Liturgical cognoscenti might well think of the Mass of the Lord's Supper as a kind of "1st Vespers" of Good Friday. (It is, in fact, the official beginning of the 1st day of the Triduum, which ends with the Liturgy of the Lord's Passion on Good Friday afternoon). For most modern people, however, Thursday and Friday are separate days. Few are likely spontaneously to see a connection between the Exodus reading and Friday's Passion account. And the common replacement of the Pange Lingua durign the Good Friday Veneration of the Cross with popular passion hymns like O Sacred Head or, worse, Were You There? further detaches Good Friday from its Easter connection and turns the whole day into just a historical anniversary of Christ's death.
Back in the 1950s, Good Friday was a popular semi-holiday. A lot of people got off work early, and in the immediate aftermath of the 1955 liturgical reform churches were often filled for the liturgy of Good Friday afternoon (and often as well on the evening before for the Holy Thursday Mass). Of course, even then a free afternoonwas for many an opportunity for shopping. Now, however, it has increasingly become the beginning of a long holiday weekend, with the obivous effect on attendance at the liturgy of the day.
Another casualty, of course, has been Tenebrae, which in its modern, morning verison has never quite caught on the way the older, afternoon version did. There were only seven of us there this morning, but we still snuffed the candles (see photo) and so started in a good spirit this special day - this "Day of Preparation" for our renewed appreciation of our participation in Christ's resurrection.

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