[Station at Holy Cross in Jerusalem.]
Extract from the General Decree (of November 10, 1955) restoring the Liturgy of Holy Week:
“Let the faithful be led to understand properly today’s special liturgical act, in which the Passion of our Lord is solemnly chanted: prayers offered for the needs of the whole Church and the human race: the Holy Cross, monument of our Redemption, is adored most devoutly by clergy and faithful, the whole family of Christ: finally, as for hundreds of years was the practice, all who wish and are duly prepared go forward to receive Communion, with this as their chief intention, that by devoutly receiving the Body of the lord (which He delivered this day for all men) they may enjoy richer fruits of that Redemption. Let the priests urge the faithful to make this sacred day one of loving recollection, neither should they forget the law of abstinence and fasting.”
The instruction given by Pope Pius XII stipulates that Good Friday’s solemn liturgy take place after noon; the best time would be three o’clock. The same Pope revives the old practice of all receiving Communion this day as a necessary part of the liturgical function. This consists of four main divisions, each of which has its own historical interest, the whole forming a dramatic representation of the Sacred passion.
I,II. The first two parts consist of readings from Scripture and a prayer, followed by St. John’s story of the Passion, and concluded by a long series of prayers for the various intentions. In this part we have preserved the form of the earliest Christian prayer-meeting, a service which was derived from the Jewish Synagogue. To this service of Scriptural readings the celebration of the Eucharist was afterwards joined to form the one solemn act of worship now called the Mass. The Mass still preserves these distinct divisions: the first from the beginning to the Offertory, in which the Introit and Gloria are included; the second from the Offertory to the Communion. The first division is called the Mass of the Catechumens, (for the Catechumens were not permitted to remain for the celebration of the Eucharist); the second the Mass of the Faithful.
III. The third part consists of the unveiling and adoration of the Cross. This ceremony was originally connected with the relic of the true Cross, and had its origin in Jerusalem. A veiled Crucifix is gradually exposed to view, and three times at the words Venite adoremus the faithful kneel in adoration of the Cross.
IV. The fourth part, the Communion of the Priest and people, completes what used to be known as the Mass of the Presacntified. Today’s liturgy clearly does not constitute a Mass, for there is no Consecration; all who communicate receive sacred particles consecrated at the Mass of the previous day. This form of “Mass” is familiar in the Greek rite.
The service opens with a Mass of the Catechumens in what is perhaps its oldest and simplest form. It has neither Introit, Gloria, nor Credo, but consists merely of two lessons, followed each by a Tract, also taken from the Prophets. The Gospel is the story of the Passion according to St. John. This is followed by the most ancient form of intercession. The Priest (formerly the Deacon) makes a solemn appeal to the faithful, telling for whom each Prayer is to be offered: for the Church, the Pope, the Bishops, Priests, etc., the Jews, pagans, heretics, prisoners, etc. The Flectamus genua is said and all kneel down to pray until the Subdeacon bids them to rise. Then the Celebrant turns to God, Almighty and Eternal, and formulates the prayer in the name of all. This was the oldest form of Collect or public prayer.
The Adoration of the Cross, which follows the Collect, is a rite by itself. The veneration of the Cross is very old and found expression most naturally on Good Friday. The ceremony observed in the fourth century, in the Church of Golgotha, differs little from that carried out at the present day, in the church of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem (where the most precious relics of the Passion are preserved) and in all our Catholic churches. The antiphons and repositories which are sung during the adoration of the Cross, are called Improperia or Reproaches. They form one of the most tragic features of this Friday service, which is a real drama and suggested the mediæval Passion plays.
The Adoration of the Cross is followed by a short Communion service. The ciborium containing the sacred Hosts consecrated the day before is brought in silence with the simplest of ceremonial from the Altar of Repose. Preparation for Communion is fittingly made by all standing to recite the Pater Noster in unison, and the Communion itself is followed at once by three prayers of thanksgiving. These end the day’s solemn function.