14 April 2017

Reflections in Holy Week 2017 (5),
Good Friday, Saint Mary’s, Askeaton

The Crucifixion … a reredos on a side altar in the north aisle of Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Good Friday, 14 April 2017

8 p.m., The Good Friday Litany, Readings and Reflection,

Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton, Co Limerick.

Readings: Isaiah 52: 13 to 53: 12, Psalm 22; Hebrews 10: 16-25; John 18: 1 to 19: 42.

May I speak to you in the name of + the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Throughout this week, we have been journeying together through Holy Week, with services each evening, beginning here in Saint Mary’s, Askeaton, on Monday [10 April 2017], moving on to Saint Brendan’s, Tarbert, on Tuesday [11 April], Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale, on Wednesday [12 April], and Castletown Church last night [13 April] for the Maundy Eucharist.

Earlier today, I took part in the Ecumenical Good Friday Service in Saint Mary’s (Roman Catholic) Church in Rathkeale, with the theme, ‘Waiting around the Cross.’

This evening, we are back here in Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton, to mark Good Friday with the Litany and prayers at the foot of the cross.

All this anticipates our celebration of the Resurrection, tomorrow evening in Castletown and on Easter Morning in Tarbert, Askeaton and Rathkeale.

On Good Friday, we remember the day Christ was crucified outside the walls of Jerusalem, on the Hill of Calvary.

The 1662 Book of Common Prayer did not specify a particular way to observe Good Friday. And so, local custom came to expect an assortment of services, including the Seven Last Words from the Cross and a three-hour service consisting of Matins, the Ante-Communion (using the Reserved Sacrament in some parishes) and Evensong.

The Seven Last Words have been identified in tradition as:

● ‘Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing’ (Luke 23: 34).

● ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise’ (Luke 23: 43).

● ‘Woman, here is your son … Here is your mother’ (John 19: 26-27).

● ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ (Matthew 27: 46, Mark 15: 34).

● ‘I am thirsty’ (John 19: 28).

● ‘It is finished’ (John 19: 30).

● ‘Father, into your hands I commend my spirit’ (Luke 23: 46).

In the Church of England, recent revisions of the Book of Common Prayer and Common Worship have introduced new forms for observing Good Friday. However, the Church of Ireland’s Book of Common Prayer (2004), although it introduced provisions for Ash Wednesday, makes no provisions for Good Friday, apart from the Collects, and leaves it to local tradition to decide how we observe this day.

There is no Post-Communion prayer or liturgical colour for Good Friday, which makes it implicit that there must be no celebration of the Eucharist in the Church of Ireland on Good Friday.

A float in the Good Friday procession in Barcelona last year (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

Last year, we spent Good Friday and Easter weekend in Barcelona. There, one of the most beautiful works of architecture – indeed, one of the most beautiful churches in the world – is the Basilica of La Sagrada Familia, designed by Antoni Gaudí (1852-1926), with two façades.

The Nativity Façade depicts scenes from Christ’s birth and early life, including the Annunciation and the Incarnation. On the opposite side, the Passion Façade includes carvings of scenes from the trial, passion and crucifixion of Christ. In a very moving way, Gaudí brings together the Incarnation and the Crucifixion.

In a moving way, this link was emphasised in the street processions through the narrow streets of Barcelona on the evening of Good Friday. One float we followed had a life-sized effigy of the Pieta. The weeping Virgin Mary was cradling in her lap the body of the Crucified Christ who had been taken down from the Cross.

In that moment of searing sorrow, she must have wondered: Is this what it was all for, is this the end?

Without the benefit of foresight, she could not have known the Easter story.

In her womb she has carried the Christ Child. Now she cradles the Crucified Christ on her lap. The lap on which he had once played is now the lap on which his limp and lifeless body lies dead.

Was this the end of the journey – from the Annunciation to the Crucifixion?

But Mary’s yes was to all this: ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word’ (Luke 1: 38).

Yet, all of this, birth and death, annunciation and crucifixion, remain perplexing, find no explanation, without the Resurrection. As the Apostle Paul puts it: “if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain’ (I Corinthians 15: 14). And again: ‘And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied’ (I Corinthians 15: 17-19).

Mary’s yes at the Annunciation is her yes, is our yes, is the yes of humanity and of creation, not only to the Incarnation, but to the Crucifixion, and to the Resurrection.

And so, when we go out tonight, we go out sad and mournful, but prepared for the surprise, the joy and the celebration of Easter.

And so, may all we think, say and do be to the praise, honour and glory of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

The Crucifixion of Christ on the Passion Façade on Antoni Gaudí’s Basilica of La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

The Collect of the Day:

Almighty Father,
Look with mercy on this your family
for which our Lord Jesus Christ
was content to be betrayed
and given up into the hands of sinners
and to suffer death upon the cross;
who is alive and glorified with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen.

(Revd Canon Professor) Patrick Comerford is Priest-in-Charge, the Rathkeale and Kilnaughtin Group of Parishes. This Holy Week Reflection was prepared for Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton, on Good Friday, 14 April 2017.

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