Deacon Cornellís Homily


Isaiah 52:13—53:12
Hebrews 4:14-16; 5:7-9
John 18:1—19:42


April 6, 2012 - Good Friday

At one point in one form of a Jewish seder, the youngest child asks the question, "Why is this night different from all others?", followed by questions about the specific ways that the seder meal is different from other meals. In some Jewish traditions, these questions are so important that even if one is forced to celebrate the Passover meal alone, he or she is to ask themselves the questions and answer them. What a great way to remember that our faith is handed down primarily from one generation to the other by the answering of questions. I suggest that this tradition would be very appropriate for our Good Friday liturgy.

Why is Good Friday different from all others? I would like to reflect on three specific differences with you. Why is there no Mass on this day when there is on every other day in the year? Why do we call this day Good when we are remembering Jesus suffering and death on the cross? Why do we venerate the cross today when on all other days we simply make the sign of the cross?

Why is there no Mass on Good Friday?

Since the Mass is a participation in the sacrifice Jesus made on the first Good Friday, you would think that this, of all days, should be a time we celebrate mass. But the Mass is not simply a participation in that sacrifice. Among many other things it is a foretaste of the heavenly banquet. If we "do Mass right", if we celebrate the Eucharist fully, for a few moments we step outside of time and experience what it is like to participate in the fullness of that loving relationship we call Trinity. In heaven there will be no Mass because we will already be at the heavenly banquet. We will be enjoying the fullness of the fruits of Christ's sacrifice on the Cross. We will not need to receive Christ under the form of bread and wine because we will be in the presence of the risen Christ in our risen bodies. Today we pray, we gather to celebrate, "as if". As if the kingdom of God, the fruit of Christ's sacrifice is already here; as if we already stand, with the penitent thief in the presence of Christ in heaven. As St. Thomas Aquinas said, "the sign is no longer needed when the reality appears." So today we gather to celebrate as if we are now perfectly joined to that Paschal Mystery.

Why do we call this day Good when we are remembering Jesus suffering and death on the cross?

It is only in English that today is called Good Friday. In the Romance languages it is called Holy Friday. There are many ways to understand this. Here are two. The first is linguistic. Originally, in German, this was called God Friday(Gottes Freitag) and the word God gradually transformed into Good as did the God in God be with you transformed into the good in goodbye. On a deeper level, it is because Christ's sacrifice is a pouring out of love, perfect, self-emptying love. Love is always Good. And ultimately, as we reflected on in that first answer, we celebrate today knowing that on the 3rd day, Christ rose from the dead, and that is indeed Good.

Why do we venerate the cross today when on all other days we simply make the sign of the cross?

Again you can find many different answers to this. Joyce gave a few of them to us two weeks ago at Generations of Faith. One that challenges me is this. We venerate the cross today for the same reason we have special days to celebrate birthdays, or Christmas or Easter, for the same reason that we keep holy the Sabbath. We don't celebrate our birthday on one day because none of the other 364 days in the year are unimportant. We celebrate so that the other days might be lived with a renewed sense of gratitude and inspiration. We celebrate the birth of Jesus on one day so that every day of the year we will remember that God became human and every decision we make every day should be made with that in mind. We don't keep the Sabbath holy because the other days are not but to remind us that, indeed every day is holy. And we venerate the cross today so that every other day when we make the sign of the cross we will remember what that means, what the cross cost Jesus and what we have gained by the cross.

Great questions, but the answers can be a little frightening, or at least challenging, if I take them to heart. People are asked all time, "What would you do if you knew you were going to die tomorrow?" What am I going to do if I knew that the kingdom of God that Jesus initiated on the cross is to come in fullness tomorrow? How should I live knowing that by baptism we have been given the responsibility to help bring this kingdom into fullness?

May we all have a blessed Good Friday.

homily index