Postcard from Good Friday

“For there is no one, great or small, who does not weep on that day during those three hours in a way that cannot be measured, that the Lord should have suffered such things for us.”

By the time that they have come in front of the Cross it begins to be broad daylight. Then again that passage is read from the Gospel where the Lord is brought before Pilate, and everything which it is written that Pilate said to the Lord or to the Jews is read. Then the bishop addresses the people, encouraging them, as they have toiled all night, and are about to toil all day, not to be weary, but to have hope in God, who will give them a greater reward in return for that toil. And so encouraging them as he can, he thus addresses them: ‘Go, every one of you, home now to your cells, and sit there for a little while, and by the second hour of the day be all ready here, that from that hour to the sixth you may be able to gaze upon the holy wood of the cross, trusting each one that it will profit us for our salvation. After the sixth hour we must all meet again in front of the Cross, that we may give ourselves to lections and prayers until night.’

After this then they are dismissed from the Cross, the sun not being yet up. Straightway the more ardent ones go up to Sion to pray at that pillar at which the Lord was scourged. Then, having returned, they sit down for a little while in their own houses, and soon are all ready again. A chair is placed for the bishop in Golgotha behind the Cross, which stands there now; the bishop sits down in the chair, there is placed before him a table covered with a linen cloth, the deacons standing round the table. Then is brought a silver-gilt casket, in which is the holy wood of the cross; it is opened, and the contents being taken out, the wood of the cross and also its inscription are placed on the table. When they have been put there, the bishop, as he sits, takes hold of the extremities of the holy wood with his hands, and the deacons, standing round, guard it. It is thus guarded because the custom is that every one of the people, faithful and catechumens alike, leaning forward, bend over the table, kiss the holy wood, and pass on. And as it is said that one time a person fixed his teeth in it, and so stole a piece of the holy wood, it is now guarded by the deacons standing round, so that no one who comes may dare to do such a thing again. And so all the people pass on one by one, bowing their bodies down, first with their forehead, then with their eyes, touching the cross and the inscription, and so kissing the cross they pass by, but no one puts forth his hand to touch it. When they have kissed the cross and have passed by, the deacon stands and holds Solomon’s ring, and the horn with which the kings were anointed; they kiss the horn and touch the ring. . . . second . . . up to the sixth hour all the people pass by, entering by one door and going out by another; for this is done in the same place in which the day before (the fifth day) the oblation was made.

And when the sixth hour has come they go in front of the cross in all weathers; for this place is exposed to the open sky, being a kind of atrium, very large and beautiful, situated between the Cross and the Anastasis. Then all the people collect there so that no one can pass through. A chair is placed for the bishop in front of the Cross, and from the sixth to the ninth hour nothing else is done but to read lections as follows: First they read from the Psalms where the Passion is spoken of; then from the Apostolos, either from the Apostolic Epistles, or from the Acts, wherever the Lord’s Passion is mentioned; also the passages from the Gospels where He suffered are read. Then they read from the prophets where they foretold that the Lord would suffer, and from the Gospels where He speaks of His Passion. So from the sixth to the ninth hour lections are always being read, or hymns sung, that it may be shown to all the people that whatever the prophets foretold about the Lord’s Passion is proved by the Gospels or by the writings of the Apostles to have taken place. So for those three hours all the people are taught that nothing took place which was not first foretold, and that nothing was predicted which was not fully accomplished. And continually prayers suitable to the day are interspersed. At the several lections and prayers there is such emotion displayed and lamentation of all the people as is wonderful. For there is no one, great or small, who does not weep on that day during those three hours in a way that cannot be measured, that the Lord should have suffered such things for us.

After this, when it begins to be the ninth hour, that passage from the Gospel according to John is read where He gave up the ghost, which having been read, prayer is offered, and Mass celebrated. But when Mass has been celebrated in front of the Cross, forthwith all things are done in the Great Church at the Martyrium which it is usual to do throughout that week from the ninth hour, when they come to the Martyrium, until late. And Mass having been celebrated, they come from the Martyrium into the Anastasis; and when they have come there the passage from the Gospel is read where Joseph asks Pilate for the body of the Lord, and places it in a new tomb. This passage having been read, prayer is offered, the catechumens are blessed, and so they are dismissed. But on that day there is no announcement made of vigil at the Anastasis, for it is known that the people are tired out. But it is usual, nevertheless, to hold a vigil there. Those of the people who wish it – that is, all those who are able – keep vigil; those who are not able do not keep vigil till the morning. But the clergy keep vigil there – that is, the stronger and younger of them – and during the whole night hymns and antiphons are sung there until the morning; but most people keep vigil from late in the evening, or from the middle of the night, as they are able.

On Good Friday

Deo omnis gloria!

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