Good Friday: Significance, Customs, and Fun Activities For Families

Good Friday is a Christian holiday that commemorates the crucifixion of Jesus Christ and his death at Golgotha. Good Friday, which is also known as Holy Friday, Black Friday, and Great Friday, is observed during the Holy week as a part of the Paschal Triduum. Members of many Christian denominations observe Good Friday with fasting and church services.

In several Lutheran, Methodist, Catholic, and Anglican churches, the Service of the Great Three Hours’ Agony is held from noon until 3 pm. This service commemorates the three hours of Christ’s hanging at the cross and includes sermons on the Seven Last Words from the Cross. This service takes place from noon till 3 pm and sometimes between 6 pm till 9 pm, the time at which Jesus is said to have died on the cross, it also coincides with the beginning of Liturgy of the Lord’s Passion.

Good Friday is not celebrated on the same day every year and varies in both Gregorian and Julian’s calendars. Eastern and Western Christianity also disagree over the computation of the day of Easter and consequently. Good Friday is a widely celebrated holiday and is celebrated across the globe.


History of Good Friday

In the New Testament, Good Friday is the day on which Jesus Christ was crucified by the Romans. The Jewish religious leaders were so agitated by Jesus’s acts of blasphemy, such as claiming to be the Son of God, that they brought him to the Romans. It was the Roman leader Pontius Pilate that sentenced Jesus to crucifixion.

According to the story in the New Testament, Jesus was beaten and made to wear a crown of thorns as punishment. He was then forced to carry a heavy wooden cross through the streets while being shamed by a jeering crowd. In the end, he was nailed to the cross by his wrists and feet and left crucified on the cross until he died.

In the early days of Christianity, the question of whether and when to observe Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection was a topic of contention. Until the 4th century, Jesus’s Last Supper, his death, and his resurrection were all observed in one day, the evening before Easter. However, liturgical celebrations have undergone massive changes over many centuries, and now those three events have been observed separately. And Easter, which commemorates Jesus’ resurrection, is considered a pivotal event.

Holy Friday: Origin, Significance & Facts
Holy Friday: Origin, Significance & Facts

Biblical Accounts of Good Friday

According to the Gospels, under the leadership of Christ’s disciple Judas Iscariot, the royal Roman soldiers arrested Jesus Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane. Judas received 30 pieces of silver for betraying Jesus. Following his arrest, Jesus was interrogated at the house of Annas. During the interrogation, the high priest asked Jesus the following under solemn oath, “I adjure you, by the Living God, to tell us, are you the Anointed One, the Son of God?” And to this Jesus replied, “You have said it, and in time you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Almighty, coming on the clouds of Heaven.”

The high priest condemned Jesus of blasphemy and he was sentenced to death by the Sanhedrin. The next morning, Jesus Christ was brought to the Roman governor Pontius Pilate, under the charges of opposing taxes to Caesar, subverting the nation, and calling himself a king. Pilate authorized the Jewish leaders to sentence Christ in accordance with the Jewish law. However, the Jewish leaders were quick to remind him that they were not allowed to carry the death sentence under the Romans.

Pilate told the assembly that he and King Herod hadn’t found Jesus guilty and had considered resolving the issue by having Jesus whipped and released. On the other hand, the restless crowd demanded Christ to be crucified. After his flogging was completed, as Christ was about to be released into the crowd, the chief priests announced new charges and demanded that Jesus Christ should be sentenced to death because he claims to be the son of God.

The possibility of a riot filled Pilate with the fear of rioting therefore, he brought Christ back inside the palace in order to know where he came from. According to the Biblical records, earlier that day Pilate’s wife had a dream about Jesus Christ and she warned Pilate to not do anything to the righteous man. Although Pilate declared Jesus innocent, he handed him over to be crucified. His sentence read “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.”

Jesus carried his cross to the site of the crucifixion known as Golgotha (Calvary or the place of the Skull.) Christ was crucified there along with two criminals. It is recorded in the Biblical scriptures that Jesus Christ agonized on the cross for six hours. And during the last three hours on the cross, darkness fell upon the entire land and Jesus quoted Psalm 22: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

When Jesus finally gave up his spirit after a loud cry, an earthquake happened which broke the tombs open and the curtains in the Temple tore from top to bottom. Two members of the Sanhedrin, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, who were followers of Jesus Christ in secret and had not consented to his condemnation, requested Pontius Pilate for Christ’s body.

After confirming whether Jesus was dead, Pilate handed over Christ’s body to them and they wrapped it in a clean piece of linen. Christ was placed in a tomb that had been carved in a rock in a garden near the site of the crucifixion. In accordance with the Jewish burial customs, Nicodemus bought 75 pounds of myrrh and aloe. They then rolled a large rock over the entrance of his tomb and returned home as Shabbat had begun at sunset.

According to Matt 28:1, “After the Shabbat, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb”. i.e. “After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week…” “He is not here; he has risen, just as he said….”. (Matt. 28:6)

The Seven Last Words of Jesus from the Cross

During his last hours on the cross, Jesus Christ made seven final statements. These statements, which were recorded in the Gospels, reveal not just his divinity and humanity but also the depth of his suffering to accomplish redemption. The last seven words are:

1) “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

During his earthly ministry, Jesus Christ taught his disciples to forgive both enemies and friends. Jesus practiced what he preached by pleading to his father, God to forgive his own torturers. Even when he was suffering, Christ focused on the well-being of others rather than himself. This indicates the unconditional and divine nature of his love.

2) “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”

Jesus assured the dying criminals crucified next to him of his forgiveness and eternal salvation. Jesus promised the men that they would share eternal life with Christ in paradise that very day.

3) “Dear woman, here is your son,” and “Here is your mother.”

According to John 19:26-27, when Jesus saw his mother standing in the ground, he was filled with the concerns of a son for the earthly needs of his mother. He gives the job to take care of her to Apostle John. This indicates Christ’s humanity.

4) “My God, my God, why have you forsaken Me?”

Around the ninth hour of his crucifixion, Christ cried out the opening words of Psalm 22. This phrase symbolizes the agony felt by Christ because of his separation from God. It represents the moment the Father turned away from his Son while he bears the full weight of our sin.

5) “I am thirsty.”

Although Jesus initially refused the drink of vinegar, myrrh, and gall, which was offered to alleviate his suffering, however, once he understood that everything was now over, then he uttered this phrase.

6) “It is finished.”

These three simple words are packed with meaning. These three words not only signify the end of Christ’s life but also his suffering and payment for sin and the redemption of the world. He had fulfilled the scriptures and in doing so completed the final act of his obedience.

7) “Father into your hands I commit my spirit.”

Jesus Christ breathed his last breath when he said this out loud. This phrase symbolizes the trust Jesus had in his heavenly father. He entered death the same way he lived his life which was by placing himself in the hands of God.

Read more: The Mysteries of the Rosary

Veneration of the Cross

The tradition of veneration of the Cross dates back to the fourth century. Historically, on Good Friday, the Christians in Jerusalem would gather around a relic of the true cross and kneel, bow, and kiss the cross. This was a way to remember the Passion of our Lord, Jesus Christ. Since then, it has become a tradition to venerate the cross during Good Friday liturgy.

When we venerate an image of Christ or his representation on the cross not only are we adoring the material image but we are also paying the highest regard to our Lord who is the instrument of our salvation.

In today’s Roman Catholic rite the priest solemnly unveils a crucifix in three stages or carries it to the altar in a procession divided up into three stages (see also Veiling). There he holds it up before the congregation declaring, “This is the wood of the cross, on which hung the savior of the world.” The assembled parishioners reply, “Come, let us worship.” The priest then genuflects – bends one knee down or touches the knee to the floor – before the crucifix, and kisses Jesus’ feet. The congregation follows behind the priest, one by one approaching the crucifix and reverencing it in the same fashion.

Veneration of the Cross at home

Due to the coronavirus, church services were canceled all around the world in fear of the spread of infection. But no worries because you can also venerate the cross at your home. Place your favorite cross in a place of honor at your home. Choose a place in front of which you can kneel comfortably and then light the candles on either side of the cross.

While listening to the liturgy at home on either the radio or on a live stream, choose the right time in the liturgy to light the candles and kneel in front of the crucifix and start praying. You can start off your prayers by thanking Jesus for the gift of salvation. Then make an act of contrition and follow that with this prayer

Behold, O kind and most sweet Jesus, I cast myself upon my knees in Your sight, and with the most

The fervent desire of my soul, I pray and beseech You that You would impress upon my heart lively

sentiments of faith, hope, and charity, with true confession for my sins and a firm purpose of

amendment; while with deep affection and grief of soul I ponder within myself and mentally

contemplate Your five wounds, having before my eyes the words which David, your prophet put on

Your lips concerning You: “They have pierced My hands and My feet, they have numbered all My bones.”

(Psalm 21:17,18)

You can finish the veneration of the cross at your home by saying Our Father, Hail Mary, and Glory Be. Once you have concluded your prayers, kiss Jesus’s feet and remind yourself that you are truly loved.

The Reproaches and the Reading of the Passion

The Reproaches, aka the Improperia, are a series of antiphons and responses that express the remonstrance of Jesus Christ with his people. These are sung during Catholic liturgy as a part of the observance of the Passion on Good Friday. The Reproaches came into common practice throughout Europe in the eleventh and twelfth centuries and they were finally incorporated into the Roman Ordo in the fourteenth century.

In Anglicanism, during the English Reformations, the reproaches were suppressed by Thomas Cranmer after he had authored the first Book of Common Prayer in the sixteenth century. However, some provinces in the Anglican communion reintroduced the reproaches in a desire to reconnect with ancient liturgical traditions.

Nowadays, on Good Friday, many Anglican liturgies include singing the Reproaches at the Veneration of the Cross. In Presbyterianism, the Reproaches are a part of the Good Friday liturgy and are followed by the Solemn Intercessions and Lord’s Prayer.

Many liturgies involve a rough-hewn cross which is carried during the procession and placed before the worshipers as a sign to begin singing the reproaches, of which there are nine. Each Reproach is introduced before the congregation by saying, “Holy God, Holy and Mighty, Holy immortal One, have mercy upon us.” The reproaches are concluded by praying “Lord, have mercy.

Read more: Palm Sunday: Origin, Significance, & Facts

Significance of Good Friday

Good Friday is a widely celebrated Christian holiday that is observed as a day of sorrow and penance. Despite being a sad and sorrowful day, the holiday is called Good Friday which many believe originated from the English term “God’s Friday.”

It is believed that on this day, Jesus died for the sins of humans. It is a significant religious holiday because it is observed to ask for the forgiveness of our sins. People pray to be liberated from their pain, suffering, and agony in life.

According to popular Christian beliefs, Jesus’ death signifies the end of all sins. Therefore, people celebrate Good Friday because it symbolizes that sins can be eliminated and that you can give your life a fresh start. Easter, which is a day after Good Friday, commemorates the resurrection of Jesus Christ, which according to the New Testament was on the third day of his burial.

Roman Catholic Good Friday Celebrations

Historically, in the Roman Catholic Church rather than conducting a mass to celebrate Good Friday liturgy is performed. The ritual of only the officiating priest taking the Holy Communion which was consecrated on Maundy Thursday mass began in the Middle Ages. Laypeople started getting communion on Good Friday in 1955.

The liturgy of Good Friday consists of the reading of the Gospel Passion narrative, the adoration of the cross, and Communion. Following an earthquake in Peru in the 17th century, Jesuit priests introduced the Three Hour Service, which is a meditation of Jesus’ “Seven Last Words on the Cross.”

Amongst Catholics, Good Friday is a day of fasting and reflection. Good Friday Mass isn’t celebrated, however, traditional service is conducted which includes a three-part church ceremony to venerate the crucifix and a prayerful walk around the Stations of the Cross. The Stations are an integral element of Good Friday celebrations because they represent Christ’s final journey where he had to carry a wooden cross to the Hill of Golgotha, where he was crucified.

The Gospel accounts describe the journey in complete detail. They say that during the journey, Jesus encountered his mother, was lashed with a whip several times, stumbled and fell, called out to his father in heaven, and finally asked His father to forgive his tormentors. Each of these instances is considered a station on the Way of the Cross. Catholics move slowly around the stations, while simultaneously saying the rosary or saying their personal prayers, from noon to 3 p.m., which is believed to be the time frame when the historic event took place.

After 3 p.m., the priests conduct the day’s only formal liturgy. During the liturgy, no bells are rung, no instruments are played, and the door of the sacred tabernacle that holds consecrated hosts hangs open. The priests then read the Passion of St. John from the Gospel and offer prayers for the Church. A simple ceremony that honors the cross, known as the Veneration of the cross is performed before the distribution of Communion hosts.

Read more: Ash Wednesday

Protestant Good Friday Celebrations

Unlike the Catholics, Protestants do not have restrictions on food on Good Friday. However, this does not stop them from following the ‘no meat’ rule like the Catholics. Protestant Churches hold special religious services on Good Friday that help reminds us of the suffering of Jesus Christ in preparation for the celebration of the resurrection on Easter Sunday. 

Orthodox Good Friday Celebrations

Unlike most Christian churches, the orthodox church still follows the Julian calendar rather than the Gregorian calendar. Therefore, the orthodox churches celebrate Good Friday after the Western Churches have already finished celebrating Easter. In orthodox churches, Good Friday is considered a day of mourning that lacks any of the festive themes present in Easter day celebrations.

In Orthodox Churches, the main tradition during the Good Friday service includes liturgies and Gospels readings. These readings recount Jesus’ story. While many churches conduct Good Friday services in the evening, some prefer to conduct them in the afternoon for people who have children or cannot stay up late.

During the service, a table is placed in the middle of the church. Devotees walk underneath a table and light a candle when the church bells signal. This practice is meant to cleanse the sins of the participant. Priests also wrap or cover any statues of Jesus Christ with black clothing. This symbolically represents burial rites being performed.

Orthodox Christians are meant to observe a strict fast, with many Churches even encouraging people to not consume food all day, unless they observe are ill. They are also forbidden to take the Eucharist or communion on Good Friday. While during the period of Lent, priests prefer wearing red and purple clothing, however, on Good Friday, they wear black clothes.

Good Friday and Easter are considered the holiest time of the year in Vatican City, the seat of the Catholic Church. During the holy week, the statues and crucifixes in Saint Peter’s Basilica are covered in either black or purple clothing. In the evening, the Pope presides over the liturgical service.

While Mass is not conducted on Good Friday, a traditional procession begins from the Colosseum, leading through the streets of Rome up to Palatine Hill, commemorates the Via Crucis, the Way of the Cross. Pilgrims carry a real wooden cross for stages of the journey, pausing for call and response prayers at the 14 stations depicting the events on the road to crucifixion. In the end, the Pope concludes the re-enactment with either a speech or brief homily before giving a formal papal blessing to the assembled crowd.

Good Friday Customs Around the World

Germany: In Germany, there are laws that prohibit certain activities such as dancing and horse racing because of the somber nature of the Christian holiday.

Australia: In all states except for the territories of the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory, shops, schools, and universities are mandated to be closed. Although a vast majority of businesses are closed on Good Friday, some recreational businesses are open because, amongst non-religious families, Good Friday is a great day to indulge in outdoor activities.

Canada: In Canada, Good Friday is a federal statutory holiday. In the province of Quebec, employers can either choose to give the day off on Good Friday or on Easter Monday.

Hong Kong: Good Friday was designated as a public holiday in the Holidays Ordinance, 1875. It still continues to be a holiday after the transfer of sovereignty from the UK to China in 1997. Most government and private offices are closed on Good Friday.

The Republic of Ireland: In the Republic of Ireland, even though Good Friday is not an official public holiday, most non-retail businesses close for the day. Up until 2018, there was a ban imposed on the sale of alcohol. In Northern Ireland, a similar ban is imposed until 5 pm on Good Friday.

Malta: By Good Friday, the Holy Week commemorations reach their peak as the Roman Catholic Church celebrates the Passion of Jesus. On Good Friday, many localities celebrate the holiday with a reading of the narrative of passion, as the Adoration of the Cross follows.

Philippines: Good Friday is a major holiday in the predominantly Roman Catholic Philippines. The day is filled with street processions, the Way of the Cross, and the performances of the Passion play. To this day, major television networks only broadcast movies, feature films, documentaries, and other content that focuses on religious events.

Malls, shops, and eateries are closed. During the Church processions, church bells are not rung and Mass is not conducted. At 3 o’clock, the time at which Jesus Christ is believed to have passed, the faithful venerate the cross and follow the procession of the Burial of Jesus.

United Kingdom: In the United Kingdom, Good Friday is considered a bank holiday. While most schools and businesses are closed, several retail stores can now remain open. Traditionally, there had been no horse racing on Good Friday, however, this practice has since stopped. On Good Friday, hot cross buns are toasted and consumed in Britain, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.

Calculating the date of Good Friday celebrations

Good Friday is commemorated every year on a Friday that falls before Easter. Therefore, the date of Good Friday is determined by Easter. Easter falls on the first Sunday after the Full Moon date which falls on or after March 21st. Easter always occurs on the first Sunday after the Paschal Full Moon. The Paschal Full Moon occurs after the vernal equinox, which is a common indicator of spring in the northern hemisphere.

Easter is calculated differently in Eastern and Western Christianity. While the Eastern Orthodox Church follows the Julian calendar, the Western Churches follow the Gregorian calendar. This means that Easter Sunday lands on different dates in Western and Eastern Churches, however, sometimes the calendars coincide.

Activities for Families on Good Friday

There are several ways to make Good Friday a fun day for your kids and family.

1) You can help your kids reflect on Jesus Christ’s sacrifice with cross crafts. You can engage your kids in the activity of coloring different depictions of the cross, Jesus, lambs, flowering vine, and bread. A great way to honor Good Friday is making sweet candy crosses.

2) With the help of your kids, you can plant seeds on Good Friday and explain how it is considered a symbol of Jesus’s resurrection and the forgiveness of sin. You can show them how to plant seeds in a cup and teach them how to take care of it.

3) John 19:12 (NIV) says, “The soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head. They clothed him in a purple robe.” By crafting a crown of thorns you can help your kids recognize the sacrifice that Jesus made for us.

4) On Good Friday you can make your kids read stories about the crucifixion of Jesus, the importance of Good Friday, and the teachings of Jesus Christ. Reading books will help generate interest and raise conversations between Jesus and other Biblical stories.

5) If you are interested in baking, then you can involve your kids in making hot cross buns. Hot cross buns are sweet and spiced buns with a cross placed on top of them. Involve your kids in preparing hot cross buns before proceeding with other Good Friday activities.

Good Friday Prayers

There are several prayers that are specific to Good Friday that help us pray to our Lord, Jesus Christ, thank Him for His sacrifice on the cross, and request that he has mercy on our souls. Some of these prayers are:

Prayer for Holy Week

O Father, most merciful, in the beginning you created us,
and by the passion of your only Son you created us anew.
Work in us now, both to will and to do what pleases you.
Since we are weak and can do no good thing by ourselves,
grant us your grace and heavenly blessing,
that in whatever work we engage we may do all to your honor and glory.

Keep us from sin and empower us daily to do good works,
that as long as we live in the body we may always perform service to you.
After our departure give us pardon of all our sins, and receive us to eternal life;
through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, forever and ever. Amen.

The Precious Blood of Jesus

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God,
you came down from heaven to earth from your Father’s side,
suffered five wounds on the wood of the cross,
and shed your precious blood for the forgiveness of our sins.
At the day of judgment set us at your right hand, speak to us those sweet words,
“Come, you who are blessed, into my Father’s kingdom;” with the Father and the Holy Spirit you live and reign, one God, now and forever.

Conclusion

Good Friday is an incredibly important Christian holiday because it commemorates the crucifixion of Jesus and his death at Golgotha. It is part of the Paschal Triduum and is observed during the Holy Week.

Good Friday is celebrated amongst all denominations of Christianity in the world, however, at different levels of intensity. In many countries where Good Friday is observed, the day is declared a public holiday, and almost all schools, banks, and non-retail businesses are closed with some exceptions.

Devout Christians observe Good Friday by fasting and attending Church services. Although there is no Mass on Good Friday, the liturgy includes the Service of the Great Three Hours’ Agony, praying the reproaches, and the reading of the Passion. Good Friday is observed as a day of sadness and penance.

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About the Author: Naomi Hills

God has given me the gift to read the signs, interpret the dreams, decode the angel numbers since birth. Through rigorous practice and application, my gifts have been fine-tuned. Now, I use my gifts solely to help those distressed souls who have lost all hopes, those who have been left alone to fend for themselves, those whom the system doesn’t care anymore, those whom the mainstream science has ignored.

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