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Good Friday: Why and how do Christians observe it every year?

Christians all over the world observe Good Friday as the most sorrowful and sacred day of the year. It is also referred to as Holy Friday, Great Friday, Black Friday, or Easter Friday.

art and culture Updated: Apr 14, 2017 11:21 IST
Kabir Singh Bhandari
Good Friday

A lady kisses the Holy Cross during the Good Friday mass gathering at Loyola ground in Ranchi in March, 2016.(Parwaz Khan/ HT Photo)

“The dripping blood our only drink,
The bloody flesh our only food:
In spite of which we like to think
That we are sound, substantial flesh and blood--
Again, in spite of that, we call this Friday good.”

TS Eliot (The Four Quartets)

Christians around the world observe Good Friday as the day when Jesus Christ died on the cross for humanity so that he could save them from their sins.

Good Friday is observed as a public holiday in various countries such as India, Canada, the UK, Germany, Australia, Bermuda, Brazil, Finland, Malta, Mexico, New Zealand, Singapore and Sweden among others.

For Christians, it is the most sorrowful, sombre and sacred day of the year. It is also referred as Holy Friday, Great Friday, Black Friday, or Easter Friday.

Devotees take part in the prayer on the occasion of Good Friday at Sacred Heart Cathedral, in Gole Dak Khana, New Delhi on Friday, March 25, 2016. (Sushil Kumar/ HT Photo)

Churches observe the day with a service that normally takes place in the evening, where they remember Christ’s death with hymns, thanksgiving prayers, talk about the special significance that the day holds and observe the Lord’s Supper.

The etymology of the term ‘good’ in Good Friday is contested in various circles. While some say ‘good’ means holy, others say that it is a modification of ‘God Friday.’

However, many believe it is an appropriate term since it denotes that Christ suffered and died for his people.

Catholics do not eat meat on Good Friday but can eat fish instead and it is also customary to eat warm hot cross buns. They normally fast on this day unless they have health issues or are below the prescribed age.

Cardinals kiss the Holy Cross during the Celebration of the Lord's Passion held by Pope Francis at St. Peter's Basilica on March 25, 2016 in Vatican City, Vatican. (Getty Images)

Protestants, on the other hand, do not have food restrictions on Good Friday but many follow the ‘no meat’ rule like the Catholics.

On Sunday after this comes Easter, when the resurrection of Jesus is celebrated. Christians also observe Lent - a period of 40 days, except Sundays - that begins on Ash Wednesday and ends on Easter Sunday.

Christian devotees carry a huge cross in a procession on the occasion of ‘Good Friday’ in Kozhikode. (PTI)

Rituals in India

Some areas hold three-hour long special services in noon – the time when Jesus is said to have been crucified. The lights are dimmed and eventually extinguished. Followers wear black clothes and cover all religious pictures, crosses and icons in the churches and their homes to mourn the absence of God and the associated sadness.

A loud noise is created to depict the earthquake that struck during Jesus’ dying hour. Passages from the Gospel about the Seven Last Words of Jesus are read. Catholics relive the fourteen stations —places in and around the church that mark Jesus’ final journey.

The Holy Communion is organised at several places. A bitter drink is prepared from mostly leaves and vinegar, which is tasted by all after the service.

In other areas, parades are held in which hymns are sung and prayers offered. Open air plays, depicting the last hours of Jesus Christ, are also organised my some communities.

What is Lent?

Lent represents the time Jesus spent fasting in the desert, before starting his public ministry, where he endured temptation by Satan. Satan tried to get Jesus to put his own above God’s will. However, Jesus rejected Satan and trusted God to do the thing in his way.

Sundays are not included in the 40-day period because each Sunday represents a ‘mini-Easter’ and the respectful period is the spirit of Lent is punctuated with joy in wait of the Resurrection.

Pope Francis holds the Holy Cross as he attends the Celebration of the Lord's Passion at St. Peter's Basilica on April 3, 2015 in Vatican City, Vatican. On Good Friday Pope Francis presided over the liturgy of Our Lord's Passion in St Peter's Basilica. (Getty Images)

The word ‘Lent’ is derived from the Old English word ‘lencten’, which means spring. It is described as the season when the days begin to lengthen, signifying rebirth.

During this period, Christians normally fast or give up habits such as smoking or swearing. They also read the Bible regularly and pray more.

Washing of the feet

Jesus washed the feet of his disciples just before the Last Supper took place. This practice is repeated on the Thursday before Good Friday, by the pope who washes the feet of up to 12 communicants.

Jesus said that he washed his disciples’ feet as a display of his humility. Also by taking part in foot washing service, the pope shows his willingness to follow Jesus completely.

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