Friday, April 18, 2014

Fr. Herbert Thurston, S.J. On Good Friday

There is every reason to believe that these solemn prayers in our Good Friday service date back at least to the time of John Cassian and St. Jerome. Very possibly they formed an almost invariable adjunct to the three lessons and the psalmi responsorii, of which, as was said above, the non-liturgical synaxes mainly consisted. In the middle ages I think that they still survived in our English churches in the prayers known as the bidding prayers, and in France in the prieres du prone. 1 But although they must thus have been an almost, daily feature in the life of the Christians of the fourth century, it is only on this one occasion in the whole year that they are heard in our churches now. Probably the apparently meaningless Oremus, which is said in the Mass before the antiphon called the Offertory, marks the place where once they stood.


After the solemn prayers the next feature which meets us in the morning office of Good Friday is the rite which in the Latin books is described as adoratio crucis, but which amongst our English forefathers was known as the creeping to the cross. There is not, I think, any sufficient reason for dwelling upon the preliminary ceremonies with which that most impressive function is introduced. I content myself with reproducing the rubrics in the Holy Week book, which sufficiently explain the details of what is done. After reading the foregoing prayers the priest puts off his chasuble, and taking down the cross, covered with a veil, from the altar, he goes with the deacon and subdeacon to the Epistle corner of the altar, where he uncovers the top of it, and shows it to the people, singing with the deacon and subdeacon the following Anthem :


Ant. Ecce lignum crucis
in quo salus mundi pependit.


Ant. Behold the wood of the cross, on which
hung the salvation of the world.

To which the choir, prostrate on the ground, answer :

Venite, adoremus. Come, let us adore.

From thence the priest proceeds again to the Epistle corner, where he uncovers the right arm of the cross, singing a second time, in a higher key,

Ecce lignum, etc.,

as before. Lastly, he goes to the middle of the altar, and uncovers the whole cross, singing a third time, still higher,

Ecce lignum, etc.

After which he carries it to a place prepared before the altar, where himself first kisses it, and then all the clergy and laity, two and two, kneeling thrice on both knees, and kissing the feet of the crucifix. During this ceremony two chanters in the middle of the choir sing the following verses, wherein the Redeemer of the world is represented as reproaching the Jews for their ingratitude..


POPULE meus quid feci tibi ?
aut in quo contristavi te ?

Re-sponde mihi.

V. Quia eduxi te de terra Egypti:
parasti crucem Salvatori tuo.


My people, what have I done to thee ?
in what have I grieved thee?

Answer Me.

V. Because I brought thee out of the land of Egypt:

Thou hast prepared a cross for thy Saviour

 As we may learn from liturgical writers like Alcuin, Amalarius and St. Ethelwold, there has been, no doubt, a certain amount of variation in the antiphons sung, and in their order, but we may say that the rite, as we have it now, is very much the same as it was in this country more than a thousand years ago. I will turn therefore by preference rather to the first beginnings of this * adoration of the cross, which, as Amalarius and other early writers correctly divine, originated in the veneration paid to the relic of the true Cross discovered by St. Helena, the mother of the Emperor Constantine. Of this relic St. Cyril of Jerusalem tells us, writing within twenty-five years of the time of its discovery, that it has been distributed fragment by fragment from this spot, and has already nearly filled the whole world. From the custom of venerating the wood of the true Cross itself, in those places which were fortunate enough to possess a fragment, the practice arose in time of paying homage to any rough representation of the instrument of our Lord s death. As Amalarius very sensibly remarks, Although every church cannot have
such a relic, still the virtue of the holy true Cross is not wanting in those crosses which are made in representation of it. We will turn therefore to the pilgrim lady who has before been quoted inthe chapter on Palm Sunday, and we will try to learn from her how the Christians of Jerusalem
about the year 380 kept Good Friday, and more especially how they venerated the Holy Cross
still preserved in their midst. She had already described in detail the solemnities of the Thursday evening. There had been Mass just before sunset, which on that day alone of all the year was said ad crucem, beside the Cross, and there all the faithful had communicated. Then after a hasty meal they had streamed across the valley, and all that night they had watched on the Mount of Olives, moving from one hallowed spot to another, following every stage of the Passion with prayers and lessons from the Scriptures, reading aloud the very words which the Saviour had spoken there on that April evening three centuries and a half before. Then when it was past midnight they turned to go down. All of them, says Egeria, accompanied the Bishop, even to the youngest child. So great was the crowd, and so steep the road, and so weary were they with their
watchings and al the fasts of Lent, that the descent was made slowly and slowly (lente et lente), though two hundred torches were burning beside the way to light their passage. Then in the grey of the morning, at the hour when one man begins as it were to be able to recognize another, they reach once more the gate of the city. Thence they move along the streets in solemn procession, all the inhabitants, great and small, rich and poor, for on that day no man gives over his watching until morning. Their goal is the chapel ad cucem, and there they read in the Gospels the trial and condemnation of Jesus. It is already daybreak when they have finished, but still the Bishop detains them for a while Exhorting them that since they have labored all the night and have yet to labor through the coming day they lose not heart, but hope in the Lord, who will make them the greater return for their labor ; and so encouraging them as best he can, he charges them, saying :

Go ye now in the meantime to your houses and rest awhile, but at the second hour of the morning (eight o clock) see that ye are all ready here, that from then until noon ye may be able to behold the holy wood of the Cross, as we know, each one of us, that it will profit us for our salvation ; for at noon it behoves us all to meet again in this spot before the Cross, that until nightfall we may devote ourselves to reading and to prayer.

And so, after a brief rest of a couple of hours, during which, short as it is, the more fervent find time to visit the church on Mount Sion, to pray by the column at which our Lord was scourged, they once more gather round the chapel of the Cross for the ceremony of the adoration which the Lady Egeria thus describes:

The Bishops chair, that which is now in use, is placed on Golgotha post Crucem. The Bishop 2 seats himself in his chair, round the table in a circle stand the deacons, and then they bring forth the case of silver gilded in which lies the holy wood of the Cross. It is opened, the contents taken out, and both the wood of the Cross and the title 3 are laid upon the table. When therefore it has been placed upon the table, the Bishop, still seated, lays his hands upon the upper surface of the wood, while the deacons who stand around keep watch. Now, this strict guard is kept because it is the custom that all the people, faithful and catechumens, should come up one by one, bow before the table, kiss the sacred wood, and pass on. And since it is said that at some time or other a man fixed his teeth in it, and would have stolen some of the holy wood, therefore a watch is kept by the deacons who stand around, that no one who comes up should dare to do the like again. In this way, therefore, the whole people pass through, one by one, all of them bowing down, touching the Cross and the title, first with their forehead, and then with their eyes ; and so after kissing the Cross they pass on, but no one puts out his hand to touch it.. . . And thus until noon the whole populace move through, entering by one door and departing by another. Although the veneration of the holy Cross in our churches is not attended by such associations as impressed the pilgrims of Jerusalem in Egeria's time, still the ceremony of the kissing of the cross even as we see it now, is one of the most touching and devotional in the whole range of our liturgical services. Not only is the rite itself most striking by which high and low, rich and poor, humble themselves side by side in order to pay veneration to the mystery of our redemption, but the Church on Good Friday has lavished upon this portion of her service the most exquisite of all her responses and canticles. I am afraid that it is one of the unfortunate results of the cramped arrangement of many of our Holy Week books, that the faithful are not tempted to read more in them than they can possibly help, and that the rich profusion of chants with which the ceremony of kissing the Cross is provided is too often over looked. And yet nowhere in our liturgy shall we find hymns more worthy of devout meditation than the Pange lingua gloriosi lauream certaminis and the (link is a chant video) Crux fidelis ; while the prose antistrophic introduction to these, the Improperia or Reproaclies, sung, as it usually is, to an arrangement which is universally admitted to be Palestrina's masterpiece (link is a chant video) Missa Papae Marcelli , stands absolutely unrivaled in its impressiveness ; I borrow the first portion of Canon Oakeley s translation:

What, O my people, have I done to thee ?
What have I done ? How wrong d thee ? Answer Me.
From Egypt s land I led and rescued thee,
And thou hast wrought a bitter cross for Me.


Holy God,
Holy and strong,
Holy and immortal,
Have mercy on us.
Full forty years along the desert sand
I led thee with a Father s gentle hand,
And gave thee for thy meat the angels food,
And brought thee to a fertile land and good ;
Was it for this which I have done to thee
That thou preparedst this bitter Cross for Me ?
Holy God., etc.
What could I do, and have not done for Mine ?
I planted thee a fair and fruitful vine,
And thou hast served Me bitterly enough,
And with thine acrid juices, crude and rough,
My parched and fever d lips hast rudely plied,
And plunged a javelin in thy Saviour s side.
Holy God, etc.
Then after other shorter reproaches we are
brought to the Crux fidelis. I reproduce a few
of the stanzas as rendered by the same translator.
O faithful Cross, thou peerless Tree !
No forest boasts the like to thee,
Leaf, flower, and bud ;
Sweet is the Wood, and sweet its weight,
And sweet ttie nails that penetrate
Thee, thou sweet Wood.
Sing, O my tongue, devoutly sing
The laurels of our glorious King ;
Proclaim aloud the triumph high
Of the Cross s victory,
How, on that altar meekly laid,
Our price the world's Redeemer paid.


O faithful Cross, thou peerless Tree 1
No forest boasts the like to thee,
Leaf, flower, and bud.
What time our first forefather ate
The fruit that wrought his woeful fate,
Our high Creator piteous mourn d
His righteous law by creatures scorned,
And, fain to make the damage good,
Through Wood revoked the curse of wood.

Sweet is the Wood and sweet its weight,
And sweet the nails that penetrate
Thee, Thou sweet Wood !
Not to be tedious, I pass to two of the later
stanzas, Flecte ramos and Sola digna.
* Bow down thy branches, haughty tree ;
Suspend thy wonted cruelty ;
Relax thy tightened arms ; repress,
For once, thine inborn stubbornness ;
Thy Royal burden gently bear,
And spare our dying God, oh spare !
Sweet is the Wood, etc.
Twas thou alone wert meet esteemed
The Lamb to bear, who man redeemed ;
Tis thou, unshaken Ark, bedew d
With streams of all-availing Blood,
That shipwreck d man dost safely guidn,
Secure in port for aye to bide.
O faithful Cross, etc.

It has already been noticed that the details of the ceremonial which accompanies the adoration of the Cross have varied considerably at different periods. The practice of chanting the Improperia
alternately with the Trisagion does not appear in any of the Roman Ordincs before the fourteenth century, but in the Frankish dominions and in England we find it many centuries earlier. The Trisagion itself or Tersanctus (Holy, Holy,Holy), which is repeated, of course, in every Mass at the end of the Preface, appears here in the extended form which it is said to have assumed in Constantinople in the time of the Patriarch Proems, about A.D. 446. According to an extremely improbable story preserved in the Greek Menologium, on occasion of a great earthquake in Constantinople, a whirlwind came at the same time and carried a young child off his legs high into the air. The Emperor Theodosius and the Patriarch cried aloud in their distress, Kyrie eleison. Whereupon the child came to the ground again unhurt, and he at once, in a loud voice, enjoined upon all present that they should in future invoke God as (link is a chant video) Agios o Theos, Agios ischyros, Agios athanatos, Holy God, Holy and Strong, Holy and Immortal, after which the child immediately expired. 4 The Greek wordsthough printed in Latin characters, are retained in the service of Good Friday, just as Kyrie eleison has always been used untranslated in its Greek form. This mixture of Greek and Latin in the Improperia has generally been held to be an evidence of their high antiquity, and Dr. Probst goes so far as to say that this portion of the liturgy of Good Friday is, with the exception of the Canon of the Mass, the oldest part of theRoman Missal. 5 But Mr. Edmund Bishop, a much more reliable authority on such a question, has come to a very different conclusion. 6 He considers that the Agios o Theos probably formed part of the Good Friday Office in Rome in the eleventh century, and that it was certainly in use at that date at Farfa, close to Rome, but that it was not known to the Roman rite two centuries earlier. And he adds : The earliest distinct attestation that I can find of it is (for Good Friday) in the Pontifical of Prudentius of Troyes (846-861) just at the time when the reaction against the lately fashion able Roman ritual movement had set in. According to an hypothesis suggested by the same writer, the Agios o Theos, which thus appears in the middle of the ninth century in France, is simply the revival, in another setting, of a feature in the old Galilean Mass. The earliest suggestion of the Improperia of which the Agios now forms a part is to be found seemingly in the Bobbio Missal. It is in this Missal also that the name of the Aius (? Agius) is twice mentioned a puzzling word which meets us first in the description of the Gallican liturgy which we owe to St. Germanus of Paris. To return to the adoration of the Cross. The practice of the sacred ministers removing their shoes in this ceremony is probably a modified survival of the age when even the Pope walked barefoot on this day from one Roman1 Basilica to another with all his retinue, just as the triple prostration which we now use in approaching to kiss it is a relaxation of the old medieval custom of creeping to the Cross on hands and knees. Thus it was that St. Louis, King of France, dressed himself in hair-cloth and, with bared feet and head and neck exposed, crept on his knees from his throne to kiss the Cross on Good Friday, followed by all his children, having previously in the early morning visited barefoot all the churches in the city. It may be mentioned that the still common practice of making an offering at the time of the veneration of the holy Cross is also an ancient usage, and is retained even in the Papal ceremonial of the Sistine Chapel. With regard to our English practice, the author of the Durham Rites says that at that place, in the time of Henry VIII, the Cross was laid upon a velvet cushion, having St. Cuthbert's arms upon it all embroider'd with gold set upon the lowest greeses or steps in the quire, where two monks held the picture [image]* 7 of out Saviour betwixt them, sitting on either side of it. And then one of the said monks did rise, and went a pretty space from it, and setting himself upon his knees with his shoes put off, very reverently he crept upon his knees unto the said cross, and most reverently did kiss it ; and after him the other monk did so likewise, and then they sate down on either side of the said cross, holding it betwixt them. Afterward the prior came forth of his stall, and did sit him down upon his knees with his shoes off in like sort, and did creep also unto the said cross, and all the monks after him, one after another, in the same manner and order ; in the meantime the whole quire singing a hymn. It would take me too far from my present subject to enter at any length upon the question of the nature of the veneration paid to the holy Cross. The Church does not shrink from using the word adoratio, but she has always understood perfectly what she meant by it. Thus while the Christian poet Prudentius says of Constantine that he, the supreme ruler, adores the standard of the cross Vexillumque crucis summus dominator adorat,

Link (here) to the full text of this superb book, Lent and Holy Week By Fr. Herbert Thurston, S.J.

Painting Golgotha By Van Dyke

1 The most curious resemblances may be traced between details of these prayers and those found in the Ambrosian, Greek and Celtic liturgies. See the tabular arrangement in Magistretti, La Liturgia della Chiese Milanese nel secola IV, pp..
2 This, it would seem, if Signer Gamurrini s views are correct, must have been the same St. Cyril from whose Catechetical Instructions we quoted above.
3 The title was still preserved in Jerusalem when Antoninus Martyr visited the Holy Places about the year 570. I saw, he tells us, and took into my hand and kissed the title which was placed over the head of Jesus, and on which was written, Jesus Nazarenus Rex Judaorum More than one of the writers who describe the discovery of the Cross make express mention of thefinding of the title..
4 Kutschker, Die Heiligen Gebraitche, vol. ii. p..
5 Lehre und Gcbet, p. 269.
6 " Kyrie Eleisou " in the Downside Review, December 1899.
7 Picture and image were at the period synonymous terms


Anonymous said...

awesome blog, do you have twitter or facebook? i will bookmark this page thanks. lina holzbauer

muebles en segovia said...

Thanks so much for your article, very helpful info.

Maria said...

Lina: It's the best, isn't it? said...

Nice collection Admin you can Go for Latest Good Friday Wallpapers, Images, Scraps, Pictures & Graphics 2012