The liturgy we celebrate on Good Friday is rooted in the most ancient traditions of the Catholic Church. Since the earliest days of the Church the celebration of the Eucharist was forbidden. Instead there is a solemn procession into the church, readings from sacred scripture culminating with the Passion of Saint John. Following the celebration of God’s Word, there is a series of petitions, for the Church and the world, veneration of the cross and finally reception of Holy Communion.
In the celebration of the, “Mass of the Pre-sanctified,” Eucharist consecrated at the Mass of the Lord’s Supper is distributed to the faithful. There is no celebration of Mass on Good Friday. The Church is engaged in deep mourning at the death of Christ and her celebration of the Sacred Liturgy is reflective of the mournful solace that is embraced by the Church. The celebration which precedes the reception of the Eucharist is simple, praying the Lord’s Prayer and the Lamb of God are the Church’s methodology of indicating the emptiness the Church experiences with the death of the Lord. Ceremonies are simple, with a focus on the Lamb that was slain for our salvation. Reception of Holy Communion was introduced into the Good Friday services circa A.D. 800. Prior to this time the service consisted of readings, veneration of the cross and the petitions.
In the Middle Ages only the priest received Communion during the Good Friday services. However, the Mass of the Pre-Sanctified indeed was celebrated. During this era, the reposed Eucharist was retrieved from the repository where it was placed on Holy Thursday evening. The repository was a symbolic representation of Christ’s tomb. The retrieved Eucharist was placed on the altar, a chalice of wine and water was presented to the celebrant and then the priest receive Holy Communion. Uniquely, this was indeed not a Mass. The people were not invited to receive Communion. With the changes introduced into the liturgy of Holy Week by Pope Pius XII in 1955 this Mass of the Pre-Sanctified was suppressed. With the changes, the Good Friday service we have today more adequately reflects the manner in which the ancient Church celebrated Christ’s passion and death. Historically, today’s Good Friday service is rooted in Catholic antiquity, the Catholic Church in Jerusalem circa A.D. 400.
A few points to mention, the Veneration of the Cross was introduced in the seventh century at the Church of Rome. Rome introduced the tradition of the Church of Jerusalem which had venerated what was believed to be a relic of the true cross since Saint Helena in A.D. 326. The custom spread to Rome and then to the rest of the universal Church after the seventh century.
The Mass of the Pre-Sanctified, suppressed by Pope Pius XII began as a declaration of the Second Trulean Council in A.D.692. The celebration of the Mass of the Pre-Sanctified is still an integral part of the liturgy in the Eastern Catholic rites as well as the Orthodox Church.
The red vestments worn today on Good Friday are part of the liturgical changes of Pope Pius XIII. Prior to 1955 the color of Good Friday was black.
The tradition of strict fasting and abstinence (from meat) has been observed in the Church since the early second century. In part the tradition developed at the Church in Jerusalem, which was representative of many Jewish converts to the Catholic faith. Jewish tradition in the Old Testament commonly applied rules of fasting and abstinence as a regular practice before the celebration of great feasts.
The tradition of celebrating the Seven Last Words on Good Friday was introduced by the Jesuits in the 17th century in northeastern Peru. It spread to the colonies of Brazil and then to British Protestant traditions. The Seven Last Words have also been translated into many musical scores by famous composers such as Haydn, Gounod and Dubois.