The special rites of Good Friday, excepting what is done for Tenebrae and the other Hours as I mentioned in a previous entry, are all performed together as one seamless whole. There is no interruption between the parts, and it can be understood as one complex Mass. The traditional Good Friday Mass is sometimes referred to as the “Mass of the Presanctified”. Just like the Lenten Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts in the Byzantine Rite (the Orthodox attribute the composition of this liturgy to St. Gregory the Great), the Mass is so-called because the liturgy uses the consecrated Body from a previous celebration, and distinctively does not consecrate any new Eucharistic elements. But whereas the Liturgy of the Presanctified is celebrated throughout the weekdays of Great Lent in the East, the Mass of the Presanctified is only observed on Good Friday, once a year.
The interconnected elements of this complex service consist of five parts: the Liturgy of the Catechumens (the lessons), the Solemn Collects, the Veneration of the Cross, the Liturgy of the Presanctified, and Vespers. This entry will examine the first two.
Prefatory notes on some unique elements of the Good Friday liturgy
The liturgical colour of Good Friday is black. The liturgical black of Good Friday is strikingly unique, as black is only proper on one other day of the calendar: All Souls’ Day. Otherwise, it is only used for Masses for the Dead. But as one might know, the proper liturgies of All Souls’ is almost identical to the Office and Mass of the Dead, and the Mass of Good Friday also bears similarities to the Mass of the Dead. It seems, however, that most Roman sources, either explicitly or by implication, say that the veil of the altar cross should be purple. This would follow the same principle that the Tabernacle veil should never be black, even at Requiems. Fortescue says, however, that “In most English churches the veil is certainly black”.
What is of particular interest for us are the proper vestments that were used by the deacon and subdeacon on this day. Because the dalmatic and tunicle were seen as joyful vestments, these two sacred ministers instead wore folded chasubles, and the deacon will, at certain points, wear what is commonly called the “broad stole”. These vestments are nearly extinct today as their use was completely abolished by the Roman Catholics in the mid 20th century, predating the post-Vatican II liturgies. As with much of the reforms the Vatican imposed upon the Roman Church since the early 20th century, this change also destroyed something of antiquity that was preserved by the simple conservatism that characterized the rites of the city of Rome until rather recently.
The use of folded chasubles and the “broad stole” hearkens back to an age before the chasuble evolved into a vestment proper to the celebrant priest. As some of you might know, the chasuble was originally a civil garment of the Roman Empire, which over time was adopted and modified into a liturgical vestment. In these early days, the chasuble was used as a vestment by not just all the clergy, but also even those in minor orders. When celebrating the liturgies the priest himself was aided by the deacon and subdeacon who lifted the edges of the chasuble so the priest might move his arms freely, an element that still remains in the celebration of the old Roman Rite in at least a ritualized form for when the priest performs the censings and the elevations of the Eucharist. While this actually has a practical purpose when the priest is wearing the older “conical” or “gothic” forms, it is purely vestigial when wearing the modern stiff chasubles that became popular among Roman Catholics during the Baroque era. However, these deacons and subdeacons of old had to adjust the chasuble for their own liturgical duties, and they consequently rolled back the front part of the chasuble so that their arms would be unencumbered.
But even such folding didn’t provide enough freedom for the deacon, who, for greater comfort, folded his chasuble even further into a donut-like shape and wore it over his stole in the same manner as the deacon’s stole. His stole will likely be hidden entirely under the chasuble. It is from this peculiar appearance that it came to be known as the “broad stole” though it not be a stole at all.
When the city of Rome finally adopted the use of the dalmatic and tunicle for the deacon and subdeacon, they still retained the old use of the folded chasuble and “broad stole” during the penitential seasons of Advent and Lent, and on the fasting Ember Days. The joyful dalmatics and tunicles were considered to be inappropriate for these solemn time, and thus the folded chasuble and “broad stole” were retained in the Roman Rite as an element of venerable antiquity until the mid-20th century. Because they were only used during these penitential seasons, for the most part they were only seen in purple. The use of black folded chasubles and broad stole, as far as I have read, seems to be used only on Good Friday. Masses of the Dead, including the Masses of All Souls’ Day, used black dalmatics and tunicles. Given this, it was probably only at cathedrals and large churches where one saw these rare vestments worn by the sacred ministers on the most penitential day of the liturgical year.
When we review the origins of the folded chasuble and “broad stole”, it quickly becomes apparent that their practical purpose was generally lost as the gradual developments of the chasuble saw its sides shorten, and later stiffened and cut away dramatically into the modern “Roman” shape. When I see examples of folded fiddlebacks, for example, I can’t help but find it to look at least a little silly. The fact that many examples of such “folded” fiddlebacks are not folded at all but have simply cut the front of the chasuble short reveals that with the development and ascendency of the fiddleback in the Roman Church the continuing use of the folded chasuble had become strained when conformed to the newer form the chasuble has taken. The “broad stole”, necessarily, took on its own special purpose-built form almost exclusively.
Such developments do not themselves so easily justify the elimination of these ancient vestments that had become “obsolete”, but it is at least worth considering seriously the reasons these Roman reformers might have had for axing them so unceremoniously. And to be charitable to the modern trends in the Roman vestments (which are, amusingly enough, sustained by the Roman Catholic “traditionalists” who have a tendency to eschew the often very poorly performed Gothic revival of their progressive and centrist colleagues and instead cleave to Baroque maximalism), in the small pockets that have been reviving the pre-1955 Holy Week liturgies I have seen beautiful interpretations of purpose-built “folded chasubles” that are much more aesthetically pleasant than the examples I have seen from the 20th century. But given the continuing vitality of the Gothic revival in the Western liturgy, perhaps we might be able to witness the restoration of actual folded chasubles in some cathedrals or large churches in the future.
The Liturgy of the Catechumens
The white candles for the Mass of the Lord’s Supper the day before are replaced with unbleached candles, although they are left unlit at the beginning of the service. The altar also remains entirely bare for the beginning of service, just as it was left after the Stripping the previous day. The altar cross should be a crucifix with a corpus, and should preferably be made of wood rather than metal for practical purposes. The Tabernacle should also remain empty and open as it was left the day before. The sacred ministers are all vested as they would for the Mass of the Dead, except that the deacon and subdeacon wear black folded chasubles.
The altar party processes in silence, and before the altar everyone genuflects but the priest, who bows. The sacred ministers then prostrate before the altar, while all others kneel. While prostrating the ministers silently recite Psalm 50 (51), and the acolytes go up to the altar and lay a single altar cloth on it, representing the shroud of Christ’s grave. The Missal is then placed upon the altar on the Epistle side, and opened to the beginning of the service as it would be at a normal Mass. After they finish reciting the psalm the ministers rise, genuflect, and approach the altar. The priest kisses the altar and goes to the Missal, the deacon and subdeacon following the priest to the Epistle side as usual. The Mass then immediately proceeds to the first lesson, the lector chanting the prophecy from Hosea 6. “Thanks be to God” is not said after the Prophecy.
After the lector has finished chanting the Prophecy, the choir sings a tract that is based on Habakkuk 3. At the end of the tract all stand. The priest then sings “Oremus” (“Let us pray”), followed by the deacon genuflecting and singing “Flectamus genua” (“Let us bend the knee”). Everyone kneels together for a moment of prayer except for the priest. A moment later the subdeacon rises and sings “Levate” (“Arise”), and everyone rises. The priest then sings the collect with outstretched hands.
While the priest is saying the collect the subdeacon takes off his folded chasuble and then sings the second lesson from Exodus 12 as he would sing the Epistle as Mass. Like with the Prophecy, “Thanks be to God” is not said, and the second lesson is followed by another tract sung by the choir. When the tract is finished three deacons sing the Passion according to the Gospel of St. John , but the last part is sung by the deacon ministering at the Mass, who has taken off the folded chasuble and been fitted with the “broad stole”. The last part of the Passion is then sung as the Gospel lesson is sung at Mass, but no censing occurs and the deacon does not receive a blessing from the priest. If a sermon is to be given, it is preached after the deacon finishes the Passion of John.
Afterwards, the three ministers stand at the Epistle side of the altar once more and begin the Solemn Collects.
The Solemn Collects
The Solemn Collects comprise of a series of intentions prayed, with each collect ending with the same genuflecting sequence that followed the Habakkuk tract earlier (Oremus; Flectamus; Levate). Most of these numerous collects are prayers for God’s mercy upon the Church. I myself am particularly interested in the collect that is prayed specifically for the catechumens who are preparing themselves for baptism on Easter, and the collects prayed for the restoration of heretics and schismatics that they may all be restored to the truth of their holy mother, the Catholic and Apostolic Church. Conspicuously notable is how it is only after the collect for the conversion of the Jews that the genuflection does not occur. This omission is all the more striking given that it is retained even in the prayer for the conversion of the pagans which occur immediately after.
It is here that we find the infamous Good Friday prayer for the Jews, which has been a point of controversy in Western Christianity since the atrocities of the Holocaust. The corresponding collect that was composed for the Prayer Book, which amalgamated the Solemn Collects pertaining to the Jews, pagans, and heretics (although we Anglicans also explicitly included the Muslims as “Turks”), also became a point of controversy for the same reason. In the Anglican Church of Canada this collect was simply struck out from the Good Friday propers in further revisions of the Prayer Book and banned from being said in public worship. It was only in the General Synod of 2019 that a new replacement collect for the Prayer Book, composed by a member of the Canadian Prayer Book Society, was forwarded for consideration. When Pope Benedict XVI promulgated Summorum Pontificum, affirming the continuing validity of the old Roman Rite in the Roman Church (although, perhaps for practical simplicity and political compromise, “frozen” at the regrettable 1962 revisions of the Missal and Breviary, which were the last revisions before the shocking liturgical revolution that swept the Roman Church and upended its worship entirely after Vatican II), he personally composed a new collect to replace the old one. At the 1955 revisions of Holy Week Pius XII made a point of extending the genuflection to the prayer for the Jews, a change which has been retained in every successive revision of the old Roman Rite. Needless to be said, Benedict XVI also maintained this development in his new collect for Good Friday.
When the Solemn Collects are finished, the priest and subdeacon remove their chasubles. The deacon, however, leaves his “broad stole” on. The acolytes spread a purple carpet in front of the altar, and on the lowest altar step is laid a cushion with a white cloth on top. The ministers then return to the altar, and the Veneration of the Cross begins.