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Commentary from 




Rivingtons, London, 1884




This day is not one of man's institution, but was consecrated by our Lord Jesus Christ when He made it the day of His most holy Passion.  It is impossible that the anniversary of our Lord's sufferings could ever have passed by as a common day in those times when the memory of them was yet so recent, and when a daily fellowship in them [Phil. 3:10; Col. 1:24] was so continually before the eyes of Christians in the martyrdoms of His faithful servants.  It is spoken of under the name of the Paschal Day in very early Christian writings [TERT. de Orat. xviii.], but in later ages it was chiefly known by the names Paraskeuh, Dies Parasceves, the Day of Preparation, or Dies Dominecae Passionis, the Day of our Lord's Passion.  In early English times it was known as Long Friday [AElfric's Can. 37, A.D.957.  A. Sax. Chron. A.D. 1137], and so it is still called "Lang Fredag" in Denmark and Sweden: but its present beautiful appellation is the one which it has now been popularly known for many centuries. 

Very soon after midnight our Blessed Lord was betrayed and apprehended; and about day-dawn He was taken before the judicial High Priest Annas, the ceremonial High Priest Caiaphas, and the Sanhedrin or great Council of the Jews [St. Matt. 26:64; St. Mark 14:62; St. Luke 22:70], where He was accused of blasphemy.  After that He was sent bound to Pilate, before whom He was charged with treason; and by Pilate sent to Herod as belonging to his jurisdiction.  Having been mocked and insulted by Herod, the holy Jesus was sent back by him to the Roman governor, declared innocent of all crime against the state, yet scourged, to please the Jews, and for the same reason sentenced to be crucified.  [St. Matt. 27:3, 25; St. Mark 15:1, 14; St. Luke 23:1, 21; St. John 18:28; 19:6.]  Then He was insulted with the purple robe, and the reed sceptre, and a corona radiata made of thorns; was buffeted and spit upon; and afterwards led forth from the Praetorium by the Via Dolorosa to Calvary. 

At the third hour [9a.m., "Tierce"] our Lord, having borne His cross, or a portion of it, until His exhausted Body had fainted under the burden, was nailed to it upon Mount Calvary without Jerusalem, the two thieves being crucified on either side with the intention of adding shame to His sufferings, From the Cross He spoke His last words.  As they fastened His limbs upon it He cried, "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do" [St. Luke 23:34]; when the penitent thief prayed for His remembrance in His Kingdom, He said, "Verily I say unto thee, To-day shalt thou be with Me in paradise."  [St. Luke 23:40]  When He beheld His mother and the beloved disciple standing at the foot of His Cross, He said to the one, "Woman, behold thy son," and to the other "Behold thy mother."  [St. John 19:26] 

At the sixth hour [Noon, "Sexts"] ensued the darkness and the earthquake; and during the three hours which followed before the return of light, it is supposed that our Lord's greatest sufferings took place, the veiling of the Father's Presence, the agony of "being made sin for us," and of having "laid upon Him the iniquity of us all."  The awful mystery of these three hours was summed up in an ancient Litany, in the words, "By Thine unknown sufferings, Good Lord, deliver us." [St. Matt. 27:45; St. Mark 15:33; St. Luke 23:44.] 

At the ninth hour [3p.m., "Nones"] the climax of this awful period was reached when our Lord spoke the words, "Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?" which are the first words of the twenty-second Psalm.  [St. Matt. 27:46; St. Mark 15:34]  After this He said "I thirst" [St. John 19:28], and when He had received the vinegar, "It is finished" [St. Matt. 27:48; St. Mark 15:36; St. Luke 23:46; St. John 19:30]; for now He knew that "all things were accomplished" of the Sacrifice for sin, and the sufferings of Him in Whom, sinless, all sinners were then represented before God.  Then, crying with a loud voice, as with a willing exspiration of that life which no man could take from Him, He laid it down of Himself with the last of His seven words from the Cross, "Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit" [St. Luke 23:46], which are also words uttered by David in the spirit of prophecy in the sixth verse of the thirty-first Psalm. 

It must have been shortly after this that the body of our Blessed Lord was taken down from the Cross, for the Sabbath began at six o'clock in the evening, and that Sabbath being "an high day," the Jews entreated Pilate that it might be removed from the Cross (to be cast into the pit where the bodies of malefactors were thrown) before the legal beginning of the festival.  Thus on the eve of the Sabbath, after being subjected to eighteen hours of mental agony and bodily suffering, the holy Jesus fulfilled, in His Body and Soul, the words of the Compline Psalm, "I will lay Me down in peace, and take My rest: for it is Thou, Lord, only that makest Me to dwell in safety."  [Psalm 4:8] 

With this Passion of our dear Lord in view, it has ever been the object of the Church to make the devotions of Good Friday such as should help Christians to realize the magnitude of the Sacrifice that He offered, of the sins by which it was made necessary, and of the Mercy which moved Him to offer it.  "On the Paschal Day," writes Tertullian [de Orat. xviii.], "the strict observance of the fast is general, and as it were public," not restricted to those who professed to lead a life of closer devotion than others; works of charity were permitted, even to the extent of the rich ploughing the land of the poor, but no other labour was engaged in on this holy day.  In all Churches the Passion of our Lord, as narrated in the Gospels, has ever formed the central subject of the day's meditation around it in saddened and penitent tones, the more perfectly to represent before God and man the events of this central Day of the world's history.  In the ancient services of the Day one was conspicuous, in which the Clergy and people showed their veneration for the atoning work of Christ by ceremonies which acquired the popular name of "creeping to the Cross;" in which the image of the Cross was placed in the front of the altar, that they might more thoroughly realize the spirit of penitents "before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among them" [Gal. 3:1], while they gave Him the lowliest adoration of their bodies. 
[The popular feeling of reverence towards the Cross never died out.  It is illustrated even by the Pilgrim's Progress, in which Christian, standing before "the Image of a Cross," says, "He hath given me rest by His sorrows, and life by His death."] 
During this ceremony of prostration before the Cross, the "Reproaches," followed by the hymns, "Sing, my tongue, the glorious battle," and "The Royal Banners forward go," were sung to their well-known ancient and beautiful strains. 

The "Reproaches" are a striking expansion of Micah 3:3, 4, in which the loving-kindness of the Lord is contrasted with the ingratitude of those whom He came to save, carrying the idea through each step of the Passion.  They are sung in the following form: - 

     O My people, what have I done unto thee, and wherein have I wearied thee? answer unto Me.  For I brought thee up out of the land of Egypt, and thou hast prepared the Cross for thy Saviour. 
     Holy God, Holy and Mighty, Holy and Immortal; have mercy upon us. 

     I led thee forty years in the wilderness, and fed thee with manna, and brought thee into a goodly land. 
     Holy God, Holy and Mighty, Holy and Immortal; have mercy upon us. 

     What more could I have done unto thee that I have not done?  I planted thee indeed My choicest Vine, and thou art become bitter unto Me; for thou hast given Me vinegar to drink, and hast pierced the side of thy Saviour. 
     Holy God, Holy and Mighty, Holy and Immortal; have mercy upon us. 

     For thy sake did I scourge Egypt with its firstborn, and thou didst deliver up Me to be scourged. 
     O My people, what have I done unto thee, and wherein have I wearied thee?  answer unto Me. 

     I led thee forth out of Egypt, and drowned Pharoah in the Red Sea, and thou didst deliver up Me to the chief priests. 
     O My people, what have I done unto thee, and wherein have I wearied thee?  answer unto Me. 

     I opened the sea before thee, and thou hast opened My side with a spear. 
     O My people, what have I done unto thee, and wherein have I wearied thee?  answer unto Me. 

     I went before thee to lead thee in a cloudy pillar, and thou didst lead Me into the hall of Pilate. 
     O My people, what have I done unto thee, and wherein have I wearied thee?  answer unto Me. 

     I fed thee with manna in the wilderness, and thou didst fall upon Me will scourgings and buffetings. 
     O My people, what have I done unto thee, and wherein have I wearied thee?  answer unto Me. 

     I gave thee to drink living water out of the Rock, and thou dist give Me gall and vinegar. 
     O My people, what have I done unto thee, and wherein have I wearied thee?  answer unto Me. 

     For thy sake did I smite the kings of the Canaanites, and thou dist smite Me on the head with a reed. 
     O My people, what have I done unto thee, and wherein have I wearied thee?  answer unto Me. 

     I gave thee a royal sceptre, and thou gavest to My head a crown of thorns. 
     O My people, what have I done unto thee, and wherein have I wearied thee?  answer unto Me. 

     I lifted thee up in great strength, and thou didst lift Me up to hang upon the Cross. 
     O My people, what have I done unto thee, and wherein have I wearied thee?  answer unto Me. 

During this ceremony the red copes and chasuble which were worn in the other Offices of the day were set aside, and black copes alone were used; the utmost aspect of sorrow and mourning for sin being, at the same time, thrown over the church and all the instrumenta of Divine Service, by means of black hangings, a custom which has never been discontinued. 

It is a very ancient practice of the Church to abstain from celebrating the Holy Communion on Good Friday.  On Maundy Thursday (as has been already shown) a portion of the Sacrament then consecrated was reserved in one element only, and this being placed in a chalice of unconsecrated wine on Good Friday, was then received by those who communicated instead of elements consecrated on the day itself.  This Mass of the Pre-sanctified is an institution of very ancient date, being found in the Sacramentaries from which our modern Offices are so largely derived: and since it is traceable, on good evidence, as far back as the time of St. Augustine, it seems to represent the practice of the primitive Church.  The use of this Office has been general in the Western Church for the greater part of the time of its existence.  In the Eastern Church there is no recognition of the Eucharist at all on this day, there being in fact almost a total absence of prayer altogether, the services consisting chiefly of the reading of prophecies and gospels respecting the Passion: and such appears also to be the practice of the Ambrosian Rite. 

But although this custom may be of primitive origin, it has not been preserved in its primitive form.  In the Church of England before the Reformation the practice had grown up of the priest alone receiving on Good Friday the Holy Sacrament which had been consecrated on Maundy Thursday; and this is still the practice of the Latin Church.  The Sacramentary of St. Gregory clearly indicates that in the early Church others communicated with him as on other days.  The Rubric directs, "Cum dixerint Amen, sumit de sancta, et ponit in calicem, nihil dicens. Et communicant omnes cum silentio, et expleta sunt universa."  [Menard's ed. p. 70; comp. pp. 77, 87]  In the tenth century a Canon of the Church of England which enjoins the reservation on Holy Thursday and certain ceremonies to be used on Good Friday, adds respecting the latter day, "Then let him," i.e. the priest, "go to housel, and whosoever else pleases."  [JOHNSON'S Canons, i. 404.]  In fact, Martene proves that Communion of the Laity as well as of the priest on this day was the prevailing custom of the Church until the tenth century at least; and there are strong grounds for believing that the practice continued down to the time of the Reformation. 

The exact intention of the English rite is not easy to ascertain.  The appointment of an Epistle and Gospel is (under the circumstances in which the Prayer Book was set forth) a prima facie evidence that Consecration on Good Friday was intended to supersede the Mass of the Pre-sanctified which had been hitherto used; and Communion was, of course, intented to follow.  On the other hand, this was a deviation from the ancient practice of the Church, which was not in accordance with the respect for it shown by those who set forth our first English Prayer Book.  Such a deviation can only be accounted for by supposing that strong reasons against reservation were present to the Reformers, but that, at the same time, they did not contemplate depriving the Church of Christ's Sacramental Presence on this Holy Day, and therefore enjoined the ordinary Service with consecration. 

The practice of the Church of England since the Reformation certainly seems to have been to celebrate the Holy Communion on this day.  On Good Friday in 1564 [March 31] Queen Elizabeth openly thanked one of her preachers in her Chapel for his sermon in defence of the Real Presence, which seems to show that the Holy Eucharist was then celebrated.  [HEYLIN'S Ref. ii. 317, Eccl. Hist. Soc. ed.]  And in Bishop Andrewes' Sermons on the Passion there are allusions to it which put the matter beyond a doubt. 

The conclusions that may be drawn are, [1] that the Church of England never intended so far to depart from ancient habits as to be without the Sacramental Presence of Christ on the Day when His Sacrifice is more vividly brought to mind than on any other day in the year:  [2] that from the introduction of the un-Catholic custom of Communion by the priest alone, or for some other reason, it was thought best to disuse the Mass of the Pre-sanctified and substitute Consecration: [3] that it is a less evil to depart from ancient usage by consecrating on this day than to be without the Sacramental Presence of our Lord.