On Good Friday, the day of contemplation of the wooden cross of Christ, the Church of Jerusalem has the task of celebrating and contemplating this mystery in the place where it all happened: the Calvary, inviting religious, pilgrims and local worshippers to enter more intimately into the mystery of the Passion of Christ.
To foster this intimate union, there are three celebrations on this day: the commemoration of the Passion on Calvary and the Via Crucis, in the morning and the mimesis of the Passion in the Funeral Procession, in the evening.
As tradition has it, the doors of the Basilica were solemnly opened at eight in the morning, and a large group of worshippers poured into the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre: today Calvary is at the centre of the world.
The morning celebration, which in the rest of the world is held in the afternoon, was presided by His Beatitude Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem. It is also divided into three parts: the liturgy of the Word, the Adoration of the Cross and the Communion of the Eucharist. The readings anticipate the singing of the passage of the Passion according to John (John 18,1 - 19,42), alternated between Franciscan cantors and the choir of the Custody of the Holy Land. The already deafening silence became more intense when one of the Franciscan cantors sang the verse of the death of Jesus in front of the Greek altar, placed on the rock of Calvary: the faithful and the religious, kneeling, accompanied this moment with devotion.
Going back to a tradition of the 4th century, the adoration of the cross follows the liturgy of the Word and is another central part of the celebration. In ancient times, the adoration used to last from three to four hours, allowing the people to pray in front of the relic of the Holy Cross exposed and to listen to the passages from the Gospels which refer to the Passion of Our Lord.
At the end of this second part, in procession the religious went towards the Anastasis, to go into the Tomb – which became a Tabernacle on Holy Thursday – to collect the pyxes in which the consecrated hosts to distribute to the faithful in attendance are placed. After the communion and a silent blessing, everyone then went to the Franciscan Chapel in which the relic of the cross was exposed for a brief adoration before the Sepulchre was closed.
About an hour after the end of the celebration in the Holy Sepulchre, the Franciscan friars gathered together for the traditional practice of the Via Crucis, led by the Custos of the Holy Land, Fr. Francesco Patton. The Jerusalem Via Crucis traces the last moments of the life of Jesus, from the Via Dolorosa to the Holy Sepulchre through the stations dotted around the Old City. A group of faithful and religious quickly passed by the shops in the narrow streets of the Arab market, starting as usual from the Franciscan convent of the Flagellation to then go up to Calvary and lastly to the Anastasis, in front of the Edicule of the Holy Sepulchre, where the route of pious devotion ends. Like every Friday, the Via Crucis was prayed in four languages, to foster participation by the faithful and, as tradition has it for Good Friday, it anticipated the one in Arabic for the faithful of the parish of St Saviour.
The evening is dedicated to the traditional Funeral procession, presided again by Fr. Francesco Patton. This is an ancient tradition going back to the medieval representations called “Mysteries”, inspired by the Passion of Christ. The representation is closely linked with Franciscanism, not only in the Holy Land but all over the world: it dates from the origins of the Franciscan movement as a way used by the religious to speak to the people’s hearts about God and tell them visually what theology made complex.
This scenic representation has the function of allowing the Passion, the death and the Resurrection to be commemorated in the places where everything happened. It emphasizes two things: on the one hand it allows making it visible that Christ really did know death in his flesh, defeating it; on the other it shows how death is necessary so that the Resurrection can take place.