GOOD FRIDAY 2006

“Through Mary he received his humanity, and in receiving his humanity received humanity itself. Which is to say, through Mary he received us. In response to the angel’s strange announcement, Mary said yes. But only God knew that it would end up here at Golgotha, that it had to end up here. For here, in darkness and in death, were to be found the prodigal children who had said no, the prodigal children whom Jesus came to take home to the Father.

The liturgy of Good Friday is coming to an end now. A final prayer replaces the usual benediction:

       Lord,
      send down your abundant blessing
      upon your people who have devoutly recalled
      the death of your Son
      in the sure hope of the resurrection.
      Grant them pardon, bring them comfort.
      May their faith grow stronger
      and their eternal salvation be assured.
      We ask this through Christ our Lord.
      

Let all the people say Amen. The church is dark now. The altar is stripped and bare. Some are getting up and leaving in silence. Others remain kneeling, looking into the darkness. Holy Saturday is ahead, the most quiet day of the year. The silence of that silent night, holy night, the night when God was born was broken by the sounds of a baby, a mother’s words of comfort and angels in concert. Holy Saturday, by contrast, is the sound of prefect silence. Yesterday’s mockery, the good thief’s prayer, the cry of dereliction¯all that is past now. Mary has dried her tears, and the whole creation is still, waiting for what will happen next.

Some say that on Holy Saturday Jesus went to hell in triumph, to free the souls long imprisoned there. Others say he descended into a death deeper than death, to embrace in his love even the damned. We do not know. Scripture, tradition and pious writings provide hints and speculations, but about this most silent day it is perhaps best to observe the silence. One day I expect he will tell us all about it. When we are able to understand what we cannot now even understand why we cannot understand. Meanwhile, if we keep very still, there steals upon the silence a song of Easter that was always there. On the long mourners’ bench of the eternal pity, we raise our heads, blink away our tears and exchange looks that dare to question, ‘Could it be?’ But of course. That is what it was about. That is what it is all about. O felix culpa!

       O happy fault, O necessary sin of Adam,
      which gained for us so great a Redeemer!

To prodigal children lost in a distant land, to disciples who forsook him and fled, to a thief who believed or maybe took pity and pretended to believe, to those who did not know that what they did they did to God, to the whole bedraggled company of humankind he had abandoned heaven to join, he says: ‘Come. Everything is ready now. In your fears and your laughter, in your friendships and farewells, in your loves and losses, in what you have been able to do and in what you know you will never get done, come, follow me. We are going home to the waiting Father.”

—from Death on a Friday Afternoon

Articles by Richard John Neuhaus

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