Why Parts Of Good Friday Worship Have Been Controversial

Why Parts Of Good Friday Worship Have Been Controversial
People visiting a Christ sculpture at the Santa Maria Magdalena Church during the Holy Week in Granada, Spain.
Álex Cámara/NurPhoto via Getty Images 

Churches around the world hold services for their three most important days during Holy Week: Holy Thursday, sometimes called Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday.

Easter commemorates Christ’s resurrection from the dead, the fundamental belief of Christianity. It is the earliest and most central of all Christian holidays, more ancient than Christmas.

As a scholar in medieval Christian liturgy, I know that historically the most controversial of these three holy days has been the worship service for Good Friday, which focuses on the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.

Two parts of the contemporary Good Friday worship service could be misunderstood as implicitly anti-Semitic or racist. Both are derived from the medieval Good Friday liturgy that Catholics and some other Christian churches continue to use in a modified form today.

These are the solemn orations and the veneration of the cross.

Prayer and anti-Semitism

The solemn orations are formal prayers offered by the assembled local community for the wider church, for example, for the pope. These orations also include other prayers for members of different religions, and for other needs of the world.

One of these prayers is offered “for the Jewish people.”

For centuries, this prayer was worded in a way to imply an anti-Semitic meaning, referring to the Jews as “perfidis,” meaning “treacherous” or “unfaithful.”

However, the Catholic Church made important changes in the 20th century. In 1959, Pope John XXIII dropped the word “perfidis” entirely from the Latin prayer in the all-Latin Roman missal. This missal, an official liturgical book containing the readings and prayers for the celebration of Mass and Holy Week, is used by Catholics all over the world. However, when the next edition of the Latin Roman missal was published in 1962, the text of the prayer still mentioned the “conversion” of the Jews and referred to their “blindness.”

The Second Vatican Council, or Vatican II, a major meeting of all Catholic bishops worldwide held between 1962 and 1965, mandated the reform of Catholic life and practice in a number of ways. Open discussion with members of other Christian denominations, as well as other non-Christian religions, was encouraged, and a Vatican commission on Catholic interaction with Jews was established in the early 1970s.

Vatican II also called for a renewal of Catholic worship. The revised liturgy was to be celebrated not just in Latin, but also in local vernacular languages, including English. The first English Roman missal was published in 1974. Today, these post-Vatican religious rituals are known as the “ordinary form” of the Roman rite.

The completely reworded prayer text reflected the renewed understanding of the relationship between Catholics and Jews mandated by Vatican II and supported by decades of interreligious dialogue. For example, in 2015 the Vatican commission released a document clarifying the relationship between Catholicism and Judaism as one of “rich complementarity,” putting an end to organized efforts to convert Jews and strongly condemning anti-Semitism.

However, another important development took place in 2007. More than 40 years after Vatican II, Pope Benedict XVI allowed a wider use of the pre-Vatican II missal of 1962, known as the “extraordinary form.”

At first, this pre-Vatican II missal retained the potentially offensive wording of the prayer for the Jews.

The prayer was quickly reworded, but it does still ask that their hearts be “illuminated” to “recognize Jesus Christ.”

Although the extraordinary form is used only by small groups of traditionalist Catholics, the text of this prayer continues to trouble many.

In 2020, on the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the concentration camp at Auschwiz, Pope Francis repeated the vehement Catholic rejection of anti-Semitism. While the pope has not revoked the use of the extraordinary form, in 2020 he ordered a review of its use by surveying the Catholic bishops of the world.

The cross and what it symbolizes

There has been similar sensitivity about another part of the Catholic Good Friday tradition: the ritual veneration of the cross.

The earliest evidence of a Good Friday procession by lay people to venerate the cross on Good Friday comes from fourth-century Jerusalem. Catholics would proceed one by one to venerate what was believed to be a piece of the actual wooden cross used to crucify Jesus, and honor it with a reverent touch or kiss.

So sacred was this cross fragment that it was heavily guarded by the clergy during the procession in case someone might try to bite off a sliver to keep for themselves, as was rumored to have happened during a past Good Friday service.

During the medieval period, this veneration rite, elaborated by additional prayers and chant, spread widely across Western Europe. Blessed by priests or bishops, ordinary wooden crosses or crucifixes depicting Christ nailed to the cross took the place of fragments of the “true cross” itself. Catholics venerated the cross on both Good Friday and other feast days.

In this part of the Good Friday liturgy, controversy centers around the physical symbol of the cross and the layers of meaning it has communicated in the past and today. Ultimately, to Catholics and other Christians, it represents Christ’s unselfish sacrificing of his life to save others, an example to be followed by Christians in different ways during their lives.

Historically, however, the cross has also been held up in Western Christianity as a rallying point for violence against groups that were deemed by the church and secular authorities to threaten the safety of Christians and the security of Christian societies.

From the late 11th through 13th centuries, soldiers would “take the cross” and join crusades against these real and perceived threats, whether these opponents were Western Christian heretics, Jewish communities, Muslim armies, or the Greek orthodox Byzantine Empire. Other religious wars in the 14th through 16th centuries continued in this “crusading” spirit.

From the 19th century on, Americans and other English speakers use the term “crusade” for any effort to promote a specific idea or movement, often one based on a moral ideal. Examples in the United States include the 19th-century antislavery abolitionist movement and the civil rights movement of the 20th century.

But today certain “ideals” have been rejected by the wider culture.

Contemporary alt-right groups use what has been called the “Deus vult” cross. The words “Deus vult” mean “God wills (it),” a rallying cry for medieval Christian armies seeking to take control of the Holy Land from Muslims. These groups today view themselves as modern crusaders fighting against Islam.

Some white supremacy groups use versions of the cross
as symbols of protest or provocation. The Celtic cross, a compact cross within a circle, is a common example. And a full-sized wooden cross was carried by at least one protester during the Capitol insurrection in January.

Prayers and symbols have the power to bind people together in a common purpose and identity. But without understanding their context, it is all too easy to manipulate them in support of dated or limited political and social agendas.

About the AuthorThe Conversation

Joanne M. Pierce, Professor of Religious Studies, College of the Holy Cross

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


 Get The Latest By Email

Weekly Magazine Daily Inspiration

More Articles By This Author

You May Also Like

INNERSELF VOICES

full moon over Stonehenge
Horoscope Current Week: September 20 - 26, 2021
by Pam Younghans
This weekly astrological journal is based on planetary influences, and offers perspectives and…
a swimmer in large expanse of water
Joy and Resilience: A Conscious Antidote to Stress
by Nancy Windheart
We know that we're in a great time of transition, of birthing a new way of being, living, and…
five closed doors, one pained yellow, the others white
Where Do We Go From Here?
by Marie T. Russell, InnerSelf.com
Life can be confusing. There are so many things going on, so many choices presented to us. Even a…
Inspiration or Motivation: Which Works Best?
Inspiration or Motivation: Which Comes First?
by Alan Cohen
People who are enthusiastic about a goal find ways to achieve it and they do not need to be goaded…
photo silhouette of mountain climber using a pick to secure himself
Allow The Fear, Transform It, Move Through It, and Understand It
by Lawrence Doochin
Fear feels crappy. There is no way around that. But most of us don't respond to our fear in a…
woman sitting at her desk looking worried
My Prescription for Anxiety and Worry
by Jude Bijou
We’re a society that likes to worry. Worrying is so prevalent, it almost feels socially acceptable.…
curving road in New Zealand
Don't Be So Hard On Yourself
by Marie T. Russell, InnerSelf
Life consists of choices... some are "good" choices, and others not so good. However every choice…
man standing on a dock shining a flashlight into the sky
Blessing for Spiritual Seekers and for People Suffering from Depression
by Pierre Pradervand
There is such a need in the world today of the most tender and immense compassion and deeper, more…
The 5 Questions of The Deep Simple: What Wants to Happen?
What Wants to Happen?: The 5 Questions of "The Deep Simple"
by Alan Seale
To the intuitive mind, complexity is not a mystery, nor is it overwhelming. It’s just a different…
Resisting An Administration In Search Of It's InnerDarthVader
Resisting An Administration In Search Of Its InnerDarthVader
by Robert Jennings, InnerSelf.com
The idea of resistance to an authoritarian regime is long, proud, and ultimately successful.
Enthusiasm
Unresolved Issues Are An Energy Drain and Lead to Lack of Enthusiasm for Life
by Marie T. Russell, InnerSelf.com
There are some mornings where I can't seem to get moving. I am not referring to those mornings when…

MOST READ

How Living On The Coast Is Linked To Poor Health
How Living On The Coast Is Linked To Poor Health
by Jackie Cassell, Professor of Primary Care Epidemiology, Honorary Consultant in Public Health, Brighton and Sussex Medical School
The precarious economies of many traditional seaside towns have declined still further since the…
How Can I Know What's Best For Me?
How Can I Know What's Best For Me?
by Barbara Berger
One of the biggest things I've discovered working with clients everyday is how extremely difficult…
The Most Common Issues for Earth Angels: Love, Fear, and Trust
The Most Common Issues for Earth Angels: Love, Fear, and Trust
by Sonja Grace
As you experience being an earth angel, you will discover that the path of service is riddled with…
Honesty: The Only Hope for New Relationships
Honesty: The Only Hope for New Relationships
by Susan Campbell, Ph.D.
According to most of the singles I have met in my travels, the typical dating situation is fraught…
What Men’s Roles In 1970s Anti-sexism Campaigns Can Teach Us About Consent
What Men’s Roles In 1970s Anti-sexism Campaigns Can Teach Us About Consent
by Lucy Delap, University of Cambridge
The 1970s anti-sexist men’s movement had an infrastructure of magazines, conferences, men’s centres…
Chakra Healing Therapy: Dancing toward the Inner Champion
Chakra Healing Therapy: Dancing toward the Inner Champion
by Glen Park
Flamenco dancing is a delight to watch. A good flamenco dancer exudes an exuberant self-confidence…
Taking A Step Toward Peace by Changing Our Relationship With Thought
Stepping Toward Peace by Changing Our Relationship With Thought
by John Ptacek
We spend our lives immersed in a flood of thoughts, unaware that another dimension of consciousness…
image of the planet Jupiter on the skyline of a rocky ocean shore
Is Jupiter a Planet of Hope or a Planet of Discontent?
by Steven Forrest and Jeffrey Wolf Green
In the American dream as it's currently dished up, we try to do two things: make money and lose…

follow InnerSelf on

facebook icontwitter iconyoutube iconinstagram iconpintrest iconrss icon

 Get The Latest By Email

Weekly Magazine Daily Inspiration

AVAILABLE LANGUAGES

enafarzh-CNzh-TWdanltlfifrdeeliwhihuiditjakomsnofaplptroruesswsvthtrukurvi

New Attitudes - New Possibilities

InnerSelf.comClimateImpactNews.com | InnerPower.net
MightyNatural.com | WholisticPolitics.com | InnerSelf Market
Copyright ©1985 - 2021 InnerSelf Publications. All Rights Reserved.