|ROME, 21 MARCH 2006 (ZENIT)
Answered by Father Edward McNamara,
professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.
Q: I have a question concerning the liturgy of Good Friday. The
sacramentary in use in the United States directs: "The priest and the
deacon, wearing red vestments, go to the altar. There they make a
reverence and prostrate themselves, or they may kneel" (Sacramentary,
rev. 1985). 'Paschales Solemnitatis,' the Circular Letter Concerning the
Preparation and Celebration of the Easter Feasts (Congregation for
Divine Worship, 1988) directs "The priest and ministers make a reverence
to the altar prostrating themselves. This act of prostration, which is
proper to the rite of the day, should be strictly observed, for it
signifies both the abasement of 'earthly man,' and also the grief and
sorrow of the Church." These two directives seem to be contradictory to
me. Do you find them contradictory? And, if so, which would take
M.E., New York.
Why is a chasuble prescribed instead of a cope for Good Friday? —
J.C., Rochester, New York
A: The above mentioned circular letter itself clarifies the question of
precedence in No. 5 of the document:
"[T]he Congregation for Divine Worship, after due consideration, thinks
that it is a fitting moment to recall certain elements, doctrinal and
pastoral, and various norms which have already been published concerning
Holy Week. All those details which are given in the liturgical books
concerning Lent, Holy Week, the Easter Triduum and paschal time retain
their full force, unless otherwise stated in this document.
"It is the aim of this document that the great mystery of our redemption
be celebrated in the best possible way so that the faithful may
participate in it with ever greater spiritual advantage."
At first appearance there appears to be a contradiction as one document
gives the option of kneeling while the other mentions only prostration.
The rubric in the new Latin Missal (2002), however, retains the option
of kneeling albeit "pro opportunitate."
I would say, therefore, that rather than contradicting the Missal the
circular letter wishes to stress that the two possibilities are not
equal and that, from the liturgical and symbolic point of view, the
preferred posture at this moment is prostration.
The option of kneeling is wisely retained as no small number of priests
might find prostration to be a somewhat arduous or even hazardous task.
In some cases the efforts required at getting down, and getting up again
could be ungainly and distract from the overall somberness of the
With respect to the use of the chasuble: The liturgy for Good Friday
prior to the reform of the Roman Missal prescribed a complex series of
rites and changes of vesture.
The priest wore an alb and black stole for the entrance, prayers and
Passion. He assumed a black cope for the universal prayers but left the
cope aside for the Adoration of the Cross. At the time of Holy Communion
he substituted the black stole for a violet one and donned a violet
chasuble in order to distribute Communion.
When the rite was reformed the color red was preferred to the use of
black and violet. And the rite was simplified with the use of only one
kind of vestment, the chasuble, throughout the celebration. The priest
removes the chasuble (and may also remove his shoes) only while kneeling
to adore the Cross.
The chasuble was probably preferred to the cope as a more suitable
vestment for the distribution of Communion and perhaps also for
practical purposes as many poor parishes would find it difficult to
purchase a red cope to be used perhaps once or twice a year. ZE06032122
* * *
Follow-up: Prostration and Vestments [04-04-2006]
Interesting feedback arrived on our March 21 column on prostration and
the use of the chasuble on Good Friday.
The original questioner mentioned that there may be another
contradiction in the rubrics and the circular letter on the Easter
celebrations: "The sacramentary refers to the action of the priest and
deacon, while the circular letter refers to the action of the priest and
ministers (plural). As you point out, though, the instructions in the
letter take precedence."
There is a difficulty, however. While the circular letter stated that it
had precedence over earlier documents, the new Latin Missal is more
precise and more authoritative. Here the rubrics specify that only the
priest and deacon prostrate themselves while all other kneel.
Several readers asked about the proper vesture for deacons and other
clergy at this celebration.
Only the priest who presides at the celebration, and all officiating
deacons, wear red chasuble or dalmatic as the case may be.
In cathedrals, seminaries and other situations were they are available,
the deacons who sing or read the Passion may be distinct from the ones
assisting the celebrant.
These deacons may wear dalmatics. Priests who assist in proclaiming the
Passion wear either alb or surplice along with a red stole. Lay readers
may wear an alb.
All other priests and deacons present wear either alb and red stole or
choir dress and red stole.
Finally, a question came from an Indiana reader about a particular
She writes: "I have a concern about the wording or action that takes
place on Good Friday, that is, the 'Adoration of the Cross.' I was
taught that we may only adore or worship the Trinity, not any other
saint or angel, and certainly not an inanimate object. Is this, then,
the proper term to be used for such a rite? I have also heard it
referred to as 'Veneration of the Cross,' yet the song we sing states,
'Come let us adore.' Could you please clarify for me?"
The official title for this rite is "Veneration of the Cross” and the
reply to the invocation "This is the wood of the cross on which hung the
Savior of the World” is "Come let us worship" ("venite adoremus").
The word "worship" in modern English is usually, albeit not exclusively,
reserved to the divine.
It is true that the Church does not offer an act of adoration to a
figure of wood but to Christ. All the same, the veneration of the
crucifix on Good Friday is vested with a special intensity that is
different from the respect shown toward the crucifix during the rest of
For example, from the celebration of the Passion and on Holy Saturday
until the Easter Vigil, one genuflects before the crucifix used in the
Historically, the reason for the use of this special gesture of
veneration is probably because the rite of veneration of the cross
originated in Jerusalem toward the end of the fourth century and in Rome
in the seventh and were directed toward the principal relics of the True
Cross kept in these cities.
Only later, when the rite became common, was the sign of veneration
usually reserved to the True Cross extended to the crucifix used in the
While the object of adoration or worship is always Christ, the special
veneration of the cross on these days seems to say that although the
tabernacle is empty, all other images covered, and the Church silently
awaits the resurrection, his divine presence is symbolized by the image
of the cross through which he saved us from our sins.
By concentrating on the image of the cross the Church, as Louis Bouyer
says, "causes us to realize what could not be discovered by the 'powers'
who crucified the Lord of Glory, that in his cross is our