By Christopher Wells
Tens of thousands of faithful from Rome and around the world joined Pope Francis in St Peter’s Basilica on Good Friday for the liturgical commemoration of the Passion and Death of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
Good Friday is the only day of the year on which Holy Mass is not celebrated. In its place, the Church celebrates the Solemn Liturgy of the Passion of the Lord, consisting of three parts: the Liturgy of the Word, culminating in the chanting of the Passion according to St John; the Adoration of the Cross; and Holy Communion.
Jesus on the Cross, prototype of the despised
After the proclamation of the Passion, Father Raniero Cantalamessa, the Preacher to the Pontifical Household delivered the homily, taking as his starting point the passage “He was despised and rejected by men”. This “mysterious man of sorrow” found in the prophecy from Isaiah is given “a name and a face” in the Passion: “the name and face of Jesus of Nazarath”. "Today", said Fr Cantalamessa, “we want to contemplate the Crucified One specifically in his capacity as the prototype and representative of all the rejected, the disinherited, and the ‘discarded’ of the earth, those from whom we turn aside our faces so as not to see them”.
Fr Cantalamessa said that, “On the Cross, Jesus of Nazareth becomes the symbol” of that “part of humanity that is ‘humiliated and insulted’.” This is not the most important meaning of the Cross, he said; the most important meaning is “spiritual and mystical”, “that death redeemed the world from sin”. However, the meaning that can be found in Jesus as representative of the lowly and despised “is the one that all people, believers and non-believers, can recognize and receive”.
Easter is your feast
Christ’s death on the Cross is not the end of the Gospel story. “It says something else”, Fr Cantalamessa explained; “It says that the Crucified One is risen”. The feast of Easter, he said, “is the feast of the reversal [of roles] directed by God and accomplished in Christ”. So, he said, we can say “to the poor and the outcast… Easter is your feast”.
Father Cantalamessa also spoke in his homily to the rich of the world, those on “the other side of the equation”, reminding them that they too, like all men and women, will one day face death.
Church must stand with the poor
The Church, Fr Cantalamessa insisted, “has received the mandate from its founder to stand with the poor and the weak”; besides promoting peace”, she also has the duty “not to remain silent in the face of the situation that is there for everyone to see”. “No religion can remain indifferent” to the plight of the poor, he said, especially when “a few privileged people” have more than they need; “because the God of all religions is not indifferent to this”.
Returning to the passage from Isaiah, with which he began, Father Cantalamessa concluded his homily by recalling that the prophecy of the “humiliation of the Servant of God” “concludes with a description of His final exaltation”. “In two days” he said, “with the announcement of Jesus’ resurrection, the liturgy will give a name and a face to this victor. Let us keep watch and meditate in expectation”.