Dear People of Annunciation,
Whether you are attending the Good Friday liturgy in person or online, you will notice two changes from how this service has been conducted in recent years. One of my duties as a priest is to teach, so I want to take this opportunity to explain these changes.
- The first change is that we will use a different translation of the scripture texts on Good Friday.
The traditional Good Friday liturgy has presented several challenges to Jewish-Christian relations through the centuries. In the medieval church, it was not uncommon for clergy to use harsh antisemitic rhetoric that encouraged churchgoers to depart from the liturgy and commit acts of savagery against one’s Jewish neighbors. Indeed, some of the people we laud as great theologians, such as St. Augustine and St. John Chrysostom, wrote things that are flagrantly antisemitic. The sad irony is that Jesus himself was Jewish. In addition, the act of crucifixion carried out by the Roman authorities.
In the 20th Century the church engaged in considerable reflection on this problem in the aftermath of the Holocaust. In October 1965, the Second Vatican Council approved a document entitled Nostra Aetate which specifically denounced antisemitism and urged the establishment of Jewish-Roman Catholic dialogue.
During the adoption of the current American Book of Common Prayer in the late 1970s, many of the most objectionable parts of the traditional Good Friday liturgy were deleted. Despite these changes, concerns around antisemitism in the Good Friday service persist. These concerns have grown with the rise of antisemitic activity in the United States in recent years. One major area of focus is the text of the Passion Gospel.
By custom and direction of the lectionary, we always read the Passion from John’s Gospel on Good Friday. This Fourth Gospel was written in the aftermath of the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem in the year 70 of the Common Era. This was a period when Christianity and Judaism were parting. It was a polemical environment reflected in parts of John’s Gospel. We read of a rising contest between Jesus and the religious leaders.
One of the phrases frequently used in John’s Passion is hoi Ioudaioi. Most English translations render this phrase as “the Jews.” The editors of New Revised Standard Version Bible (NRSV), the translation we and most Episcopal parishes use for liturgical use, followed this longstanding tradition. The act of translation, however, is an imprecise art. This word could be translated as “Judeans” (remembering that Jesus was from the Galilee). It could also refer to the temple leaders. The implication that all Jews as a religious or ethnic group wanted Jesus to be crucified is an incorrect conclusion to take from John’s Passion.
For this reason, we will be using the Common English Bible (CEB) for our Biblical texts on Good Friday. The CEB was released in 2011 and has been authorized by the General Convention of the Episcopal Church for liturgical use. It is the product of Protestant, Roman Catholic, Seventh-day Adventist and Reform Jewish scholars.
Perhaps the most notable aspect of the CEB is that it has more informal language. For example, the editors elected to use contractions in making this translation. Being more accustomed to the style of the NRSV, I admit I find this to be somewhat jarring.
The main reason that I decided to use the CEB, however, is how the translators treated the Greek phrase hoi Ioudaioi. When it is clear that it is the antecedent for the religious leaders, it is translated as “the Jewish leaders.”
- The second change is that I will conduct the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts on Good Friday this year.
By custom and the rubrics of the Book of Common Prayer, the Great Thanksgiving, or Eucharistic Prayer, is never offered on Good Friday. There are a few reasons for this, but most straightforward reason is that the great prayer at the altar is always a joyful celebration. Such an act is not appropriate on such a somber day.
There is an option to offer Communion to the people on Good Friday using additional Sacrament consecrated at the Maundy Thursday service. Prior to the stripping of the altar, the Reserved Sacrament will be taken to an Altar of Repose in Lowe Hall. It will be brought back into the Nave following the Veneration of the Cross.
In years past, I have thought that there is power in maintaining a fast from Holy Communion on Good Friday. My thought has been if we marking the departure of Jesus in the proclamation of the Passion Gospel, offering the sacrament of Christ’s presence seems counterintuitive.
With the challenge we have all faced over the past year, my theological reflection has led me to a different place. The offering of the Passion Gospel reminds that Jesus is present in all circumstances, even in the depths of death and despair. This year, I feel urged to offer the Sacrament on Good Friday as a sign of hope that Jesus remains present with us in the midst of our struggles. We refer to this practice as the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts, as they were already consecrated on Maundy Thursday.
Thank you for making your way through to the end of this article. I wish you all a very holy Three Sacred Days and a Happy Easter, whether you will be participating online or be with us in person at church.