After a period of rejoicing over the birth of Christ, His followers observe a time of penance and fasting. This period, which begins on Ash Wednesday and ends on Good Friday, is known as Lent. Fasting and other forms of renunciation or self-sacrifice are recommended as so many ways of following the example of Jesus, Who fasted for forty days in the desert, before He began His preaching. Jesus taught the need of prayer and fasting to overcome the Evil One. The practice of austerities has always been considered important in Christian spirituality.
A plank of wood, representing the cross on which Christ was crucified is displayed in churches for the veneration of believers. One by one, they come and kiss it. This is followed by a service from noon to3 o'clock, in which narratives from the four Gospels are read out. Sermons, meditation and prayers form part of the ceremony, in memory of the suffering endured by Jesus Christ for three hours. This is followed by a general communion service at midnight. In some churches, mourners wearing black, move in a procession with an image of Christ, and a ceremonial burial takes place. A day of prayer and penance, the bells of the churches remain silent on Good Friday.
The Cross and the Father's Will:
The preaching and activities of Jesus provoked the admiration of the multitudes, but also the opposition and hatred of the leaders of lsrael. This resulted in His death on the Cross on Good Friday. The entire life of Jesus in all its details was in fulfillment of a divine plan. His Passion and Crucifixion were no exception. Overcoming His natural repugnance and horror Jesus went to meet His enemies when it became absolutely clear that surrender to them was the Father's will. Peter's use of the sword to defend Him was against His Father's will, and therefore an obstacle in His path, a devilish action. When Peter expressed his human reaction to Christ's prediction of His Suffering and Death, Jesus called him Satan (Matthew 16:22-23).
The Cross as Liberation:
The death of Christ on the Cross was so entirely against human calculations to establish a kingdom, or to initiate a world movement of liberation, that this event alone can be said to be an argument to prove the divinity of Christ. Man-made-gods were always victorious kings or warriors who carried out their mission by destroying their enemies through the use of force. Jesus stands unique as the only Son of God Who saved mankind by accepting death at the hands of His enemies. Jesus did not come to kill, but to be killed. Through His sacrifice on the Cross He destroyed the power of the devil, the real enemy of humanity.
Evil Conquered by Goodness:
Mary standing near the Cross associated herself in the closest possible way with the sacrifice of Jesus. The message of Good Friday is that evil can never be conquered by evil, but only by goodness, violence by non-violence, hatred by love for the enemy.
The Friday before Easter is the most solemn day for Christians - it is the day Jesus Christ died on the cross.
As such, Good Friday is a day of mourning, and all the ceremonies and rituals of the day are centred around the feeling of sorrow at the pain and humiliation that Jesus underwent for the cause of goodness and humanity.
The wholehearted acceptance of Jesus by the people made the rulers fear that they would lose the people's loyalty, and prompted them to plot against Jesus. With the help of Judas, who betrayed Jesus for thirty pieces of silver, Jesus was arrested for treason and condemned to be crucified. This happened on Maundy Thursday, a day before Good Friday. The next day, Good Friday, is the darkest day in Christianity. Jesus was made to carry the cross on which he was later crucified. Jesus, by his act of forgiving and praying for even those who were responsible for his death, won a victory for good over evil.
The message of Good Friday is that the dictum of "an eye for an eye" cannot work. The way to conquer evil is through good. Similarly, violence can be overcome only by non-violence, and hatred by love.
The entire day is given to fasting and prayer, as a way of following the example of Jesus, who stressed the role of prayer in the struggle to conquer evil. Some churches concentrate less on prayers, and instead encourage the people to become involved in charitable deeds.
The service consists of prayers and readings from the Bible. In many churches, a piece of wood in the shape of the cross is kept. People pray before the cross and kiss it.
Jesus is believed to have died on the Cross at three in the afternoon. The traditional service lasts for three hours from noon. But over the years, it has been shifted ahead or behind the original schedule by a few hours, for the sake of convenience.
The service lasts through the three hours during which Jesus suffered on the cross. It involves sermons, meditation sessions, and readings from the gospels. A communion service is held at midnight.
In some churches, mourners wear black and enact the Passion of Christ - scenes of Christ's crucifixion and burial. Many churches cover the cross and the altar with mourning black, and do not light any candles. At other churches, candles are lit, but they are extinguished one by one, with the last one being put out at the moment denoting Jesus' death. The church bells are not rung on Good Friday.
Catholic churches follow the tradition of the Stations of the Cross. People pass before paintings depicting the important scenes of the last hours of Jesus' life, reciting prayers and singing hymns.
But the crucifixion also looks forward to Jesus' resurrection. So, the sorrow of Good Friday is tempered by the expectation and hope offered by Easter Sunday.