God’s Friday

Flagellants“Good Friday” is a national holiday in the Philippines. Ever wondered why this day, a commemoration of the Lord’s crucifixion c. A.D. 33, is paradoxically called “Good”? Some say it comes from the German “Gottes Freitag,” which means “God’s Friday,” or from the German “Gute Freitag,” which means “Good Friday.” Still others say it is likely from the earlier English name, “Godes Friday,” which also meant “God’s Friday.”

As early as the 2nd century, Christians started commemorating the Pasch (“Passover”) of Crucifixion and Resurrection in a time of fasting, prayer, and penance. It is a celebration of our Holy God’s great love in Christ, so that in some parts of Europe, the day is called “Great” or “Holy,” not “Good.”

In Roman Catholic Philippines, the commemoration is syncretistically mixed with superstitious nonsense. Some people actually flog or crucify themselves. As a young boy, on “Black Saturday,” there were two things which the faithful weren’t supposed to do because “God is dead”: (1) taking a bath (in this hot and humid weather!), because if you got sick, God can’t help you; and (2) smile, make noise, or play.

Of course, Catholic teaching prohibits the faithful from eating meat on Good Friday. Another Roman Catholic tradition that has evolved into a Filipino tradition is the chanting or singing of the Pasyon (“Passion” means “suffering,” not “strong emotion”) of Christ. It begins with the creation story, to the “immaculate conception” of Mary, and finally, to the account of Jesus’ life and death. It includes commentaries and moral lessons, warnings on sin and hell, and ends with exhortations to the believer to follow the life and teachings of Jesus. For the curious who can read and understand Tagalog, you can download the Pasyon.

The Pasyon book is 213 pages long, and is in ballad form, so you can imagine how long it will take to chant the whole thing continuously: 2-3 days straight! What’s worse, this is done in the homes (not in churches), complete with loudspeakers for the “benefit” of all the faithful. More like torture to me, since most Pasyon singers are much like the neighbor’s karaoke singer blaring away his bad music for several blocks, and all through the night at that! We were blessed that our neighborhood’s Pasyon singer was several blocks away. Why do this? For most, it’s a vow to gain God’s merit, a thanksgiving, or even a penance for sins committed.

This reminds me of Mel Gibson’s movie “The Passion of the Christ” shown about 2-1/2 years ago. It was hailed then by most evangelical leaders as “perhaps the best outreach opportunity in 2,000 years”! Hmmm…. I wonder whatever happened to those hordes of evangelical converts…. Or maybe they all became Roman Catholic converts.

Against sin and suffering, we strive for holiness and fulfillment in our lives through the risen Christ, our eternal rest, the only Man who was perfectly obedient all the way to death on the cross (Phil. 2:8):

What Thou, my Lord, hast suffered, was all for sinners’ gain;
Mine, mine was the transgression, but Thine the deadly pain.
Lo, here I fall, my Savior! ‘Tis I deserve Thy place;
Look on me with Thy favor, vouchsafe to me Thy grace.

(“O Sacred Head, Now Wounded,” words by Bernard of Clairvaux, 1153; music from the “Passion Chorale” by Hans Hassler, 1601)

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