26 March 2024

Good Friday: Holy Communion?

 I think that I ... and perhaps, you ... am so habituated by, and to, modern customs, that we might not always realise that Receiving the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar on Good Friday is neither universal; nor the custom, traditio, of all the ages. And not even 'primitive'.

It may now be the almost universal custom in the modern Roman Rite, even in those places where pre-Conciliar usages are valued, for everybody to do what by custom they do every Sunday: to go 'up' and to receive the Sacrament. But "the first witness of the reception of the Eucharist on the Friday of Holy Week is found in the Ordo Einsiedlensis written in the eighth century but recording the custom of the middle of the preceding century". 

Pope Innocent I (401-417) wrote to the the Bishop of Gubbio that "the Tradition of the Church is very strongly that the sacraments are not celebrated" on this Friday and Saturday. 

Was this an abstinence peculiar to Rome? Etheria (circa 385), in her detailed account of the liturgical use in this Week in Jerusalem, makes no mention of Communion on this day. I rather think that some Byzantines abstain from Communion on this Day ... and what was the Ambrosian traditio before the Council?

And when we do start to hear of lay people receiving Holy Communion on Good Friday, it persists in being an option which people might choose. For example, we read that the Pope and the Deacons do not communicate at the Mass in the Basilica of the Holy Cross ... people who desire to communicate will go to other Roman churches, perhaps one of the titulares, and do so there. Amalarius (circa 830) informs us that "in ea statione ubi Apostolicus salutat crucem, nemo ibi communicat".

It rather looks to me as though we see here new 'customs' gradually, untidily, making their way in ... customs which  the Roman Pontiff himself might not publicly adopt. This rather laisser faire approach seems to have gone on for a very long time; only on 19 February 1632 does the SRC prohibit lay Communion on this day ... a prohibition which was not universally implemented!

You will have gathered that I am not strongly in favour of dragooning everybody up to the Altar on Good Friday.

In the 1930s, an Anglo-Catholic Bishop wrote about the "Eucharistic Fast" on Good Friday as being "perhaps the most moving ceremony of the whole liturgical year. No one who has not experienced it can realise what a climax it makes to the observance of Good Friday, or how near we are brought to the Divine Victim of the Cross. In theory perhaps we ought to wish for the restoration of the general Communion of Good Friday, but in practice the very fact of abstinence from Communion is felt by many to enhance the essential feeling of the day, that the Bridegroom is taken away from us."

Bishop: you were right about 'moving' and 'felt' and 'essential feeling' , but wrong about 'in theory' and 'ought'.



Éamonn said...

I was struck by the lovely phrase "creeping to the Cross" in Fortescue, although I also found it in a short story collection by Dom Roger Huddleston of Downside.

Having grown up with the Bugnini/Pauline Holy Week, then having grown accustomed to the 1955/62 version, I have only come to experience the pre Pius XII since the end of the infamous Lockdown. Having only this act of veneration and no opportunity for reception of Holy Communion is a powerful reminder of the desolation of Good Friday. It is, on balance, a good thing, I think.

Shaun Davies said...

I suppose that this ties in with the Anglican custom of Mattins, Litany and Ante-Communion on Good Friday. I can remember being told that "we never had" Communion on Good Friday - no reason being given or history or theology. I cannot remember any explanation being given for Ante-Communion as a service, but then it was in the Church Of Ireland, never very strong on liturgical or doctrinal explanation.

Simon Cotton said...

In mid-Wales, Disserth church retains its box pews and three-decker pulpit half way down the nave. Mrs Esther Crummer (1792-1858) had one of those pews. Her husband founded the Kington and Radnorshire Bank; after his death she continued to run it. Her diary survives, noting her attendance at the celebration of Holy Communion on Good Friday, not something that we would associate with the pre-Tractarian church.
There is a lot we do not know about Good Friday liturgy.

William Tighe said...

I would like to know more about these matters as well.

And concerning "on Saturday" I wonder if this was ever the case in the East, or at least in the Byzantine Rite, which has, and had had for over a millenium and a half a Vesperal semi-Paschal Divine Liturgy on Holy Saturday (customarily in some jurisdictions served in the morning or mid-afternoon) and a Matutinal Paschal Divine Liturgy prece3ded by Paschal Matins (customarily in some jurisdictions served beginning around Midnight).

In my own Ukrainian Catholic parish the Vesperal Liturgy was served beginning at 3 pm and the Paschal Liturgy beginning at 11 pm, but about a decade ago they were moved to 6 pm (Saturday) and 9 am (Sunday) respectively.

Cyril said...

Fr. John, Byzantines (I am speaking here of the Orthodox) do not communicate on Great and Holy Friday, as we call it. The only exception to this would be if 25 March were to fall on that day, a situation now impossible for those following the Gregorian calendar, but still a possibility for those who are on the Julian. I am not sure if the Viaticum is denied on this day, and perhaps someone else can anser that.
Cyril (Gary) Jenkins

Moritz Gruber said...

We never had Holy Communion on Good Friday in my Novus Ordo home-parish, and settled some time, somewhat against the liturgical rules, on the structure Liturgy-of-the-Word -- Veneration-of-the-Cross -- Great Intercessions -- Our Father, with embolism, and blessing. (The embolism being rather notable because, against the liturgical rules, we did not have an embolism on any other day of the year). The rest was by the book, just the order was different and the Communion was away.

In fact, I still remember even more years ago where the order was right, but also no Communion. They then changed it on the rationale "we can't just finish with the veneration of the Cross and then blessing. So, let's move the Intercessions here. If we would have Communion, we'd do it in the order by the book; but we don't".

A great many parishes around didn't have Communion, likewise, and I actually long thought it a peculiar Old-Rite thing to have Communion... because they follow the books (sort-of), even the 1955 ones. And then I always wanted to have Communion... but that was because I had never seen an actual Missa Praesanctificatorum.

Even today, I'd prefer the Good-Friday liturgy with Communion to one without any procession of the Blessed Sacrament. But I'd prefer by a wide margin the 1954ish Missa Praesanctificatum with Elevation of the presanctified Host to a loud clap, with us all making spiritual Communion (and the celebrant an also-sacramental one).

(Nevertheless, I have hitherto always Communicated on Good Friday when there was Communion and I had no known mortal sin on my conscience. I could and would still defend that practice, but I don't know if I'll do so the next time; this year in any case, I had no opportunity at all to a Good Friday liturgy apart from a live-stream.

Besides valid reasonings about the dies amaritudinis, there's also, let's face it, the plain practical thing that even the most beautiful labour is also sometimes a bit laborious, and that also applies to setting oneself into the state of [more-or-less] fervent adoration that one considers apt for sacramental Communion. It is, let's face it, rather refreshing not to Communicate every now and then; assuming, of course, that you still Communicate fairly often, and that the reason is not mortal sin, nor scrupulosity, nor failures of the "oh dear, that coffee was too late again for the one-hour" type.