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Tag Archive: Good Friday

Good Friday: The Other Mothers’ Day

Posted: Friday, March 21, 2008 (10:01 pm), by John W Gillis


As has been my custom for several years, I listened to Henryk Gorecki’s Symphony No. 3 (Symphony of Sorrowful Songs) this afternoon, before attending the Good Friday liturgy. This is a remarkable work that never fails to move me. I don’t listen to it very often during the rest of the year, but it has become a Good Friday staple for me.

Though Gorecki himself insists that the work has much broader meaning (no doubt), it is difficult for me to listen to it without being overwhelmed by thoughts of the insane brutality of the Nazi death camps in Gorecki’s own Poland. The text of the second movement is actually taken from scratchings on the wall of a Gestapo prison in southern Poland, and the entire piece seems imbued with the lingering memory of a people and a boy (b. 1933) who lived through the madness. In this connection, I see a particular affinity between this piece and Good Friday. It is not for nothing that Isaiah 52 is read in today’s liturgy.

Michelangelo’s PietaAt the simplest level, it is a piece about the suffering of mothers losing their children. It is a Pieta, writ upon the maternity of humanity. The first movement’s text is quite literally a Marian lament, dating from the 15th century, that could have been spoken at the foot of the cross. The third movement uses a local folk song that speaks of a grieving mother yearning for her son, lost in a violent uprising in the early 20th century.

But the shorter second movement is the most remarkable to me. It recognizes a mother’s sorrow through the eyes of a lost child – in this case an 18 year-old Polish girl named Helena, imprisoned by the German Gestapo on September 26, 1944. On the wall of her prison cell, she wrote: “No, Mamma, do not cry -Immaculate Queen of Heaven support me always” (followed by the beginning of the Ave Maria – in Polish).

It is humbling to realize that this girl – in such dire straights – concerned herself, before all else, with the suffering she knew her mother must have been living through on her account. I know a man who, we are told, acted very similarly in his own hour of darkness. It’s a tale that tells of the triumph of charity – and faith – over despair, despite an aching sadness.

Gorecki_3rd_1992Musically, the symphony culminates when, after almost an hour of slow, brooding, dark, aching, sometimes devastatingly angst-ridden waves of sound, the third movement resolves – twice – into an A Major chord that witnesses to the persistence of possibility – though not without a lingering knowledge of darkness.

It is in no way corny or contrived, the way the piece comes around like this; rather, it smartly reflects the essence of a faithful existence in the face of madness and rampant sin. In a Good Friday context, it is simply the realization that Easter has the last word.

God bless all grieving mothers on this day. And God bless Henryk Gorecki, who, whether he intended to or not, managed to capture the Pieta in music – right down to the last note.

Good Friday Intercessions

Posted: Friday, March 21, 2008 (7:48 pm), by John W Gillis


While listening to the general intercessions today during the Good Friday liturgy, I couldn’t help but think about all the hubbub that was raised recently when Pope Benedict made the Latin-rite Mass more widely available.

I had some good, mentally stable, friends tell me that it was the beginning of the end of the Second Vatican Council reforms; that the priests would soon turn their backs – literally and figuratively – on the people (which I guess I’m supposed to think is self-evidently worse than priests turning their backs on the tabernacle, though I’m not sure why I’m not supposed to be just as offended by the backs of all the parishioners in front of me that are turned toward me – better stick to the front pew if I’m feeling sensitive…); that the Church was about to become a fortress of spiritual repression, where domineering, Latin-speaking clergy would rule ruthlessly over a servile laity… well, you can guess the rest.

I was approached by a particularly irate parishioner in Dunkin’ Donuts one morning, who explained to me (complete with a lesson on the finer points of Latin) how he was certain that the disgraceful reintroduction of the term “perfidious Jews” into the Good Friday liturgy would set Catholic/Jewish relations back decades (turns out he didn’t even know which liturgy is being used in the Latin, but accurate facts are such an encumbrance during an outrage anyway!).

I find it terribly difficult to understand the lack of trust so many Catholics have in the Church – which is what this smacks of, to me. I’m not unaware of the feet of clay that encumber us all, but how can anyone who feasts at the table of the altar not be amazed at the nature of the Divine gift that is the Church? If we believe that the Church is the Body of Christ, then a meaningful faith in that same Christ would seem to me to demand a certain level of confidence in His desire – and ability – to lead the Bride into “all truth” (c.f. Jn 16.13).

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Then there is the curious situation of Jewish leaders who say that “something must be done” about the prayer for the Jews that actually is said as part of the current Tridentine Good Friday liturgy, because in it, the Church prays for the conversion of the Jews. OK, so . . . what am I missing here?

If the Christian Church believes that Jesus Christ is the Son of God – the very Incarnation of God – and that fellowship with Christ (communion) is the means to complete reconciliation with God – and eternal life in pure, wondrous bliss – then why exactly is it offensive to express to God a genuine, loving desire that someone else come to share in that? In the English of the Novus Ordo, we pray that the Jews may come “to the fullness of redemption,” and this appears not to offend anyone. Being at least modestly familiar with Catholic theology, this suggests to me that it’s OK to wink, but not to nod.

I understand that most Jews do not accept Jesus as the Christ. I’m not offended by that. And if anyone thinks I’m in error, and wants to pray sincerely to God that I come to a full understanding of the truth, I won’t be offended – I will be grateful, in fact, even if I think that by coming to understand the truth more fully, I will be even firmer in my conviction of the Lordship (and Godhood) of Jesus Christ.

One thing I will not do is tell people of other faiths how they should or should not pray.

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This may be a very politically incorrect thing for me to say ( imagine that), but I think the position of those Jewish leaders (I have no idea if it is many, or just a few that manage to get press) who have agitated to have the Catholic Church’s liturgy changed is nothing short of religious intolerance on their part. Judaism may not be evangelistic, but Christianity is – by its very nature.

Any meaningful understanding of religious tolerance would have to allow for Christians, as well as anyone else, to practice their religion faithfully, as they understand it. To be sure, it would not require leaving room for malfeasance, religiously motivated or not, but it certainly must allow for charity and goodwill. Modernity’s unwritten rule against proselytizing is nothing but a weak man’s religious intolerance – nobody is allowed to challenge the status quo with religious conviction. What a sham.

The prayers for the conversion of Jews to the knowledge of Christ are offered in charity, and good manners would seem to demand that they be acknowledged as such, in goodwill. If the Jews think we’re bonkers (or idolaters), they can at least take note that we wish for them – nay, pray for them – the most important and wonderful good we can conceive. If they want to roll their eyes at us, and say “silly goyim,” well, I’d get a good chuckle out of that, and God probably would, too. But I never find anything amusing in someone taking offense where none is offered.