Many people are wondering today: Why is there no Mass on Good Friday? Of course, there is the Liturgy of the Presanctified, or the Commemoration of Our Lord’s Passion; but it is true that, although communion is distributed, Mass is not celebrated.
So, why no Mass today (or Holy Saturday, before the Vigil)? This question is especially relevant on the day when we commemorate the reality of which the Mass is a sacramental figure: The suffering and death of Christ.
This, like many other questions, was asked and answered a long time ago by a holy Dominican Friar named Thomas Aquinas. In the Summa Theologica, part III, question 83, article 2, reply to objection 2, St. Thomas tells us:
“The figure ceases on the advent of the reality. But this sacrament is a figure and a representation of our Lord's Passion, as stated above. And therefore on the day on which our Lord's Passion is recalled as it was really accomplished, this sacrament is not consecrated. Nevertheless, lest the Church be deprived on that day of the fruit of the Passion offered to us by this sacrament, the body of Christ consecrated the day before is reserved to be consumed on that day; but the blood is not reserved, on account of danger, and because the blood is more specially the image of our Lord's Passion.”
Yes, it is true that the Mass is the representation of the Passion, but as the figure passes away before the reality, so too the Church omits the celebration of Mass when she commemorates the Passion as it really happened in time.
So while we do not celebrate Mass today, we celebrate something more than Mass; for the Mass represents the Passion as a figure, but the liturgy of the Commemoration of Our Lord’s Passion represents our Lord’s suffering and death as it was in reality. In omitting the Mass, nothing is lost; but the sacramental figure is perfected in the reality commemorated on Good Friday.
But St. Thomas, good teacher that he was, does not stop there. Instead he anticipates another objection (ST III, q.83, a.2, ad 1): If any should say that—since the Commemoration of Good Friday is, in some sense, more perfect than even the Mass—we should then celebrate Good Friday many times and not only once per year; St. Thomas answers:
“Christ's Passion is recalled in this sacrament, inasmuch as its effect flows out to the faithful; but at Passion-tide Christ's Passion is recalled inasmuch as it was wrought in Him Who is our Head. This took place but once; whereas the faithful receive daily the fruits of His Passion: consequently, the former is commemorated but once in the year, whereas the latter takes place every day, both that we may partake of its fruit and in order that we may have a perpetual memorial.”
Since Christ died only once, we commemorate his Passion as it really occurred in history only once each year. But, since his suffering and death are infinitely efficacious unto salvation, Mass is celebrated every day in order that many people might rejoice in the saving fruits of his death.
Look here for a consideration on the adoration of the Cross, which takes place in today’s liturgy.