|Ecce lignum crucis, in quo salus mundi pependit|
Why is there no Mass on Good Friday? We discussed this question last year, but there is still much fruit to be gained from a further study of the issue. First, we must point out that Good Friday is the one day in the entire Church year when Mass may not be celebrated. This should be somewhat surprising, since that day is the commemoration of the central historical event of the Mass – the sacrifice of the Cross. Of all the days to offer the sacrifice of the Mass, one might reasonably presume that Good Friday would be at the top of the list.
In order to understand this question, one must recognize that the Eucharist is a sacrament and, therefore, is a sign and symbol and figure (though it is most certainly not a mere sign or symbol or figure). Precisely because the Eucharist is a sacrament, it is a sacrifice. On this point, we refer readers to our recent article in which we discuss what makes the Mass to be a sacrifice. Our claim in the current article will be that, because the Eucharistic sacrifice is a sacramental sacrifice (and hence is a figure, though not a mere figure), the Mass is not offered on Good Friday.
Moreover, as we will see, it is on account of the sacramental nature of the Mass that the Eucharist will not exist in heaven. There will be no Mass in heaven for the same reason that there is no Mass on Good Friday. However, the mere fact that there will be no Mass in heaven does not mean that there is no liturgy in heaven – indeed, the heavenly liturgy is the most perfect form of worship. Likewise, although the sacrifice of the Mass is not offered on Good Friday, the liturgical commemoration of the Lord’s Passion brings us into an even more perfect participation in the sacrifice of the Cross.
Why the Mass is not offered on Good Friday
St. Thomas discusses this question and says: “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.” (ST III, q.83, a.2, ad 2)
Precisely because the Mass is a sacrament, it is a sign (not a mere sign, but a sign which contains a reality). However, in the commemoration of the Passion on Friday of Holy Week, the reality of the sacrifice is presented to the faithful not as a sacrament (i.e. not through the Mass) but “as it was really accomplished.” The Good Friday liturgy is, in fact, a more perfect re-presentation of the sacrifice of the Cross than is the Eucharistic liturgy. The Catholic faithful are more perfectly united to Calvary on Good Friday than they are by the offering of the Mass on any other day of the year.
Not of course, that there is anything lacking in the Eucharistic sacrifice offered every other day; but the Church, on Good Friday, recalls (with a special efficacy) the Lord’s Passion in its reality and not in its figure. Through the sacrament of the Eucharist, the very reality of the Cross is truly and really present under the figure of the sacrament – for, just as Christ’s blood poured forth from his body as he was pierced upon the Cross, so too the body and blood of Christ are sacramentally separated upon the altar during the Mass. There is no defect in the Eucharistic sacrifice: It is real and true, as a sacramental reality (and the sacraments are certainly real).
Still, on Good Friday, the sacrifice of the Cross is offered and commemorated not as a sacrament (that is, not as a figure or sign), but in the reality of its proper species – “as it was really accomplished.” Thus, just as the figure passes away in the advent of the reality, the Church does not offer the sacrifice of the Mass at the Good Friday commemoration of our Lord’s Passion.
There is no Mass in heaven
For a similar reason, there is no Mass in heaven. Certainly, there is a liturgy in heaven (just as there is a liturgy on Good Friday), but the sacrament of the Eucharist is not celebrated there.
The worship of the Church on earth is under the form of figures – namely, the sacraments. Certainly, the sacraments are also realities: They are both sign (or figure) and reality, res and sacramentum. Yet, in heaven, the figure will pass away before the reality. In this regard, we may look again to St. Thomas:
“In this state of the Blessed, then, nothing in regard to worship of God will be figurative; there will be naught but thanksgiving and voice of praise (Isaiah 51:3). Hence it is written concerning the city of the Blessed (Apocalypse 21:22): I saw no temple therein: for the Lord God Almighty is the temple thereof, and the Lamb.” (ST I-II, q.103, a.3)
Thus, heaven is the fulfillment of the Mass; and therefore the Eucharistic liturgy will no longer be offered, for even the sacraments themselves will pass away. In the glory of life everlasting we will no longer receive Christ under the veil and figure of the sacrament, but we will be spiritually united to him in the most perfect manner through charity. The sacramental species shall pass away in the presence of the proper species: Christ’s glorified body, no longer in figure, but in fulfilled reality.