Tuesday, April 19, 2011

There is no Mass on Good Friday and there is no Mass in heaven

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.


kkollwitz said...

I like this; will have to think about it; and read it again.

Thanks for posting before Good Friday.

Richard Collins said...

Yes, very thought provoking, interesting and beautiful.

Chatto said...


could you tell us more of the "proper species" of the sacrifice of the Cross on Good Friday? Is it simply through reading the Lord's Passion and Veneration of the Cross?

Also, are there graces especially associated with this more perfect unity with the Sacrifice? Like sacramental graces, but different.

Paolo said...

After 62 years since I was born and baptized a Catholic, After so many years of catechism, service in the church as altar boy in the V.O. and lector in the N.O., only now that I read the posts in this blog I can say that I have a much clearer picture of the sacraments, most especially the eucharist and of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
I offer my dayly prayers for the creators and keepers of this blog. May God richly bless you all.

donda7 said...

Perchè se non c'è messa al venerdì santo si celebra con la casula e non con il piviale? Se qualcuno avrà la pazienza di rispondermi lo ringrazio. Perchè secondo me è illogico,

Dev Thakur said...

Thanks for this post. One question: is it strictly true that Mass cannot be celebrated at all on GF with no exceptions?

I ask because I have heard from a knowledgeable person that at least traditionally, if someone was in extremis and there was no access to the reserved Sacrament, a priest could celebrate a votive Mass of the Passion on GF in order to be able to give viaticum.

Micah said...

Okay, I have to ask...do you know where the picture in this article was taken? What I see is identical to the high altar in my cathedral, except that our cathedra is in front of our old tabernacle. :-(

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

The picture is from the FSSP Seminary in Denton, NE.
It was posted originally over at NLM on April 14, 2006.

Peace. +

Anonymous said...


The grace of God led me to this blog. If you only knew what hope you have given me!

God reward you abundantly!


P.S. The picture IS beautiful...wish our parish church looked like that.

Campion said...


Grazie per la sua risposta. Una buona domanda a cio non ho una risposta... Sarebbe interessante per guardare alla forma straordinaria per delle indicatori. Forse il nostro Reginaldus sa la risposta giusta...
Mi scusi per l'italiano debole.

Buona Pascha in attesa!

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

It is very hard to point to any one element as the "commemoration of the passion as it was really accomplished" ... It would be more than simply the actions of the proclamation of the Lord's Passion and the Veneration of the Cross -- it is tied with the liturgical calendar as well ... reading the Passion and Venerating the Cross on any other day would not be the same ...
It is hard to say, and I am not really sure what the right answer is. But the liturgical year is certainly a key element.

Regarding the graces of Good Friday -- we do receive the sacramental grace through receiving the Eucharist; but there is additional grace given through the veneration of the Cross on this particular day. These additional grace are not sacramental (for they do not rely on figure, but on the pure reality)...

Many good things to think about! I hope that a good Dominican Thomist will write a book about this some day! :)

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

I do not know of any rubrical directive on this point ... certainly, it would seem that the giving of viaticum would be extremely important.
As I am a dogmatist and not a liturgist or historian, I really cannot give a good answer to the question.
Peace! +

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Spero che posso resepondere in englese...
In the traditional Mass, the chasuble is not used, but only the cope (piviale). The traditional Mass was actually very very complicated -- switching between black and violet, and putting on and taking off the copes...

Still, the chasuble is not totally illogical in the sense that the Good Friday commemoration is not "less" than Mass, but "more"...hence, we are even more perfectly united to the Sacrifice; thus, it could make sense to wear the chasuble.

Still, I do agree that there is much to be said for the older practice of using the cope.

Pace e bene! +

dcs said...

Dear Fr. Reginaldus,

I don't know what directives might be in force today, but I know under the the liturgical law in force in the middle of the XXth century a priest could celebrate Mass on Good Friday if he needed to consecrate Hosts for Viaticum. I believe he had to offer the Votive Mass of the Sacred Heart, but I could be mistaken about that (it was a particular Votive Mass - he did not have a choice of which Mass to celebrate). You can find the exact answer in Jone if you have it handy (I don't).

Chatto said...

Hi Father,

thanks for the response. Fingers crossed for a (simple) Thomist explanation!

Also, I'm very disappointed that my hero has been bumped from your line up of Teachers at the top of the blog. Sad times. If he gets made a Doctor of the Church, will you put him back?

Seraphim said...


There is also a penitential aspect to the "Eucharistic fast" on Great Friday. The Mass is not celebrated because it is a penitential day, not a celebration of the Resurrection and of the conquest of sin and death.

Greek Catholics do not celebrate Liturgy on any weekday in Great Lent, for this reason - we have a "Liturgy of the Presanctified" administering Communion consecrated on the previous Sunday, which as I understand is the Roman custom for Good Friday today.

In Christ,


Unknown said...

Beautiful and inspiring

Post a Comment

When commenting, please leave a name or pseudonym at the end of your comment so as to facilitate communication and responses.

Comments must be approved by the moderator before being published.