Today the Catholic Church is observing the most solemn day of its year- Good Friday. The observances this day follow the suffering and passion of Christ, a reminder of the sacrifice he made for the sake of all humanity
Maria de Lourdes Bravo da Costa Rodrigues
On Good Friday, (Nimanno Sunkrar in Konkani, meaning last Friday of Lent), which is the saddest and most pious day of the catholic calendar, is enacted the greatest tragedy of all time before the people – the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ.
These observances are seen at all churches world-over: the black curtain at the nave of the Church covers it fully from top to bottom, behind which is set up a life-size image of Jesus Christ crucified on a big black cross. In the morning there is the observance of the ‘way of the cross’. In the afternoon, the main rite is held at the church. The priests, with their heads wrapped up in white and in their inner white vestments called chasuble, conduct the services while the people come dressed in black and white or sober colours to the church. The confreres wear the opa and mursa, the vestment used by the members of the confraternity. The mursa (cape) has a hood and this is used to cover their heads. The devotees go to the Church to pay obeisance to Christ, where an image on the cross is kept for public veneration. Earlier people would go to kiss the holy image barefoot. After the holy kiss is over, there is a part of the liturgy of mass and communion. The mass liturgy on this day begins with the Our Father.
Then the next part of the ritual follows. A priest says a sermon and during the sermon the big curtain is opened and the image of crucified Christ is unveiled. During the Lenten season, a black curtain is put up at the naves of churches, where the plays of passion of Christ are represented. Usually, a curtain is put up near the main altar. In many churches, every Sunday, the passion of Christ is depicted on a stage behind this curtain. The evening mass on Good Friday is the main service during lent. At this mass, a sermon relevant to the theme of passion is preached to the congregation, heightening the feeling of sorrow. After the sermon, the process of lowering the Image of Jesus from the cross begins. Two priests or members of the confraternity climb up using ladders to bring Jesus down from the cross. It is then placed in the coffin below. After the sermon is over, a procession with the Christ’s body and Our Lady wends through the parish, along a fixed route. No bells are tolled from the previous evening of Maundy Thursday and they will only toll happily from Easter Sunday’s midnight service to announce the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. To substitute the bells during the Good Friday service, a wooden clatter with iron rings is used to announce the rituals.
The procession comes back to the Church where another sermon is delivered in the open air. The theme of this sermon is on the loneliness of Mary, and her unbound grief at the death of her son. After the ceremony is over, people queue up, to kiss the body of Christ and Our Lady. On this day strict abstinence and fast is to be observed by adults below 6o years of age.
The next day is the Holy Saturday, and in the Church there is no mass, though way of the cross is held. However, at eleven in the night the ceremony of the Pascal Vigil starts, so that at about midnight Jesus resurrects. The resurrection is announced by joyous rendition of the Gloria and happy tolling of the bells.
Every Friday during the Lent, people assemble in the Church or Chapel to participate in the Stations of the Cross in front of each framed portrait around the walls, so as to relive the seven stages of the Passion of Christ. These rituals practices of Lenten Pageants or Tableaux, with their processions, are unique to Goa. The Pageants (Santos Passos) were held for the first time by the Jesuits in the College of Saint Paul. These theatrical spectacles were used for the reformation of manners. The other orders, such as the Augustinians and the Franciscans, as also the Confraternity of Charity (Misericordia) as well as the parish churches adopted this practice from the Jesuits during Lent, and the fashion prevailed. Interestingly attendance at these services during Lent is a duty prescribed in the constitution of all the Confraternities in Goa. The larger than life statues of Christ are usually the
property of the confraternities of the respective church.