As a latecomer to the Catholic Church (I received the Sacraments of Initiation at the Easter Vigil in 2003 at the age of 21) I quickly developed a great love for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. In fact, after having been received into the Church at the Easter Vigil along with my three siblings, I was the only one who attended Mass the next day on Easter Sunday. I could not get enough of the Mass.
Yet, when I learned during RCIA that there are no Masses offered on Good Friday, only a commemoration of the Lord’s Passion, I silently questioned the reason for this. The Church (in the Roman rite) offers the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass everyday as a means of re-presenting the bloody sacrifice of Jesus Christ in an unbloody manner upon the altar; yet on the day on which we call to mind the real sacrifice of Christ as it took place in time, the Church observes a commemoration without Mass. A reasonable Catholic might think to himself: “Wouldn’t Good Friday be a more appropriate day than any other for offering Mass? Why on this one day do we refrain from offering it?”
This is a very good question to which St. Thomas Aquinas gives a satisfying answer. The following is taken from his theological masterpiece, Summa Theologica (III, q. 83, a. 2, ad. 2), where he addresses questions related to the Eucharist: “The figure ceases on the advent of the reality. But this sacrament is a figure and a representation of our Lord’s Passion…And therefore on the day on which our Lord’s Passion is recalled as it was really accomplished, this sacrament is not consecrated.” Basically, St. Thomas teaches that the Mass is not celebrated on Good Friday because it is on this this day that we commemorate Our Lord’s real sacrifice on the Cross. In the Good Friday commemoration, we are mystically present in some way at Calvary alongside the Blessed Mother and the other disciples who remained at the Cross.
Now, in saying that Good Friday is a commemoration of Christ’s real sacrifice, I am not in any way suggesting that the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is somehow less real. But, as Aquinas teaches, “the figure ceases on the advent of the reality.” Recall how the Church defines a sacrament: “A Sacrament is a visible sign of an invisible grace, instituted for our justification” (from The Roman Catechism). The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is indeed a re-presentation of the real and true sacrifice of Jesus Christ upon the Cross. Yet the Mass is also a sign of this sacrifice. It is not a mere sign in that it only signifies the sacrifice but it is an efficacious sign. It both signifies Christ’s sacrifice and actually makes it present. And so, in the commemoration on Good Friday, the sign of Christ’s sacrifice offered in the Mass gives way to the historical reality. We only hold this commemoration of the Lord’s Passion once a yearbecause the reality of Christ’s sacrifice took place on one particular day in the calendar year once and for all.
In heaven, all sacramental signs will give way to the reality they signify. If we should make it to heaven, God-willing, we will no longer be in need of receiving the sacraments. We will instead behold face-to-face the reality that the sacraments signified and contained. It will be crystal clear the abundance of graces that we have received through the sacraments instituted by Christ himself. As St. Paul says: “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall understand fully, even as I have been fully understood” (1 Cor. 13:12).
By Fr. Matthew Mary, MFVA