Even Better Friday

Friday is a fast day, except when it is not; and today, gloriously, it is not. And that is because it is Easter Friday, within the very Octave, and therefore a Feast. (Action stations at the old Pantheon in Rome, converted to Saint Mary’s of the Martyrs by Pope Boniface IV, fourteen centuries ago almost precisely.)

Though it should be said that today is Good Friday among our Eastern brethren (or, Great Friday, as they call it at Constantinople), stuck as they are with the old Julian calendar, and holding, we Westerners suspect, on a point of pride. Annoying, too: because it prevents us from consulting their magnificent liturgies for background on, and resonance with, our own — in live time.

Be the motive what it may have been, my Orthodox and Ethiopic friends weren’t responsible for the decision, just as my Protestant friends cannot be held to account for the behaviour of some of their ancestors (and mine), over the last five centuries. Each was born where he was born. Just as we, saintly Catholics (and I use the adjective wryly), should be visited with neither the sins of the fathers of our fathers, nor the sons of their other sons — having enough sins of our own, thank you.

Our ancestors on all sides made a mess of history. And we, for our part, are still making it worse. And what makes it worse than that is, we don’t care.

Moreover, I can understand why some folks aren’t Catholic. I nearly joined the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic myself, when I was first converted from godlessness, and by a miracle, in England back in the ‘seventies. And would have, perhaps, had it not been for a couple of rather godless, liberal Catholic clergy, from those “Dutch Catechism” days. They persuaded me (perhaps without intending) that the Roman Church was actually no longer Catholic, but instead gone over to the Other Side. For this was England in the ‘seventies, when the Mass had been totally trashed on the authority of Pope Paul himself, leaving only the Anglicans with anything resembling the traditional, Western Christian celebration.

Later, being coached for entry into the Anglican communion, I recall some questions from other members of my group.

One of them was, “Father, why-on-urth should we call Good Friday ‘good’, if Jesus got crucified that day? Why not call it Bad Friday, and call the next one, after the Resurrection, Good?”

(That the lady who asked this later sought the female ordination, seems somehow relevant here.)

The priest replied with some learned remark on English etymology. Good, he explained, is here used in its much older English sense of “pious,” and Good Friday was then, as ideally now, a day observed with grave piety.

This did not satisfy the lady, who said it should be renamed “Pious Friday,” in that case.

(I am not naming names, for they can still be traced, and the purpose of this anti-blog is not to settle old scores. The lady in question is now not only a retired Anglican priestess, but also a divorced one. Hardly a surprise: I pitied her husband even then. Still, I owe her, for she was among my many inspirations for finally leaving that communion.)

Searching in his heart for a way to explain the inestimable value of tradition, in words that might be acceptable to a madwoman, the poor Anglican priest broke down. He resorted to the sort of remark the quick-tempered Anglican Dean of Saint Patrick’s used to utter on such occasions.

“Well why don’t we compromise, ma’am. We’ll keep calling it Good Friday, for the time being, and call the one after, Even Better Friday.”