Good Friday is “good” in the sense of being holy. We participate in Our Lord’s passion. As we have heard the story of His passion on Palm Sunday (this year from Mark’s account) so now we participate in John’s account. Good Friday is the one day of the year on which Holy Eucharist is not celebrated. Our liturgy includes the distribution of Jesus’ Body and Blood as these have been consecrated at the final Mass on Maundy Thursday.
On Holy Saturday, Jesus is in the grave in body and has descended into Hell in His Spirit. He asserts His dominion over all creation, preaching to those “in prison” (1 Pet. 3.18-22; Eph. 4.9). Easter is, of course, the Sunday of the Resurrection. The feast begins with The Great Vigil of Easter at sundown on Saturday. This is because days in the Church, following Jewish practice which derives from Gen. 1.5 (“And there was evening and there was morning; the first day.”), begin at sundown. At the vigil the new fire, from which the Paschal Candle is lit, is ignited and brought within a dark church. The light of Christ enters, and the deacon brings the candle forward through the congregation, stopping three times to sing “The light of Christ!”, to which the people respond “Thanks be to God!” Lent is over when the canon of the Mass begins, and we ring bells (in token of the joy of the triumph over death) as the lights come up with the Gloria (not sung in Lent).
In Easter Week the events surrounding Jesus’ resurrection appearances are recounted, and then following another week (this year) of no feasts we encounter our first saint’s feast of the month on 21 April, when we remember St. Anselm of Canterbury (d. 1109), the great theologian best remembered for his writings on the incarnation, in his book Cur Deus Homo? (“Why the God Man?”). Another “English” saint is remembered on the 23rd, being St. George. George may or may not have existed. He is, at any rate, the type of Christian hero, and is considered patron both of England (and Canada, Ethiopia, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Lithuania, Malta, and Portugal) and of soldiers (as well as many others). George reminds us that by the Lord we may do things far beyond our own powers.
St. Mark the Evangelist is remembered on the 25th. Mark was the son of a woman who owned a house in Jerusalem, perhaps the same house where Jesus ate the Last Supper with His disciples. He may have been the young man who fled naked when the soldiers came to the garden to seize Jesus (Mark 14.52), and Paul refers to him as Barnabas’ cousin (Col. 4.10). Mark is thought to have written his gospel on the basis of Peter’s recollections, and Peter refers to Mark as his “son” (1 Pet. 5.13). Mark is thought to have been the first bishop of Alexandria. His relics are claimed by Venice.
The month is rounded out with the feast of St. Catherine of Siena (29 April, d. 1380). A visionary who served as a Dominican nun in the care of lepers, and of those condemned to death by execution. Catherine displayed a woman’s reconciling touch (and persistence) in her tireless campaign—writing to princes, kings, and popes, to bring about the end of the schism of the western Church, and to persuade rivals to the papacy to renounce claims, to allow for the reunification of the Church. May we be counseled and led by wise women in our own day!