As We Understood Him

I feel like I’m breaking a rule right now.

It is Good Friday, between the hours of noon and 3:00pm, and I am using something electronic.

In my house growing up, Good Friday between the hours of noon and 3:00pm meant absolute silence. My mother believed that we should use that time – that teensy amount of time in our big long noisy childhood lives – to cease almost all stimulation and just be aware of what happened with Jesus right then.

It’s actually kind of a nice tradition, but when you’re a kid it means only one thing:

Thinking about Jesus? Was. Boring.

As an avid reader, I had more of an out than my sisters did. I was allowed to read during Good Friday No TV Or Music While Jesus Was On the Cross Time. So for me it was less boring than it was for my sisters, even though I do distinctly remember sitting on a swing in the backyard, staring at the ground and actually watching the grass grow one year, contemplating how it seemed like every Good Friday, no matter what the weather was, the sky got cloudy at noon.

That didn’t happen today. It’s a brilliantly blue-skied cloudless day.


As an adult, I still like to honor the tradition my mother established. The only sound in my house right now is the dishwasher. Turns out, we’re not Amish. I’m allowed to use electricity during the Crucifixion Hours, I’m just not allowed to use stimulation unless it’s a book. But I’ve decided that writing and reading blog posts counts as the same as reading a book. I’m avoiding Facebook, though. That’s a little over-the-line, and if my mother sees that I was on and posted something, she’ll be disappointed in me. There’s no fun allowed on Good Friday.

Yes, that’s right. I’m 35, and my mother lives more than two hours away, and I’m still talking in terms of what I’m allowed to do.

And she thought I never listened.

Anyway, today is my day off. For many years, I’ve found myself  at work wishing I had taken Good Friday off so that I wasn’t ignoring the import of the day while I was surrounded by stimulating work-associated things. I felt disconnected from the most mournful and meaningful week of the Christian calendar, and even though I’m not the most religious person, I don’t like to ignore that. I like the opportunity to reconnect and reboot.

What saves me from that disconnection is my music.  Before I had to leave my choirs because of stupid work, Holy Week was the biggest week of the year for music. Rehearsal Monday; rehearsal Wednesday; Holy Thursday Mass to remember the Last Supper and the washing of the feet; Good Friday service to remember the Passion, crucifixion and death of Jesus;  Holy Saturday Mass-A-Thon when all the converts are baptized/confirmed/receive First Communion (“Yes, yes, welcome to the Church, hurry up already, this is a two-hour thing tonight and we’re here all week plus there’s a quick turn-around and we have to be back here in less than 12 hours”); and Easter Sunday Mass.

We were always in great moods come Easter Sunday. The sad strings gave way to triumphant trumpets, and the purple choir robes were cast off to reveal joyful springtime colors. Some of the women in the group busted out their Easter hats. But mostly we were in great moods because we knew we were finally done.  Also, though I didn’t do it this year, I generally give up sugar for Lent (the whole time, not just Monday through Saturday like the Church supposedly allows), and so on Easter Sunday morning I am hopped up on the brownies I had for breakfast.

Now I don’t get to sing as much and don’t generally go to church all four days. (Most Catholics don’t, and in fact are not required to.) But I have to admit… I miss it. I miss having the music and the low lights and candles to pull me in and wrap me up in the melancholy of what we’re commemorating and the impact of what it meant for the world. I’ve always found a soulful connectedness in churches at night. And whether you believe in Jesus as the Messiah or not, if you’ve been to any of the services, you know it’s a deeply touching time in the Church year.

Tonight, I will sing for the Good Friday service. (It’s the only time in the Church year when we have the full hour-long worship with Communion and don’t call it Mass, because there is no consecration of the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ. We also do not genuflect to the tabernacle when we enter or leave a pew, because we are mindful that Jesus has died and therefore the tabernacle is empty.) The woeful cello and violins will play and my breath will connect with my spirit to sing a message of sacrifice, sorrow and reflection. My co-cantor and the choir will fill my ears and the service will fill my heart. I will be still, and I will remember what it is to be profoundly human and profoundly hopeless. I will remember, so the joy of forgiveness and hope can be renewed.

Yesterday, Sister 1 was taking Twin Nephs to the babysitter for the day and one of them piped up that Easter was coming soon.

“Do you know what happens on Easter?” my sister asked.

“We go to Aunt Beth’s house!” Neph 2 replied with his arms in the air from happiness.

“Well, yes,” Sister 1 said. “But something else happens, too.” And then she started trying to explain the mystery of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ to a couple of four-year-olds. Godspeed, sis.

Neph 1, ever serious and sensitive, said, “But why did Jesus die?”

“Well,” said Sister 1, clearly in over her head with these kids, “He died for us, because He thinks we’re special.”

God love him, Neph 1 seemed content with this explanation, and Neph 2 had already moved on to other interests.

Ten minutes later, they arrived at the babysitter’s house, and Neph 1 ran in and excitedly exclaimed, “I’m special! And Jesus dies tomorrow!”

Later in the day, the babysitter was talking to the kids about how they were going to make pizzas the next day, as part of their regular Friday routine. She always has to remind them that they have to wait for the dough to rise. And sure enough, Neph 2 proved he had been listening in the car after all.

“Jesus will rise like our dough!” he declared.

Now I’m a little worried there will be a Jesus-like image in the pizza.

However you understand God or your soul… I hope you take the chance to reconnect and renew your spirit this week!



21 thoughts on “As We Understood Him

  1. Like you, I grew up observing the hours between 12 and 3 with reverence, and in silence. And like you, there was many a year I wished I’d taken the day off on Good Friday. Today, even though I had the opportunity to spend the three hours in silence and contemplation, I found myself breaking all the rules – first by breaking my fast and eating lunch after twelve and secondly, by communicating with people on the internet. I was wondering for a while if the Devil had got into me and then I remembered that Jesus despised ritual for the sake of ritual. The main reason I turned my computer on is that a friend whose mother was admitted to hospital last night needs help promoting her book today. While sharing and tweeting her book, I took time to thank new Facebook friends for friending me and used the opportunity to wish them a happy Easter, though cautiously,because you never know who might take exception. I was surprised to see how many people from all over the world were delighted to be wished happy Easter and wished me the same. Is Christ smiling down from the cross? Perhaps.

    • That’s sort of what happened to me this year with the Giving Up Of Something. I had intended to give up cheese. Yes, cheese. I’ve realized I have too much fondness for it. But I didn’t think it through, because cheese becomes a staple of the Catholic diet when we’re not eating meat. So there went that. Happy Easter to you!

  2. Thanks for this (it’s 3:21, so I can post). We were observant Catholics growing up, and a lot of what you describe strikes a chord with me. Although my family is not nearly as observant as we were growing up, it’s still nice to revisit the memories and contemplate the season.

    • Hi there. You’re welcome- thanks for reading and commenting. Degrees of observance are one thing, but degree of connectedness is another – I don’t think they’re the same concept. I think a lot of us feel good about having a chance to connect. Glad I could facilitate that a bit!

  3. Really lovely. My mom was a tax consultant and my grandmother would be so distressed every year that my mom was working on Good Friday, that upset her more than working on Easter. I love the Passion and I tear up every year and we all know how it’s going to go. “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” That line makes me so sad, He is so human for that one second.

    Great post, this is what Freshly Pressed should be!
    Happy Easter. He is risen.

    • Thank you Maggie! Yes, I work a lot of holidays and every Sunday. Not much we can do about that. Like you, I often get emotional during Holy Week services. It’s easy to see God and Jesus as we understand Them to be distant and set apart. Aside from “Jesus wept” when Lazarus died, the Passion is the only time we truly get to see Jesus’ humanity – and the line you quote from Scripture only comes around in the Gospel of Luke. We didn’t hear it in John or Mark this year. It’s an interesting distinction that makes everything so much more real for us.

  4. This is a great post – so spiritual and reflective of the season. I love the ceremony and music of every church I have attended (in a life-long search for the “right” one) especially during Holy Week. I had to work today, but during the afternoon, took every opportunity I could to quietly reflect on rememberance of Jesus’ life and death.

  5. I grew up in a house of atheists, so I find your posts about your faith interesting AND educational. I had NO IDEA that something happened between 12-3pm. I like all the details you include – like about Mass and the tabernacle. If I ever write a book that features a Catholic protagonist, you will be my chief research aid! Happy Easter.

    • I suppose the times could be debated; the Scripture says “the darkness” began at the sixth hour, which is academically understood to be noon (six hours after sunrise) and death at the ninth hour, academically understood to be 3pm. I’m glad the information I toss out serves as a reference point. I hope I don’t ever run counter to doctrine; anything I’m not sure about I generally look up, but I did get a pretty good education, which continues. 🙂 Happy Easter!

  6. Well, it’s Sunday night and I’m chock-fulla-matzo. When I was a kid and wanted to the movies on Good Friday, she’d say, “You’re not going to the movies on Good Friday. You won’t see any Jews going to movies on Yom Kippur.” She grew up in a neighborhood with many Orthodox Jews .. she used to make pocket change by turning out lights on the Sabbath. If she’d hung around Socal Reformed Jews in the 2000s, she’d have known she was wrong about Jews and the movies. I’m glad you value the seriousness of the Easter season … too often it seems it’s jelly beans and bunnies. I feel the same way about Yom Kippur.

    • Interestingly, I sang the children’s Mass yesterday, and the kids were incorporated into the homily. They showed off a bunch of the secular symbols of Easter and then explained (obviously with the guidance of their adult leader) how those secular objects actually relate to the spiritual reasons for Easter. It was cute and somewhat informative – though I do think they made up the part about the jellybeans.

  7. Interesting post. As someone who grew up going to church with friends who took pity on me, I’m amazed that, like Pithypants, I’ve never heard of the 12-3pm thing. Thanks for teaching me something new!

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