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The Guilt of Good Friday

Posted in Editorials on March 29th, 2013

For most of my life, I have dreaded Good Friday. When I was a child and old enough to understand what the day meant, I felt sad and a bit afraid. Catholic Churches drain the holy water from the fonts where you could bless yourself – a dramatic gesture which I found alarming.

Schools were always closed, and my mother and grandmother told me stories about how when they were children, they were not allowed to play or talk or watch television during Good Friday, especially between the hours of noon and 3pm, when Jesus was said to have been crucified. I attempted this over and over, but the stories in my children’s bible and saying the rosary would only last about an hour. I inevitability opened a novel or a magazine, though wracked with guilt and a bit ashamed.

When I was in college, I fasted several times on Good Friday, but I never got the sense of spiritual closeness to God it was supposed to bring. I just felt hungry and irritable and headachy. Crabbiness didn’t feel very holy.

But fasting or not, failing to spend three hours in contemplation of Jesus’ crucifixion or doing schoolwork instead – I always felt a sense of dread all day. Some years, it was easier because our family would often spend a Passover Seder with my Jewish relatives and the holidays often overlap. The celebration brightened an awful day, but on the way home my mother would grouse about how it was terrible that we had just spent the evening enjoying ourselves when it was Good Friday! And….oh my God… matzoh ball soup is made with chicken broth and we were not supposed to eat meat today! I always figured the holidays cancelled each other out in God’s eyes.

Since I started working, I have always worked on Good Friday. It’s much better than contemplating the violent death of a man who preached love and charity. And that I am at work absolves any residual guilt for the most part.

I still think about how guilty the day used to make me feel. Guilt for the death of Jesus, and guilt at not observing it as properly and solemnly as others seemed to be able to. And I wonder if there’s another way to do it – different from how I felt when I was younger, or from the way I try to ignore it now. Would it work as a day of service, like some have suggested we commemorate 9/11 or MLK Day? Or maybe it would be a good time to open a Jefferson Bible?

Holy Saturday was always one of my favorite days of the year. My family would visit the gardening supply store and buy pink and purple hyacinths. We would dye Easter Eggs. I loved the feeling of anticipation for the holiday. Looking back I wonder how much of it was relief that Good Friday was over and that I wouldn’t have to face it again for another year.

I still like the day before Easter, but it no longer packs the same punch it did when I was a Catholic. I’ve shed much of the guilt, though I’m not sure what should take its place.

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