How Do Catholics Celebrate Good Friday?

Updated April 17, 2017

Good Friday in the Catholic Church celebrates the crucifixion and death of Jesus and is part of Holy Week that ends with Easter. While a mass is not said to celebrate Good Friday, a liturgical service is performed. This includes the Liturgy of the Word, Veneration of the Cross and Holy Communion. The Stations of the Cross are also performed on this day, and fasting is a common practice.


Good Friday is considered an official fasting day by the Catholic Church. Fasting is only required for those ages 18 to 59, unless the person has a health issue that fasting would affect. The church says that only one meal should be eaten on Good Friday and that it should not contain meat. This meal is often the evening meal. However, it is considered acceptable to have a very small breakfast and lunch, as long as these two meals together do not equal the size of a full meal. Snacks are not allowed throughout the day, but water is allowed.

Liturgical Service

The service on Good Friday is a liturgical service, and not a mass. During the service, the church is mostly dark and bare, creating an atmosphere of mourning. The altar is completely bare. There is no cross, altar garments or candles. Often the holy water vessels are empty, no music is played and no bells ring. Priests often wear red vestments, but sometimes wear the more traditional black. The service usually consists of three events: Liturgy of the Word, Veneration of the Cross and Holy Communion.

Liturgy of the Word

This part of the service consists of reading and singing from the Passion part of St. John's gospel, which is John 18:1-19:42. Other parts of the Bible that are read or sung include Isaiah 52:13-53:12, and Hebrews 4:14-16 and 4:7-9. These readings and songs are done by the priest and others participating in the service. A succession of prayers for various people and institutions, including the pope, the church, groups in the public and others, marks the end of this part of the service.

Veneration of the Cross

Often the cross is covered at the beginning of the service, but at this point it is displayed to the congregation. It is presented in a solemn way to evoke mourning. The congregation then venerates, or pays respect, to the cross. This is done by kneeling before the cross, kissing it or genuflecting in front of it. Churches conduct this process differently; sometimes members of the congregation line up to individually kiss or kneel before the cross, and other times the veneration is done as a large group with everyone kneeling or genuflecting before the cross at the same time.

Holy Communion

During the Holy Communion part of the service, the Eucharist consecrated at the Holy Thursday mass, the day before, is used. This is because during the liturgical service, the traditional consecration of the Eucharist, including the breaking of the bread, is not done. But, the "Our Father" prayer is said Holy Communion is distributed to the congregation just like at any mass.

Stations of the Cross

The Stations of the Cross are also performed in addition to the liturgical service. This is usually done either before or after the service. Most often, this event takes place in late afternoon before the liturgical service begins in the evening. The Stations of the Cross celebrates 14 events from Jesus's death. Most Catholic churches have images commemorating these events displayed in the church year-round. During the Stations of the Cross, a facilitator reads out the event and prayers are said for each one.

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About the Author

Erica Sweeney is a freelance writer and editor based in Little Rock, Ark. She has a master's in journalism from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. Her work has been published at, Arkansas Times, Aging Arkansas and Arkansas Business.