Friday, March 21, 2008

Holy Week Customs-Good Friday

Because Christ spent 40 hours in His tomb (from 3 PM Good Friday until 7 AM Pascha morning -- a span covering 3 separate Jewish days as even a part of one day is counted as "a day"), from the very earliest Christian times, it's been customary for some to fast and keep vigil during this entire period, which is known as "40 Hours' Devotion" (Quarant'ore).
Processions, and Passion Plays and other dramatizations of our Lord's sufferings are customary on this day in some places. The most famous of Passion Plays is the one that takes place at Oberammergau, Germany, in the Bavarian Alps once each decade. In 1632, the plague even penetrated the remote mountain valleys of those mountains, and although the villagers kept guard to prevent the plague reaching the village, a man from Oberammergau working as a farm labourer in a village a few miles away carried the disease home. Within a year, the Black Death had claimed over a fifth of the approximately 1,500 inhabitants of Oberammergau. Suffering badly and seeing no end to the plague in sight, the village elders gathered in their parish church on October 27, 1633 and vowed to perform Passion plays depicting the passion of Christ every ten years if God would only show mercy and release their village from the clutches of the plague.
After they kept their part of the vow in 1634 (at Pentecost) by performing the play for the first time, no villager died of the plague -- and every ten years since then, the people of Oberammergau stage the most celebrated Passion Play of all time. The city of Spearfish, South Dakota in the United States also puts on a large Passion Play -- the "Black Hills Passion Play" -- each year, and has so since 1938 after it was instituted by a German immigrant. Iztapalapa, a district of Mexico City, has a very large, very communal reenactment of Christ's Passion each year, too.
As to symbols, there is a beautiful one recounted in this tale to tell your children -- the legend of the dogwood tree: It is said at the time of the Crucifixion, the dogwood was comparable in size to the oak tree and other monarchs of the forest. Because of its firmness and strength it was selected as the timber for the Cross, but to be put to such a cruel use greatly distressed the tree. Sensing this, the crucified Jesus in His gentle pity for the sorrow and suffering of all said to it: "Because of your sorrow and pity for My sufferings, never again will the dogwood tree grow large enough to be used as a gibbet. Henceforth it will be slender, bent and twisted and its blossoms will be in the form of a cross -- two long and two short petals. In the center of the outer edge of each petal there will be nail prints -- brown with rust and stained with red -- and in the center of the flower will be a crown of thorns, and all who see this will remember."
From Fish Eaters

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