Question: Why didn’t we receive Holy Communion on Good Friday? What is a “sepulchre”?
Answer: The practice of the Church regarding the reception of Holy Communion on Good Friday has varied considerably with time and place. It seems that no one celebrates Mass on that day. The traditional Roman practice for many centuries has been for the priest alone to receive Communion in a “Pre-Sanctified” Liturgy which completes the Mass of Holy Thursday. Byzantines, who have a Pre-Sanctified Communion service during the weekdays of Lent, have no Communion for anyone on Good Friday.[i] The custom of distributing Communion to the faithful is found occasionally in history, but even at that, it is extremely unlikely that everyone in the congregation received. While the establishment of a general Communion on Good Friday is not necessarily a bad thing, in retrospect we have reason to question the motives and the wisdom of this departure from longstanding tradition.
The departure began in 1955. Although appearing during the reign of the saintly Pope Pius XII, the rearrangement of the rites of Holy Week was primarily the work of Father Ferdinándo (later Cardinal) Antonelli OFM, and Father (later Archbishop) Annibale Bugnini CM. Readers should recognize both of these men as perpetrators of the Novus Ordo!
The 1955 revision of Holy Week was a “mixed bag” of liturgical practices. Some of it, like the celebration of the Easter Vigil at night rather than in daylight, makes sense (the blessing of the new fire and paschal candle, and particularly the words of the Exultet command a night time setting). But some of the other revisions are clearly the prelude to the liturgical revolution of the 1960s.
With hindsight, it is not difficult to see that two of the major thrusts of that revolution were against the sacrificial nature of the Mass, and against the concept of an hierarchical priesthood. To the Modernist, the Mass is but a meal, and all men and women are priests on par with the ordained minister who is no more than a “presider” over the assembly and “narrator” of the words of institution. One can see the beginnings of the shift towards Modernism in the revisions of 1955.
In the earlier rite, the readings of the synoptic Gospels, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, all included those evangelists’ accounts of both the Last Supper and the Crucifixion—allowing the listener to clearly perceive the inseparable connection between these two events. On Holy Thursday the readings speak only of the Last Supper, but the Church employed an interesting device to connect the Last Supper Mass of Holy Thursday with the memorial of our Lord’s Crucifixion on Good Friday. That “device” is known as the “Mass of the Pre-Sanctified.” On Holy Thursday, the priest consecrates two large hosts, one of which he receives in Holy Communion that night. By purposefully not consuming the second host, the priest leaves the Holy Thursday Mass at least symbolically incomplete.
From the end of the Thursday Mass until almost the end of Friday’s Pre-Sanctified Liturgy, the second host remains in repose at an altar prepared for this purpose. This time corresponds to the time that our Lord spent in the custody of the Jewish and Roman authorities—our visit to the Blessed Sacrament closed in a tabernacle is more like a visit to Jesus in prison than to the gloriously reigning Christ we might adore in the monstrance. It is a time of desolation, not celebration. The priest’s reception of the previously consecrated host on Friday afternoon, the (perhaps symbolic) completion of the Sacrifice of the Mass of the previous day, corresponds to our Lord’s death on the Cross. For any other purpose (apart from the danger of imminent death) the reception of Holy Communion seems out of place, by reason of being too joyous for this solemn day.
Modernism tries to diminish the difference between the sacrificing priest and the lay members of the congregation. Thus is assumed that everyone should communicate at every Mass—even more than once a day, without any particular necessity.[ii] Not wishing to make the distinction between priest and people, the new rite has everyone communicate regardless of whether or not it is appropriate.
A half dozen years later the same logic brought the revisers to the omission of the Confiteor before the Communion of the people. According to Modernism, they are just as much the celebrants of the Mass as the priest, so there is no need for them to receive Communion with a separate rite. The women distributing Communion, wearing blue jeans and T-shirts were not far behind.
Answer: The word “sepulchre” refers, somewhat erroneously, to the altar of repose, set up in a remote chapel (or side altar if necessary) for the repose of the Blessed Sacrament between Holy Thursday and Good Friday. Before the Reformation, in some of the northern countries, the priest would consecrate three hosts on Holy Thursday—one to be received at Mass, the second to be received on Good Friday, and the third to remain in the “sepulchre,” a symbolic representation of the tomb in which Jesus’ body remained until the Resurrection on Easter. In some places, the crucifix took the place of, or accompanied, the Blessed Sacrament.[iii]