Good Friday , the anniversary of Christ's death. It is only in England that the term "good" is applied to this feast. Its ancient title was Holy Friday, or the Friday in Holy Week. The Saxons named it "Long Friday," both because of its long religious services and of its rigorous and protracted fast. The Germans term it sometimes Stiller Freitag, because bells and organs are silent on that day, and sometimes Char-Freitag, from an old word meaning penitence. As it commemorates the day on which Christ, the true paschal lamb, was slain, it was designated as "the pasch" in some of the ancient eastern churches; but the appellation of "pasch of the crucifixion," or " the sorrowful pasch," was soon universally applied to it by the Greeks, and it is still so called in the East and in several countries of western Europe. The early Christian writers mention it as a day of rigorous fasting and peculiar solemnity. The ritual observed both in the Greek and Latin churches has special reference to the circumstances of Christ's death and entombment.
Hence in all large churches an altar in a separate chapel is decorated with all possible magnificence, and called "the sepulchre." Thither the consecrated host, or "body of the Lord," is borne in solemn procession on Holy Thursday, and continues to be visited throughout the day by crowds of worshippers. On Good Friday morning, after the chanting of the prophecies foretelling Christ's death and of the recital of his passion from the Gospel of St. John, takes place the "adoration" or kissing of the cross. A crucifix is placed on the steps before the high altar, and while the choir sings the im-properia, or reproaches of the Messiah to the people who crucified him, the officiating clergy and their attendants approach barefooted, each one making three successive prostrations before they kiss the feet of the sacred image. It is then presented by the celebrant at the sanctuary railing to the veneration of the people. In England, before the reformation, this ceremony was called the creeping to the cross, as appears from a proclamation of Henry VIII.: "On Good Friday it shall be declared howe creepyng of the crosse signifyeth an humblynge of ourselfe to Christe before the crosse, and the kissynge of it a memorie of our; redemption made upon the crosse." After this ceremony the consecrated host is brought in procession from "the sepulchre" to the high altar, where it is incensed, offered to the adoration of all present, and consumed by the celebrant.
This is called the "mass of the presanctified " or preconsecrated bread, as the eucharistic elements are not consecrated on that day. In honor of the redemption accomplished on Good Friday, it was customary in the early church to release public penitents from their probation and the excommunicated from their ban. The first Christian emperors, not satisfied with closing the law courts during Holy and Easter weeks, honored the anniversary of salvation by liberating from prison and recalling from exile all but the worst criminals; and also, to encourage the practice then becoming general of manumitting slaves in remembrance of Christ's death, by allowing the courts and magistrates to perfect the instruments necessary for this purpose. These customs, sanctioned by a decree of Valentinian I. in 367, were embodied by Justinian in his code. The same spirit afterward pervaded the manners and legislation of western peoples. In England and Ireland Good Friday is a legal holiday as well as a fast day. The practice of breakfasting on hot cross buns on this day is still kept up in the English cities, and is also common in the United States. In the north of England it is customary to eat herb puddings in which a principal ingredient is the "passion dock," which in fructification produces fancied representations of the cross, nails, hammer, etc.
The English kings were wont in ancient times to hallow rings on Good Friday, to preserve the wearers from epilepsy. The Protestant Episcopal, Lutheran, and Re-formed churches, as well as many Methodists, observe the day by fasting and special services.