Why do Catholics Celebrate Good Friday?


Titian, detail of 'Christ and the Good Thief' (1566), oil on canvas, 54 x 59 in., Pinacoteca Nazionale di Bologna, Italy

The Two Thieves in Waiting: A Good Friday Reflection

In Malayalam language, Good Friday is translated “Dukha velli” meaning the Friday of sorrow. That translation couldn’t have been any farther from the truth. Good Friday is the day on which Jesus Christ was led to his sacrifice at the Calvary, where he was to undergo the final tribulation on the way of the cross, the nailing of his body to the cross. The wooden cross that he carried, according to tradition, made him drop to the ground a few times, and each time, he was getting weaker. Then, Simon came to help him. Who was he? Just a bystander, witnessing the madness of the people, who were crucifying an innocent man.  

While I was taking part in the bread-breaking ceremony at my house, after mass at church, today (on Maundy Thursday) I contemplated the reality of the crucifixion of Christ. It must be with great agony that he must have participated in the great feast that he installed along with his disciples on the day before Good Friday. While cutting the bread, I thought to myself, this is not the time to rejoice but to contemplate the Will of God that I must enact, and follow It without obstruction from my ego or self-centeredness. Once I plunge myself into the Way of the Cross of Christ, it will be God’s hands that will guide me. Those hands will guide me to my destination even though they are pierced. 

What must have been the two thieves doing while Christ was being kissed to his death that he foretold, just after his Last Supper? What is the significance of two thieves when we are talking about the Son of God? Jesus Christ was crucified by the Jews with the help of the Roman system of governance. Roman governor Pontius Pilate, though, finally, washed his hands off the blood of Jesus and proclaimed so in front of the violent crowd that screamed for the crucifixion of Jesus. Pilate could not find any charges against Jesus that could qualify him for death on the cross. He asked the blood-thirsty crowd, “What evil has He done?” (Mark 15: 14). But the crowd demanded him: “Crucify Him!”    

Pilate, not wanting to displease the crowd, and to trigger a once suppressed rebellion, the true governor of Rome whose intention was to keep Pax Romana intact, made a choice. He decided to release Barabbas, the murderer of many, the leader of the rebellion, and to crucify the man, without knowing that he was being a tool in the Hand of God, for the Sacrifice of His Lamb. 

Jesus was crucified with two thieves as if it would add to the shame of the already excruciating process of crucifixion. The two thieves were awaiting their punishment while Jesus was going through his suffering. The walk with the cross to Golgotha was slow. The thieves awaiting their punishment might have talked about the one man who would be crucified with them, had they known about the decisive step taken by Pilate. Of course, some Roman soldier would have had the news and spoken about it in front of the thieves. 

What must they have been talking about? The good thief might have defended Jesus, while the other one mocked him. The good thief must have thought about the words he would speak to the Saviour, later, when they’d meet. The good thief must have disregarded the jeers and taunts of the other thief. 

The meaning that we would give to the Cross of Christ would transform our lives. Are we being the good thief, completely understanding what the Cross meant and who the Crucified Saviour was? The cross is a literal, physical object, and not a metaphor for Good Friday. On all other days, it could be. It could be a memory of Easter night. But on Good Friday, the Cross of Christ is a reality that saves the world through the spilling of the blood of the Sacrificial Lamb of God, Jesus Christ. As Jesus was God in person, his sacrifice is God sacrificing Himself. However, the real agony is the rest of faith, which makes some mock and jeer at the Saviour on the Cross. But some others, do understand and say, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” (Luke 23: 42).

I’d prefer all of us to understand the truth about faith and say like the Good thief, the penitent thief and speak to Jesus, so that we could hear Jesus say, as he said to the Good thief, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise." (Luke 23: 43). Therefore, Good Friday is not “a day of sorrow” but a day of Hope through which we find our real Source, God. It’s a day when sacrifice is venerated and through the blood of God, He redeems the whole of the earth. The earth itself is the sacrificial altar for God. 

Anu Lal