A reader writes:
Is there to be Holy Eucharist distributed on Good Friday?
That's a great question, and I suspect that many Catholics don't know the answer off the top of our heads. After all, Good Friday comes round but once per year, and while we may remember that the liturgy is somewhat different (including a reading of the Passion, a number of general intercessions, and the veneration of the Cross), we may not even remember that the liturgy is not a Mass.
But if Mass is not celebrated on Good Friday, then there is no Holy Communion, right? Wrong.
Since there is no Mass, no bread and wine are consecrated. But consecrated Hosts are reserved from the Mass of the Lord's Supper on the evening of Holy Thursday, and after the veneration of the Cross, the Hosts are distributed to the faithful.
This is called the Liturgy of the Presanctified--literally, "that which was made holy before." In the Eastern Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches, the Eucharist is only consecrated on Sundays and feast days during Lent, so similar Liturgies of the Presanctified are held during the week to distribute Communion to the faithful.
At one point, this was the practice in the West as well, but today it survives only in the Good Friday liturgy. For centuries, too, only the priest received Holy Communion at the Liturgy of the Presanctified on Good Friday in the Latin Rite. That was changed with a reform of the rites for Holy Week that went into effect in 1956. From that point on, in both the traditional Latin Mass and the later Novus Ordo, the faithful have received Communion along with the priest.
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