Fr. Kenneth Doyle
Fr. Kenneth Doyle
Q — Why do we call the day Jesus was crucified "Good" Friday? Christ was made to suffer horribly, so this has always bothered me. (Radford, Virginia)

A — A fair number of people agree with you, and some have suggested that "Black Friday" would be a more appropriate designation. Interestingly, in the Greek Orthodox Church, the day is known not as "Good" but as the "Great and Holy Friday."

Certainly, if you had asked the friends of Jesus on that day itself, they would have seen nothing good in what transpired. Christ had been tortured, then executed as a common criminal, and his followers had begun to scatter. But less than 48 hours later, all that changed. The tomb of Christ was now empty, Jesus had risen from the dead and had already begun to appear to those who had been close to him.

One theory, supported by the Oxford English Dictionary and some other linguists, is that the word “good,” as applied to the day of Christ’s death, comes from an antiquated meaning of the word, meaning “holy.” I prefer, though, the more traditional Christian explanation: namely, that we call the day “good” because, through it, Jesus has won victory over sin and death, both for himself and for us as well.

Q — Our bishop has suggested that the elderly and those with compromised immune systems not attend Mass in person right now. Since I fit into both of these categories, I have not been going to Mass. I do watch a Mass on television every week, and to be honest, I get more out of that than I do from going to my parish — except, of course, that I can't receive Communion.

About four years ago, our pastor was replaced by a priest from Africa. While he is a nice person, I can't understand him. He gives lengthy homilies (about 30 minutes) and then spends 10 minutes at the end of Mass talking about events or lecturing us on how to be a better parish. (Most parishioners refer to it as his “second sermon.”)

This has been my home parish for more than 40 years; I raised my children here and took part in many parish ministries until I got sick. Our parish numbers have been dropping, and several of my friends have been discussing what we are going to do when we are expected to return to church. Do you have any suggestions? (City and state withheld)

A — First, let me say how grateful I am that many foreign priests have volunteered to come and serve in the U.S. In much of Africa and in certain parts of Asia, vocations are plentiful. Without the generous sacrifice of these men, a fair number of American Catholic parishes would have had to close their doors.

Language, though, can sometimes be a barrier to understanding and to productive worship. Do you know anyone on your parish council? Why not share your concern that attendance is dropping — in part, you feel, due to the length of homilies and to the language difficulty.

Hopefully, that person could then speak directly to the priest in a sympathetic and understanding fashion, suggesting that American Catholic congregations are more accustomed and receptive to shorter homilies. Perhaps the priest might even be open to having someone else, a deacon or a lector, read the homily the pastor prepared.

Your last resort, of course, is to find another Catholic parish nearby. We all need to be nourished regularly by the Eucharist, and a televised Mass, while helpful, can never substitute for that. And if your health keeps you from attending, you can ask your parish that Communion be brought to your home.