The effort to capture the mood of Good Friday was an uneven success at St. Vincent DePaul Thrift Store. It is the largest enterprise of its kind in Southern Oregon. The afternoon flow of customers was like that of any other Friday. Between noon and 3 PM, several hundred shoppers, fortified by children on Spring break flowed through the door, and items being purchased, apart from Easter Bunnies on sale, showed little acknowledgement of the day.
For older Catholics there is always a certain uneasiness about the afternoon. Though the solemn Church services have largely been moved to the evening hours, there is still a lingering awareness that between noon and three p.m. Jesus hung on the cross. In the peculiarly Catholic notion of time and space that event was happening once again in cosmic time even as the cash register clanged, and the credit machine rolled out its receipts. Meanwhile, the cashiers wished everyone a “ great Easter,” trying not to be too overt about the sadness in our hearts.
It was therefore a gift when a women in her late fifties spotted a little wooden cross under the glass counter top incongruously sitting next to an array of costume jewelry. As I packed her other items, the scarves, the socks, the kitchen utensils, I commented that this was a good day to buy a cross.
“I have a question,” she asked. Why is Good Friday called “good” since it is a very sad day.
“It’s the English influence,” I replied. They have funny ways of saying things.” In Old English, the word “good” sometimes meant holy. I told her “The Italians and Spanish do a better job describing the day.”
“How so?” She wondered.
“In those languages,” I explained, “all the feasts of Holy week are given the name “holy,” whether it is Thursday, Friday or Saturday. Even the week is called “holy week.”
She was puzzled by my reference to these other holy days. So I explained that for Catholics the week begins with Palm Sunday when Jesus entered Jerusalem, works through the Last Supper and agony in the garden on Thursday and culminates at the Easter Vigil on Saturday evening “when Jesus rose from the dead.” It all spills over into Easter Sunday, but that is not the main event.
Most our customers are Christians, although in the Rogue Valley Catholics – apart from the growing Hispanic population — remain a minority. In the course of the conversation, it became apparent to me that many evangelical Christians do not celebrate the cycle of Easter events as we do. Catholics, on the other hand, have it all down: we know what happened each day of the week, almost to the hour.
“That is why we are not playing any music over the PA system, this afternoon,” I noted.
“So there is no music in the Vatican today,” she said, doing her best to accommodate her Catholic cashier. I assured her that even at the Vatican that day, the Good Friday ceremonies were fairly sober.
She thanked me, gathered up her purchases and left, and I returned to the routine of inquiring if customers were having a good day, and commending them for their good taste in sweaters, shoes, or dish ware.
Three o’clock came, and I knew that somewhere, hanging on a cross, the Savior of the world, had cried out in a loud voice, consummating his work, and in the spiritual realms of the planets and stars, all creation paused in hushed stillness awaiting the coming of the risen Lord.