Pope leads Good Friday ceremony in St Peter's Basilica

Pope Benedict XVI celebrated the Liturgy of the Lord’s Passion in St Peter’s Basilica on Good Friday.

The Pope presided at the service and chanted the solemn prayers of intercession for the Church, for himself and for the world, but during the homily he sat and listened.

Following tradition, the homily was delivered by the preacher of the papal household, Fr Raniero Cantalamessa.

Pope Benedict spoke briefly later that night at the end of the Stations of the Cross in the Colosseum. The meditations for the late-night event were written by Danilo and Annamaria Zanzucchi, an Italian couple married for 59 years. They helped to establish the Focolare Movement’s New Families initiative and focused their meditations on the sufferings and joys of family life.

At the liturgy in St. Peter’s Basilica, the Pope and thousands of faithful stood as three deacons and the Sistine Chapel Choir chanted the the account of the Passion from the Gospel of St. John.

In his homily Fr Cantalamessa asked the Pope and others gathered at the Vatican to imagine themselves in a stadium where a courageous man beats a ruthless tyrant. When the battle is over, the courageous man hands the victory crown to his supporters, who spent the entire battle seated in the stands, watching.

In Christ’s Passion, death and Resurrection, that’s what happened, the preacher said. Christ fought and humanity won.

The Good Friday liturgy of Christ’s Passion, he said, is not simply a commemoration of an important event that happened in the past, but should be a prayerful experience that makes Christ’s sacrifice “present and operative”.

But “we must be careful on this day … not to merit the reproach that the Risen One addressed to the pious women on Easter morning: ‘Why do you seek the living among the dead?'” Fr Cantalamessa said.

Christians cannot pretend that they do not know Jesus rose from the dead, he said, but they should attend the Good Friday liturgy and other commemorations of Christ’s Passion knowing they are personally involved in the events and that Jesus died and rose to save them today.

Fr Cantalamessa used another, more modern story to illustrate his point. An owner of a clothing boutique on Rome’s most fashionable shopping street invited homeless people in to clean themselves up and then choose any clothes they wanted free of charge.

The normal reaction, he said, would be: “This is a fairy tale; it never happens.”

While that might be true among men and women, he said, it is something that can happen each day between God and his creatures.

“This is what happens in a good Confession: you take off your dirty rags – your sins – receive the bath of mercy and rise ‘clothed in the garments of salvation, covered with the robe of righteousness,'” the Capuchin priest said, quoting from the Book of Isaiah.

Like the “good thief” crucified alongside Jesus, he said, people need to confess their sins. Doing so brings “peace of conscience, the possibility of looking at oneself in the mirror or of looking at one’s children without having to have contempt for oneself”.