Just days after the golden altar cross of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris was seen still standing amidst the smoking destruction of the fire that ravaged the centuries-old church, Catholics at the Cathedral of St. Matthew in Washington, D.C., and other Christians worldwide again turned their eyes to the Cross of Christ as the Church commemorated Good Friday of the Lord's Passion on April 19.

The somber day memorializes Christ’s death on the cross for the sins of mankind and is marked by fasting, penance, and prayer. 

People pray during the Good Friday liturgy at St. Matthew's Cathedral. (CS photo/Mihoko Owada)

“The cross stands at the very center today of our lives,” said Cardinal Donald Wuerl, apostolic administrator of Washington, who presided over the liturgy.

In his homily, the cardinal said the cross “dominates our vision, our thoughts, our imagination. It is the life-giving symbol in this liturgy of God’s all-embracing love of us.” 

By turning the gaze to the cross, the faithful witness the ultimate act of love through suffering and the mercy and forgiveness gained through it, Cardinal Wuerl continued. 

“Today the Church invites us to come to the foot of the cross,” he said. “The one thing we do know is that in spite of ourselves and everything we do there is a loving forgiveness.” 

“In a few moments, the cross will be carried through this cathedral church as we remind ourselves that it is on the wood of the cross that hung the Savior of the world for each and every one of us,” he said. “Each one of us then will be invited to come forward and reverence the cross in some manner.”

The cardinal said that people stand at the cross in faith, in contrition they leave their sins at the cross, and in humility, they accept the gift of Christ's mercy and love that he offered by his death on the cross. 

“Only with the eyes of faith can we see in the cross more than failure, despair, and death,” Cardinal Wuerl said. 

“Standing at the foot of the cross, today and every day, we hear those words that announced what Jesus accomplished for us – our ransom from the bondage of sin – our redemption from failure, and our salvation from eternal death… is now finished,” he said. 

Cardinal Wuerl said the individual love of Jesus for each soul, the reason why he was nailed to the cross, prompts people in turn to love and seek his mercy. 

“He died not for sin in some abstraction… he died for the failure of each one of us,” he said.

Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the apostolic administrator of the Archdiocese of Washington who served as archbishop of Washington from 2006 until 2018, led the April 19 Good Friday liturgy at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle. (CS photo/Mihoko Owada)

After the homily, the solemn intercessions were prayed, including petitions for the Church, the pope, those who do not acknowledge God, and the Jewish people. The Veneration of the Cross then took place, in which people came forward to kiss or touch a crucifix. The cathedral itself is home to a relic of the true cross, which is contained inside the processional cross. 

As Masses are not celebrated on Good Friday, the liturgy did not include the consecration, and hosts that were consecrated at the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday were distributed at Communion. The ministers and the faithful then departed in silence. This atmosphere of silence and contemplation marks the remainder of Friday and Holy Saturday until the Easter Vigil. 

People pray during the Good Friday liturgy at St. Matthew's Cathedral. (CS photo/Mihoko Owada)