The Friday before Easter is the most solemn day for Christians – it is the day Jesus Christ died on the cross.
As such, Good Friday is a day of mourning, and all the ceremonies and rituals of the day are centred around the feeling of sorrow at the pain and humiliation that Jesus underwent for the cause of goodness and humanity.
Good Friday marks the end of the 40-day period of fasting and renunciation during Lent, which recalls the days of penance Jesus spent in the desert. After this period, Jesus returned to Jerusalem, and was welcomed as the King of the Jews.
The wholehearted acceptance of Jesus by the people made the rulers fear that they would lose the people's loyalty, and prompted them to plot against Jesus. With the help of Judas, who betrayed Jesus for thirty pieces of silver, Jesus was arrested for treason and condemned to be crucified. This happened on Maundy Thursday, a day before Good Friday. The next day, Good Friday, is the darkest day in Christianity. Jesus was made to carry the cross on which he was later crucified. Jesus, by his act of forgiving and praying for even those who were responsible for his death, won a victory for good over evil.
The message of Good Friday is that the dictum of "an eye for an eye" cannot work. The way to conquer evil is through good. Similarly, violence can be overcome only by non-violence, and hatred by love.
The entire day is given to fasting and prayer, as a way of following the example of Jesus, who stressed the role of prayer in the struggle to conquer evil. Some churches concentrate less on prayers, and instead encourage the people to become involved in charitable deeds.
The service consists of prayers and readings from the Bible. In many churches, a piece of wood in the shape of the cross is kept. People pray before the cross and kiss it.
Jesus is believed to have died on the Cross at three in the afternoon. The traditional service lasts for three hours from noon. But over the years, it has been shifted ahead or behind the original schedule by a few hours, for the sake of convenience.
The service lasts through the three hours during which Jesus suffered on the cross. It involves sermons, meditation sessions, and readings from the gospels. A communion service is held at midnight.
In some churches, mourners wear black and enact the Passion of Christ – scenes of Christ's crucifixion and burial. Many churches cover the cross and the altar with mourning black, and do not light any candles. At other churches, candles are lit, but they are extinguished one by one, with the last one being put out at the moment denoting Jesus' death. The church bells are not rung on Good Friday.
Catholic churches follow the tradition of the Stations of the Cross. People pass before paintings depicting the important scenes of the last hours of Jesus' life, reciting prayers and singing hymns.
But the crucifixion also looks forward to Jesus' resurrection. So, the sorrow of Good Friday is tempered by the expectation and hope offered by Easter Sunday.