Good Friday: Papal Preacher Warns against Relativism, “black hole of spiritual universe”

Pope Francis kisses the crucifix at the Liturgy of the Lord's Passion in St. Peter's Basilica on April 7, 2023. | Vatican Media

At the Vatican’s Good Friday liturgy, the papal preacher warned against the danger of believers being drawn into the “vortex of nihilism” by the post-modern world’s "total relativism."

Cardinal Raniero Cantalamessa, O.F.M. Cap., compared Friedrich Nietzsche’s words “God is dead” with the Catholic Church’s proclamation of the death of Christ as he preached at the Liturgy of the Lord’s Passion on April 7 in St. Peter’s Basilica in the presence of Pope Francis.

At the beginning of the liturgy, Pope Francis arrived at the basilica dressed in red vestments in a wheelchair. Unlike in previous years, he was unable to lay prostrate but spent a moment in silent prayer before the main altar at the beginning of the liturgy.

Pope Francis arrives at the Liturgy of the Lord’s Passion in St. Peter's Basilica on Good Friday on April 7, 2023. Daniel Ibanez/CNA

The Vatican announced earlier in the day that the 86-year-old pope, who was hospitalized with bronchitis last week, will not be attending the Stations of the Cross at the Colosseum on Friday night due to cold weather.


In his homily, Cantalamessa noted that the Catholic Church has proclaimed the death of Christ for 2,000 years. He said: “At every Mass, after the consecration, we say or sing: ‘We proclaim your death, O Lord, and profess your Resurrection until you come again.’”

“Yet another ‘death of God’ has been proclaimed for a century and a half in our de-Christianized Western world. When, among cultivated people, one speaks of the ‘death of God,’ it is this other death of God – ideological and rather than historical – that is meant. To keep up with the times, some theologians hastened to build a theology around it: ‘The theology of the death of God.’”

“We cannot pretend to ignore the existence of this different narrative, without leaving prey to suspicion many believers,” he added.

Cantalamessa, who was made a cardinal in 2020 in recognition of his more than 40 years as Preacher of the Papal Household, said that he chose to speak about this topic “to keep believers – who knows, perhaps even just one or two university students – from being drawn into this vortex of nihilism which is the true ‘black hole’ of the spiritual universe.”

Pope Francis prays during the Liturgy of the Lord’s Passion in St. Peter's Basilica on April 7, 2023. Daniel Ibanez/CNA

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With relativism in the fields of ethics, philosophy, art, and religion, “nothing more is solid; everything is liquid, or even vaporous,” the cardinal said.

“As believers, it is our duty to show what there is behind, or underneath, that proclamation, namely the flicker of an ancient flame, the sudden eruption of a volcano that has never been extinguished since the beginning of the world,” he said.

After the homily, a deacon and Pope Francis read the 11 Good Friday Solemn Intercessions, which included prayers for the Jewish people, those who do not believe in God, and those suffering from war.

The Adoration of the Cross then took place, followed by the recitation of the Our Father and Holy Communion. Pope Francis kissed the crucifix after spending a moment in silent adoration standing at the foot of the cross.

Pope Francis adores the Holy Cross during the Liturgy of the Lord’s Passion on April 7, 2023. Daniel Ibanez/CNA


During his homily, Cantalamessa urged Christians to heed a warning from Dante Alighieri, who wrote in the Divine Comedy: “‘Christians, be ye more serious in your movements; Be ye not like a feather at each wind, And think not every water washes you.’”

The cardinal said: “Let us, therefore, continue to repeat, with heartfelt gratitude and more convinced than ever, the words we proclaim at every Mass: ‘We proclaim your death, O Lord, and profess your Resurrection until you come again.’”

Courtney Mares is a Rome Correspondent for Catholic News Agency. A graduate of Harvard University, she has reported from news bureaus on three continents and was awarded the Gardner Fellowship for her work with North Korean refugees.