Why Is Good Friday Called Good Friday?

The Theological Reason for the Name

Large Crucifix

Good Friday is the day on which Jesus Christ was crucified. But why is called Good Friday? That question puzzles not only children but many adults as well. After all, it isn't obvious that we should call Good Friday good, since it is the day on which our Lord Jesus Christ suffered death for our sake. How can Good Friday be good when it commemorates the day on which the sins of mankind brought about the death of our Savior?

What Does the Baltimore Catechism Say?

The Baltimore Catechism declares that Good Friday is called good because Jesus Christ, by His Death, "showed His great love for man, and purchased for him every blessing." Good, in this sense, means "holy," and indeed Good Friday is known as Holy and Great Friday among Eastern Christians, both Catholic and Orthodox. Good Friday is also known as Holy Friday in the Romance languages (Spanish, Italian, French, etc.).

Good Friday Is Only "Good" in English

Thus the answer given by the Baltimore Catechism would seem a good explanation, except for the fact that the word Holy is also used in English, so it would be natural for Good Friday to be called Holy Friday in English as it is in other languages. And of course, the entire week before Easter is known as Holy Week, and we use the term Holy to refer to the days before and after Good Friday: Holy Thursday and Holy Saturday.

From a linguistic standpoint, it's also interesting to note that Good Friday is called good only in English. In its entry on Good Friday, the Catholic Encyclopedia notes that:

The origin of the term Good is not clear. Some say it is from "God's Friday" (Gottes Freitag); others maintain that it is from the German Gute Freitag, and not specially English. Sometimes, too, the day was called Long Friday by the Anglo-Saxons; so today in Denmark.

But if Good Friday were called good because English adopted the German phrase, then we would expect Gute Freitag to be the common German name for Good Friday. Contrary to this theory, however, it is not. Instead, Germans refer to Good Friday as Karfreitag—that is, Sorrowful or Suffering Friday—in German.

And one final, interesting, and further confusing data point: While the common name for the Wednesday of Holy Week is now Spy Wednesday, it was historically known as Good Wednesday. So the days of Holy Week from Wednesday on were once Good Wednesday, Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday.

A Theological Rather Than Historical Reason for the Name

In the end, the historical or linguistic origins of why Good Friday is called Good Friday remain unclear. Since other languages refer to Good Friday as Holy Friday, however, the theological reason is very likely the one expressed by the Baltimore Catechism and reflected in the meaning of good as "holy": Good Friday is good because the death of Christ, as terrible as it was, led to the Resurrection on Easter Sunday, which brought new life to those who believe.