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When my son asked me why we call the day of Christ’s crucifixion “Good Friday” instead of “Bad Friday” or “Black Friday,” I had to admit that I wasn’t sure. In fact, I don’t know if anyone has a definitive answer.

When I was a boy, I always assumed that the odd moniker developed because, even though Christ’s death was the darkest of days, it opened the door to the greatest good. That may be as good a guess as anything.

Actually, the term “Good Friday” is mainly an English expression. It Italy, it isVenerdì Santo, or “Holy Friday,” a term that’s common to many countries where Roman Catholicism is dominant. In Germany, it’s called Karfreitag (something like “Mourning Friday”), or the German equivalents of “Quiet Friday” and “High Friday.” In Eastern Europe and places where the Eastern Orthodox church is influential, it’s called “Great Friday,” while in Scandanavian countries it’s known as “Long Friday.” It’s “High Friday” in Armenia, and “Passion Friday” (or a near equivalent) on Russia and China. In some Arabic and Asian countries, I have read, it’s called “Sad Friday.”

But back to the English term: since the English words “God” and “good” sometimes get confused (“goodbye” was originally “God be with ye”), some people think English speakers first called it “God Friday.” Others suggest that the archaic meaning of “good” included the idea of “holy,” so it could have been used to commemorate the sanctity of the day.

Definitive answer or no, Good Friday commemorates the day when God did something good beyond our comprehension or imagining. For a day of such mystery, our inability to fully explain the name seems entirely appropriate.

[Art by Peter Paul Rubens, 1577-1640]

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