Where did Good Friday get its name?

An abstract metal crucifix hangs on the wall outside the chapel at Sarum College in Salisbury, England. Photo by Kathleen Barry, United Methodist Communications.
An abstract metal crucifix hangs on the wall outside the chapel at Sarum College in Salisbury, England. Photo by Kathleen Barry, United Methodist Communications.

What about the names of other days in Holy Week?

Maundy Thursday (or Holy Thursday) comes from the Latin word "mandatum" or commandment — as in the “new commandment” Jesus gives to his disciples in John 13.

Easter in many languages comes from the Hebrew word Pasch, or Passover, signifying the passover of our Lord from death to life. In French it’s Pâques, in Spanish Pascua, in Italian Pasqua, and in Swahili Pasaka. In English, it comes from Eostre (Ostern in German), an older spring festival celebrating renewal and new life.

The source of our term for the Friday before Easter, "Good Friday,"  is most likely related to how both English and Dutch, the only two languages that use this term, altered the Germanic word, "Goddes," which can either mean "God's" or "Holy." That term does not mean "good." The day is called Holy Friday in nearly all other languages in the world.  (See Laurence Hull Stookey, Calendar: Christ's Time for the Church (p. 96). 

A similar process happened with the English word "goodbye," which was formed over time as a contraction of "God be with ye."

English speakers are no more saying that "it's good to see you go" when they say goodbye than they are calling the day of Christ's crucifixion good when they call it Good Friday. Holy, yes. Good? Not so much.

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Good Friday, or Holy Friday as most of the rest of the world calls it in their languages, proclaims God's purpose of loving and redeeming the world even in the face of human rejection and cruelty through the cross of our Lord, Jesus Christ. It is a day that is holy and makes us holy because God was drawing the world to God's self in Christ.

 


This content was produced by Ask The UMC, a ministry of United Methodist Communications.