Why is today called ‘Good’ Friday?

This is the day we remember Jesus’ tortured, sacrificial death on the cross. Crucifixion is the cruelest form of execution ever devised. Invented by the Persians and perfected by the Romans, it is now outlawed by nearly every nation on earth.

Why, then, do we call this day “Good” Friday?

Some suggest that the phrase is a corruption of “God’s Friday.” Others point to the medieval use of “Good” to designate a day observed by the church as holy. Anglo-Saxons called it “Long Friday.” It is known as “the Holy and Great Friday” in Greek liturgy; it is called Karfreitag (“Sorrowful Friday”) in German.

This day is “good” for us, of course, in that Jesus’ sacrifice on this day purchased our salvation and eternal life. In this sense, “good” does not begin to tell the story. I found this week a poem by Venantius Fortunatus (c. AD 530–600) which gives voice to the gratitude we should all feel today:

Sing, my tongue, the glorious battle,
sing the last, the dread affray;
o’er the cross, the victor’s trophy,
sound the high triumphal lay,
how, the pains of death enduring,
earth’s Redeemer won the day.

When at length the appointed fullness
of the sacred time was come,
he was sent, the world’s Creator
from the Father’s heavenly home,
and was found in human fashion,
offspring of the virgin’s womb.

Now the thirty years are ended
which on earth he willed to see.
Willingly he meets his passion,
born to set his people free:
on the cross the Lamb is lifted,
there the sacrifice to be. . . .

[The cross] alone was counted worthy
this world’s ransom to sustain,
that a shipwrecked race for ever
might a port of refuge gain,
with the sacred Blood anointed
of the Lamb for sinners slain.

Praise and honor to the Father,
praise and honor to the Son,
praise and honor to the Spirit,
ever Three and ever One:
One in might and One in glory,
while eternal ages run.

Amen and amen.