One of my wargaming friends sent me an email the other day asking me to put on my priest’s hat and asnwer a question that his six year old had put to him. It was a cracking good question! Why do we call it “Good” Friday?

Turns out that there’s not a quick or clear answer to this question. My best liturgical history (Frank Senn’s excellent History of Christian Liturgy) is at the parish office, but I went to the shelf and found this in an ancient tome, Evan Daniel’s The Prayer Book: It’s History, Language and Contents (written sometime in the 1800s – my edition, the 22nd (!), was published in 1909 and was first owned by a Walter Jones of Anglesey, Wales, a student at Huron College here in London, ON – rest eternal grant unto him, O Lord, and may light perpetual shine upon him).

Daniels reports that “The name Good Friday is peculiar to the Church of England”. In the ancient Christian church, the day was simply called the Paschal Day, or later the Dies Parasceve (Day of Preparation) or Dies Dominis Passionis(Day of the Lord’s Passion). Back then, the main focus of Easter was preparing new Christians, who were baptized on the Easter Saturday vigil. Good Friday as we know it, a day of commemoration of Christ’s death, came later. By the time of Innocent I (ca 400AD) an element of great solemnity and fasting marked the church’s observance of what we now call Good Friday.

The earliest use of the term “Good Friday” Daniel documents in England goes back to the days of Henry VIII, though the term doubtless goes back earlier. Pre-reformation liturgies on Good Friday stressed the veneration and adoration of a wooden cross, and my own guess is that the term “Good Friday” enters English through late-medieval piety, which focused on goodness of God’s son and the pathos and suffering of his death.

For all the young ones out there including my friend’s six year old, I would simply say that Good Friday means the day something good happened out of something bad, when God’s son, who was good, died so that he could take away bad things that we might be good (as in the hymn, “There is a Green Hill Far Away” with that lovely line, “He died to make us good”.