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"What's The Smoke For" is a page that will explain Catholic Customs, Liturgy, Diversity and Inclusivity, Architecture and Art, Liturgical Furniture and Objects, Liturgical Posture’s and Gestures, Liturgical Praxis, Liturgical Prayers and Devotions, Liturgical Theology, Liturgical Vesture and the Liturgical Year. We hope it will make understanding the Catholic faith easier.

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Dear Johan,
                   Why is the anniversary of Jesus’ torture and execution called “Good Friday”? Maybe the name lost something in translation from another                                language?


Gentle Reader,

                   From your question I surmise that you did not grow up with the Baltimore Catechism. Question 80 in said catechism answers your question very succinctly: “We call that day ‘good’ on which Christ died because by His death He showed His great love for man [sic], and purchased for him [sic] every blessing.”

Still, I am not quite sure if you take issue with the name of the day itself or with the fact that the day is called good. So, to be sure, I will speak to both.

The naming of days has evolved over the years and differently so in different languages. Just looking at the days of the week in English they are all connected with pagan gods, though coming from different pantheons. Sunday, for example, is a translation of the Roman name for Dies Solis or Day of the Sun. Monday, or Day of the Moon, is a translation of the Roman Dies Lunae. Tuesday is dedicated to the Norse god Tiw. Wednesday is named after the Germanic god Wodan. Thursday is the day of Thor. Friday is the day of the Norse goddess Fríge. And Saturday takes us back to the Roman times as it is dedicated to Saturnus.

The Romance languages borrow directly from the Roman calendar and name the days after the moon (lunes, lundi) and the Roman gods Mars (martes, mardi), Mercury (miércoles, mercredi), Jupiter (jueves, jeudi), and Venus (viernes, vendredi). Saturday and Sunday are named borrowing from the liturgical calendar of the Catholic Church: Dies Dominica or Day of the Lord (domingo, dimanche) for Sunday and Dies Sabati or Sabbath (sábado, samedi).

Unlike other languages, the other days of the week in Latin according to the Catholic liturgical calendar are simply numbered. Thus Monday is simply known as feria secunda or second day since Dies Dominica is really the feria prima or first day. Friday is known as feria sexta or sixth day.

The official Latin name for Good Friday in the liturgical calendar is Feria sexta in Passione Domini or Day Six of our Lord’s Passion.

Romance languages refer to this day as Holy Friday (Viernes Santo, Vendredi Saint). Germanic languages, on the other hand, refer to this day as Good Friday (Goede Vrijdag, Kar Freitag). The goodness of this day obviously does not refer to the sufferings of our Savior, but rather to the fact that through his suffering Jesus has conquered death and freed us from the lasting burden of sin. The name of the day embodies the paradox of the mystery itself, for it is by his suffering that we were saved. And it is through entering into his death that we live.

So, though other languages have other names that are clearly suitable, unless you decide to use Feria sexta in Passione Domini, Good Friday is a strong name too.


© 2015 Order of Saint Benedict, Collegeville, Minnesota. Excerpted from What’s the Smoke For? And Other Burning Questions about the Liturgy by Johan van Parys © 2014 Order of Saint Benedict, published by Liturgical Press, www.litpress.org. Used by permission.