The Meaning of Good Friday

A church alter displays candles and statues during a service on Good Friday.
... Ricardo Reitmeyer/iStock/Getty Images

Good Friday is a religious holiday that commemorates the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Also known as Great Friday or Black Friday, this holiday is primarily observed by Christians. On this day, Christians honor Christ's death, which is believed to have saved the souls of the faithful.

1 Significance of Good Friday

Observed on the Friday preceding Easter, Good Friday is a crucial part of the Easter ritual, which commemorates the passion, death and resurrection of Christ. This holiday precedes the apex of the Holy Week: the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection on Saturday night.

2 History of Good Friday

According to the Christian Gospels, Caiaphas, the high priest of the Roman province of Judea, judged Jesus Christ – who is recognized as the son of God and the highest among prophets in the Christian faith – finding him guilty of blasphemy. After sentencing Jesus to death, the assembly of the Jewish priests deferred authority to the Roman governor of the province, Pontius Pilate, who eventually gave in to pressure and enforced the death sentence.

Jesus’ trial is believed to have been held during what is now the Holy Week, concluding with his crucifixion, which, according to the Gospel of John, occurred on a Friday.

3 Date of Good Friday

Since the date of Easter is calculated differently in the Eastern and Western Christian traditions, Good Friday is also identified differently by the two major strands of Christianity. Western Christianity follows the Gregorian calendar, while the Eastern Church uses the Julian calendar.

Physicist Isaac Newton designated A.D. 34 as the year of Good Friday, taking into account the differences between the Gregorian and the Julian calendar. However, most Christian scholars believe that, according to Apostle Peter's references in Acts 2:20, Good Friday occurred a year earlier.

4 Catholic Tradition

In the Roman Catholic tradition, Good Friday is a fast day. During this day, the faithful abstain from eating meat and often replace regular meals with one smaller meal.

The Catholic Church does not celebrate Mass between Holy Thursday and the Easter Vigil on Saturday night. A special service, called the Liturgy of the Word, replaces the Mass on Good Friday. The Liturgy consists of the reading of special prayers and the Passion account from the Gospel according to John. It is followed by the Adoration of the Cross—with the congregation venerating the symbol of the crucifixion—and the Holy Communion, which, on Good Friday, omits the usual ritual of “Breaking of the Bread.” The church bells are also silent on Good Friday.

5 Other Christian Traditions

Orthodox Christians commemorate the holy day by reading specific psalms and Gospels, which recount the events leading up to the Crucifixion. The faithful attend the special service and by making sacrifices of their own. In the Eastern tradition, Good Friday is a day of strict fasting, when Christians abstain from all food and drink for the entire day. Protestants celebrate Good Friday by holding special services. Some countries with a strong Christian tradition have declared Good Friday a public holiday; others have chosen to close only public sector businesses and government offices.

Iulia Filip has been writing fiction and creative nonfiction since 2000. Her historical pieces, health and wellness articles and film & music reviews have appeared on She is currently pursuing an Master of Fine Arts in creative writing at Queens University (Charlotte, N.C.) while working on her first novel. Filip has recently completed her first screenplay.