Why Holy Saturday? « Catholic Insight

The Entombment of Christ by Caravaggio (c. 1603) follows the Gospel of John: Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea jointly embalm and place Jesus in a tomb, while Jesus’s mother Mary, Mary Magdalene and Mary of Clopas look on

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Holy Saturday is the day in-between Good Friday and the Easter Vigil, when the Church is silent, bells go quiet, Churches are stripped and bare. The whole Christian community, with Mary, is waiting for Jesus’ Resurrection.

In the Liturgy of the Hours we get the holy experience when the Son of God, Jesus Christ Our Lord, is resting in the tomb before He is resurrected from the dead. The two antiphons which introduces us to the psalms of the Office of Readings of Holy Saturday magnificently capture this resting of Our Lord in the tomb. Always referring to the resting of Jesus’ body, the first antiphon reads: In peace, I will lie down and sleep. Whereas the second antiphon tends to be more direct and says: My body shall rest in hope.

Then, the Office of Readings endows us with an incredible gift, in other words The ancient homily on Holy Saturday, which captures a silence which is full of activity. What does Jesus do when he dies for this world? Look what it says: There is a great silence on earth today, a great silence and stillness. The whole earth keeps silence because the King is asleep. The earth trembled and is still because God has fallen asleep in the flesh and he has raised up all who have slept ever since the world began. God has died in the flesh and hell trembles with fear. He has gone to search for our first parent, as for a lost sheep. “He took him by the hand and raised him up, saying: ‘Awake, O sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.’ ”

In Holy Saturday Christ is teaching you and me that in our lives, even if we undergo Hades moments like the one He endured, we are to follow his example and keep letting the Father work great graces in and through us. Just before being resurrected Christ went to save those who are spiritually and psychologically imprisoned. He did not waste time. He kept letting the Father save through him the earth and under the earth.

Personally I am very touched by an insightful observation made by Saint Augustine (354-430) on Holy Saturday. The Bishop of Hippo said about Christ on Holy Saturday: He slept, so that we might be awakened, He died, so that we might live. But how are we to be awakened and how are we to live? In an interesting homily on Good Friday of 29 March 2013, Cardinal Raniero Cantalamessa OFM Cap observed:

We have the opportunity to make, on this day, the most important decision of our lives, one that opens wide before us the doors of eternity: to believe! To believe that “Jesus died for our sins and rose again for our justification” (Rom 4:25)! In an Easter homily of the 4th century, the bishop pronounced these extraordinarily modern, and one could say existentialist, words: “For every man, the beginning of life is when Christ was immolated for him. However, Christ is immolated for him at the moment he recognizes the grace and becomes conscious of the life procured for him by that immolation” (The Paschal Homily of the Year 387 : SCh, 36 p. 59f.).

We recognize the grace of salvation and become conscious of the life Christ gave us through his death and resurrection when we believe in it and let it change our lives. Mary is the greatest example of what it means to believe in the grace of salvation, be filled with hope and let that hope overflow to the point of becoming the first fruit of that salvation itself.  In his catechesis of 31 March 2021, while explicitly referring to Holy Saturday, Pope Francis said:

Saturday is also Mary’s day: she too lived it in tears, but her heart was full of faith, full of hope, full of love. The Mother of Jesus had followed her Son along the way of sorrows and remained at the foot of the cross, with her soul pierced. But when it all seemed to be over, she kept watch, she kept vigil, in expectation, maintaining her hope in the promise of God who raises the dead. Thus, in the world’s darkest hour, she became the Mother of believers, the Mother of the Church and the sign of hope. Her witness and her intercession sustain us when the weight of the cross becomes too heavy for each one of us.

In the darkness of Holy Saturday, I am very much encouraged by the wise and life-giving words of Pope Benedict XVI on this special day when said:

The day I was baptized, as I said, was Holy Saturday. Then it was still customary to anticipate the Easter Vigil in the morning, which would still be followed by the darkness of Holy Saturday, without the Alleluia. It seems to me that this singular paradox, this singular anticipation of light in a day of darkness, could almost be an image of the history of our times. On the one hand, there is still the silence of God and his absence, but in the Resurrection of Christ there is already the anticipation of the ‘yes’ of God, and on the basis of this anticipation we live and, through the silence of God, we hear him speak, and through the darkness of his absence we glimpse his light. The anticipation of the Resurrection in the middle of an evolving history is the power that points out the way to us and helps us to go forward.

Lord Jesus, instill in me a faithful, confident heart that is always open to learn new ways to rely on your loving presence. In the darkness of Holy Saturday, remind me O Lord that in life evil is always overcome with good. Amen.

 

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