Written by Grace Babineau, a Catholic blogger at www.gracefuljournal.com
The penitential season of Lent culminates with the dawn of Holy Saturday, the last day in the season of Lent. Our Lord has been buried in the tomb and a somber silence blankets the day as we quietly, yet hopefully, await His Resurrection.
While the agonizing sorrow of Good Friday has passed, Christ’s suffering is not forgotten. As Catholics, we are called to always view the cross in light of the Resurrection, and Holy Saturday is an especially meaningful day in which to partake in this divine contemplation.
What Happened on Holy Saturday?
Historically, Holy Saturday was the day on which Christ descended into hell, as we recite in the Creed every Sunday. He did this to retrieve the souls of the just who awaited salvation, a testament to the mercy of Christ which knows no boundaries of time or space.
Those who saw Jesus brutally executed on Good Friday still believed Him to be in the tomb where He was laid after the Crucifixion. Joseph of Arimathea, a follower of Jesus, asked Pilate for His body so that he might be given a proper burial rite, according to Jewish custom. Another follower of Christ, Nicodemus, also aided him in this task, providing costly myrrh and aloes to embalm the dead body of Our Lord, a humble offering for one who deserved the burial of a king. Upon receiving permission from Pilate to receive Jesus’ body, they laid Him in a fresh tomb in a garden near the place of His crucifixion as they did not have time before the Sabbath to lay Him elsewhere.
Thus, Our Lord’s body found a resting place. How fitting that Christ’s body lay within a garden where he will rise on Easter morn—the same scene wherein Adam and Eve lost their dwelling in Paradise.
During this solemn day, out of respect for the death of our Savior, no Masses are celebrated, the tabernacle is left open, and the altar remains bare. While Christ’s death is cause for mourning, it is also an opportunity to enter the silence of His tomb, quieting ourselves so that we might be fully present for His Resurrection.
Entering Into Holy Saturday
Even though we know that Christ’s burial is not the end of the story, as Catholics, we are called to place ourselves alongside Christ at every moment of His suffering. As He is laid in the tomb, we too can humble ourselves alongside Our Lord and put to death our vices.
Holy Saturday is the final day of preparation before the Easter feast. Our hope reaches its peak in anticipation of so magnificent a victory, but we remain in the tomb with Christ, grieving the loss of Our Savior with His mother Mary, Mary Magdalene, and His disciples. As an offering of love, we can fashion our own hearts as silent tombs in which Our Lord might dwell, empty of sin and self-love, and free to the service of His will.
Holy Saturday culminates in the celebration of the Easter Vigil, beginning at dusk as the light of the sun fades, so that the Paschal Candle, symbolizing Christ, might illuminate the darkness representing Christ’s light in the world. During this service of light, once the Paschal candle has been lit, its flame slowly spreads throughout the church through individual candles held by the congregation.
As the celebration continues, the Easter proclamation declares the meaning of the Resurrection within the context of salvation history. After this, multiple readings and psalms from the Old and New Testaments are read, providing key stories that further explicate the wonder of God’s plan for salvation. New members of the Church then receive Baptism, along with other sacraments, and the celebration concludes with the Liturgy of the Eucharist.
The Vigil Mass completes Holy Saturday, ushering us into the joy of Easter. And while we rejoice in the immense blessing of the Resurrection, we, the Church militant upon earth, still await the completion of our salvation at the Final Judgement. Thus, in the words of the late Pope Benedict XVI, we might see Holy Saturday as a symbol of our life on earth: “We are still awaiting Easter; we are not yet standing in the full light but walking toward it full of trust.”