Holy Saturday and the Easter Vigil
An anonymous text from Christian antiquity condenses for us the mystery that the Church commemorates on Holy Saturday: Christ’s descent into hell. “What is it that takes place today? A great silence envelops the earth, a great silence and stillness. The earth trembles and is still because God has fallen asleep in the flesh and he has come to raise all who have slept ever since the world began.” Just as in Genesis we saw God resting after his work of Creation, now our Lord rests from his redemptive toil. For the paschal feast, which is about to dawn in the world, is “the feast of the new creation:” it cost our Lord his life to restore Life to us.
A little while, and you will see me no more; again a little while, and you will see me, our Lord said to the Apostles on the eve of his Passion. While we await his return, let us meditate on his descent into the darkness of death, in which those just men and women of the old Covenant were still submerged. Christ, bearing in his hand the liberating sign of the Cross, put an end to their sleep and led them into the light of the new Kingdom: “Awaken, you who are sleeping, for you did not believe so that you might remain captive in the abysm.” From the eighth-century Carolingian monasteries, the commemoration of this great Sabbath spread throughout Europe: the day of awaiting the Resurrection, as the Mother of Jesus did so intensely, which led the Church to make every Saturday into a day of devotion to our Lady. Now, more than ever, Mary is the stella matutina, the morning star announcing the arrival of the Lord: the Lucifer matutinus, the sun arising from on high, oriens ex alto.
In the night of this great Sabbath, the Church gathers in the most solemn of her vigils to celebrate the Resurrection of her Spouse, extending even to the first hours of dawn. This celebration is the fundamental core of the Christian liturgy throughout the whole year. A great variety of symbolic elements express the passage from darkness to light, from death to the new life in the Resurrection of our Lord: the fire, the candle, the water, the incense, the music and the bells….
The light from the candle is a symbol of Christ, the Light of the world, who illumines and inundates everything; the fire is the Holy Spirit, enkindled by Christ in the hearts of the faithful; the water signifies the passage to a new life in Christ, the source of life; the Paschal alleluia is the hymn of the pilgrims traveling towards the heavenly Jerusalem; the bread and wine of the Eucharist are a pledge of the eschatalogical banquet with the Risen One. While we take part in the Easter Vigil, we recognize with the eyes of faith that this holy assembly is the community of the Risen Lord; that this time is a new time, open to the definitive today of the glorious Christ: haec est dies, quam fecit Dominus, this is the new day our Lord has inaugurated, the day that “never sets.”
Here are some basic points we can all take care off as we observe these great days in the History of Christianity.
- Go to Mass/Service on time. Actually being seated and recollected before it begins is definetly worth it especially in this week.
- Make the effort to seek the Sacrament of Penance (confession) and forgive those who have trespassed against you no matter how long or serious a grudge you have kep
- Dress your best for the Night of all Nights! We have to look it too.
- Get a good sitting position away from distractions. This varies according to persons but we generally know that being behind or outside the walls of the church can be the best way to remain distracted. It’s okay to sit in the front pews. You will see and hear clearly and two senses work better than one!
- Use a Missal/Order of Mass. There are usually booklets for Holy Week on sale in the parishes.Ask for it, get it and use it. That is one sure way of participating fully.
- Sing or chant along with the choir and lay faithful. A not-too-good singing voice is no excuse (just keep it low and you will be fine). Besides, one who sings prays twice and we do need all the prayers don’t we?
- Clean out your homes, making ready to recieve our Lord.
- Contribute in any way you can towards the activities eg. buying flowers for the altar of repose, offering to clean the church and decorate, purchasing the Paschal candle etc.
- Make sure you have a joyful Easter!