Culminating the end of Holy Week, Holy Saturday brings Christ’s suffering and death to a close. While Lent ends at sundown on Maundy Thursday, Holy Week and the Triduum end at sundown on Holy Saturday. The Catholic Encyclopedia says that “it is the close of the season of Lent and penance, and the beginning of paschal time, which is one of rejoicing.” While sadness and grief continue to mark Holy Saturday, it anticipates the approaching joy.
How did Holy Saturday develop?In the fourth century development of Holy Week and the Triduum, Holy Saturday really did not receive much attention. Concerning its history, the Catholic Encyclopedia points out the most significant aspect, “By a noteworthy exception, in the early Church this was the only Saturday on which fasting was permitted (Constit. Apost., VII, 23), and the fast was one of special severity.” Dennis Batcher echoes this with a similar statement, “An ancient tradition dating to the first centuries of the church calls for no food of any kind to be eaten on Holy Saturday, or for 40 hours before sunrise on Sunday.” They practiced a total fast on Holy Saturday. In terms of its development, the most notable aspect is the allowance of a Saturday fast, which is usually not allowed.
What happens on Holy Saturday?There is not much activity on Holy Saturday. Christ is dead, and as Ken Collins reminds us, “This is the second day that Jesus lay in the tomb.” This is a solemn and somber time. It is a time of sadness and grieving. The Messiah, who did all of these extraordinary miracles, lies dead in his cold dark tomb. The one, that the disciples expected to rescue them from Roman rule, is a lifeless corpse.
How do we celebrate Holy Saturday?Chittister comments, “Holy Saturday is a day nobody talks about much in the liturgical year” (152). Obviously, it is somewhat neglected. Robert Webber says, “In most churches there is no Holy Saturday service” (134). While this is true of most churches, Wikipedia makes the observation, “In some Anglican churches, including the Episcopal Church in the United States, provision is made for a simple Liturgy of the Word on this day, with readings commemorating the burial of Christ, but no Eucharist.” Some churches celebrate with a simple liturgy of the Word (Wikipedia).
The celebration of Holy Saturday lends itself to a more private remembrance. While a day of rest before Easter Vigil, Robert Webber says, “It is a day to keep silence, to fast, to pray, to identify with Jesus in the tomb, and to prepare for the great resurrection feast” (134).
Holy Saturday reveals our emptiness and loss of hope (Chittister 155-157). We are alone. Christ is dead. These stark reminders must be experienced. On Holy Saturday, we feel that all hope has vanished. Yet, the loss of hope prepares us for the Easter resurrection. We cannot fully experience the hope of Easter until we have experienced the loss of Holy Saturday.
Dennis Batcher suggests another observance for Holy Saturday. He says, “It is also a time to remember family and the faithful who have died as we await the resurrection, or to honor the martyrs who have given their lives for the cause of Christ in the world” (Batcher). Our remembrance of them enhances our longing for Easter and ultimately the Final Resurrection.
What happens after Holy Saturday?Holy Saturday leads into the Easter Vigil on Saturday after sundown or very early Sunday morning.
Batcher, Dennis: http://www.cresourcei.org/cyholyweek.html
Catholic Encyclopedia: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/07424a.htm
Chittister, Joan. The Liturgical Year: the Spiraling Adventure of the Spiritual Life (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2009).
Collins, Ken: http://www.kencollins.com/holy-05.htm
Webber, Robert. Ancient-Future Time: Forming Spirituality through the Christian Year (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2004).