Holy Saturday. The King is Asleep.

Sabbato Sancto

“On Holy Saturday the Church waits at the Lord’s tomb in prayer and fasting, meditating on his Passion and Death and on his Descent into Hell, awaiting his Resurrection.” The altar is bare “until after the Solemn Vigil, that is, the anticipation by the night of the Resurrection, when the time comes for paschal joys, the abundance which overflows” through the 50 days of Paschaltide. 

These words of the Roman Missal set the tone for Holy Saturday, which has the special character of an even deeper silence of soul. The church exhorts to preserve in the paschal fast on into the night but it is now a festive fast anticipating the Easter vigil in the Holy Night. The Easter Vigil is the premier celebration of the Resurrection.

How do we prepare ourselves?   The Office of Readings and Morning Prayer  are beneficial. There are books and apps for smartphones for this, but here is a link for a site where you can read or listen to the prayers. Choose the tab for Office of Readings or Morning Prayer.

As Nocent points out in his book The Liturgical Year that even as we meditate on the Lord’s repose in the tomb we are impatient to assemble at the vigil in the holy Night to proclaim the Resurrection.


The Sorrowful Mother

640px-Descente_de_croix_du_retable_Stauffenberg_(_détail_),_oeuvre_du_Maître_du_retable_de_Stauffenberg,_actif_au_15ème_siècle_(Musée_d'Unterlinden,_Colmar)On Holy Saturday, there is an image of the Sorrowful Mother in accord with the tradition. The Mother of God, as she waits near the tomb is an icon of the church who keeps vigil at the tomb of her Spouse awaiting the celebration of the resurrection at the Easter Vigil in the Holy Night. At the altar of the Mother of God there will be booklets for the devotion to the Sorrowful Mother. The church is empty as she awaits to be filled with the radiance of the Risen Christ and the Easter Vigil in the Holy Night.

From the Liturgy of the Hours of the Day, the Second Reading:

From an ancient homily on Holy Saturday

The Lord descends into hell

Something strange is happening—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. Greatly desiring to visit those who live in darkness and in the shadow of death, he has gone to free from sorrow the captives Adam and Eve, he who is both God and the son of Eve. The Lord approached them bearing the cross, the weapon that had won him the victory. At the sight of him Adam, the first man he had created, struck his breast in terror and cried out to everyone: “My Lord be with you all.” Christ answered him: “And with your spirit.” 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.”

I am your God, who for your sake have become your son. Out of love for you and for your descendants I now by my own authority command all who are held in bondage to come forth, all who are in darkness to be enlightened, all who are sleeping to arise. I order you, O sleeper, to awake. I did not create you to be held a prisoner in hell. Rise from the dead, for I am the life of the dead. Rise up, work of my hands, you who were created in my image. Rise, let us leave this place, for you are in me and I am in you; together we form only one person and we cannot be separated.

For your sake I, your God, became your son; I, the Lord, took the form of a slave; I, whose home is above the heavens, descended to the earth and beneath the earth. For your sake, for the sake of man, I became like a man without help, free among the dead. For the sake of you, who left a garden, I was betrayed to the Jews in a garden, and I was crucified in a garden.

See on my face the spittle I received in order to restore to you the life I once breathed into you. See there the marks of the blows I received in order to refashion your warped nature in my image. On my back see the marks of the scourging I endured to remove the burden of sin that weighs upon your back. See my hands, nailed firmly to a tree, for you who once wickedly stretched out your hand to a tree.

I slept on the cross and a sword pierced my side for you who slept in paradise and brought forth Eve from your side. My side has healed the pain in yours. My sleep will rouse you from your sleep in hell. The sword that pierced me has sheathed the sword that was turned against you.

Rise, let us leave this place. The enemy led you out of the earthly paradise. I will not restore you to that paradise, but I will enthrone you in heaven. I forbade you the tree that was only a symbol of life, but see, I who am life itself am now one with you. I appointed cherubim to guard you as slaves are guarded, but now I make them worship you as God. The throne formed by cherubim awaits you, its bearers swift and eager. The bridal chamber is adorned, the banquet is ready, the eternal dwelling places are prepared, the treasure houses of all good things lie open. The kingdom of heaven has been prepared for you from all eternity.