Holy Saturday is also called the Easter Vigil. It is a Christian religious observance that falls on the day before Easter Sunday and ends the Lenten season.
The observance of Holy Saturday commemorates the final day of Christ’s death wherein the earth waits in stillness for the Resurrection of the Lord. which is traditionally associated with his triumphant descent into hell.
What happened on the first Holy Saturday? How should we celebrate it? Read on to find the facts about Holy Saturday that you should know.
THE FIRST HOLY SATURDAY
Here on earth, Jesus’ disciples mourned his death and rested since it was a Sabbath day.
Luke 23:56 says that the women returned home “and prepared spices and ointments. On the sabbath they rested according to the commandment”.
The guards that were stationed at the tomb kept watch over the place to make sure that the disciples did not steal Jesus’ body.
As to what Jesus did while the apostles and His family sat vigil, some scholars claimed that there are no direct references in the Canonical Bible to what Jesus did, except His last words to Barabbas the thief: “Today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:33–43).
On the other hand, Daniel Burke of Washington Post wrote that according to the teachings of Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and most mainline Protestant churches, Jesus descended to the realm of the dead on Holy Saturday to save righteous souls.
The authors of the Apostles’ Creed and the Athanasian Creed, refer to this day as “The Harrowing of Hell,” when after his death, Christ descended into hell to free all the souls who had died since the beginning of the world, such as the Hebrew patriarchs, who died before His crucifixion, and allow the trapped righteous souls to reach heaven.
Conversely, according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church calls the descent “the last phase of Jesus’ messianic mission,” during which He “opened heaven’s gates for the just who had gone before him.”
This clarified that Jesus did not descend into hell to deliver the damned, nor to destroy the hell of damnation, but to free the just who had gone before Him.
HOW DO WE COMMEMORATE THIS DAY?
According to the main document governing the celebrations connected with Easter, Paschales Solemnitatis, it is highly recommended that we, just as we are in the Lord’s tomb, meditate on his passion and death. We should also reflect on “his descent into hell, and awaiting his resurrection with prayer and fasting”.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, it was greatly suggested that on Holy Saturday, the Office of Readings and Morning Prayer be celebrated with the participation of the people (cf. n. 40).
However, since social distancing is imposed to lower the risk of spread of the virus, some celebration of the Word of God, or some act of devotion suited to the mystery may be done to celebrate this day.
Also, the image of Christ crucified or lying in the tomb, or the descent into hell, which mystery Holy Saturday recalls, as also an image of the sorrowful Virgin Mary can be placed in the church for the veneration of the faithful.
Fasting is also encouraged, but not required, on this day.
WHAT SACRAMENTS ARE CELEBRATED DURING HOLY SATURDAY?
For the most part, none.
Paschales Solemnitatis explains that on this day the Church abstains strictly from the celebration of the sacrifice of the Mass.
The Holy Communion may only be given in the form of Viaticum, and the celebration of marriages is forbidden. The celebration of other sacraments is not allowed as well, except those of Penance, the Anointing of the Sick, and baptism in danger of death.
The prohibition on saying Mass applies to the part of the day before the Easter Vigil Mass.
WHAT IS THE EASTER VIGIL?
According to National Catolic Register, a vigil is the liturgical commemoration of a notable feast, held on the evening preceding the feast.
The term comes from the Latin word vigilia, which means “wakefulness,” and which came to be used when the faithful stayed awake to pray and do devotional exercises in anticipation of the feast.
The full meaning of vigil is a waiting for the coming of the Lord and Easter Vigil is the vigil held on the evening before Easter.
According to Paschales Solemnitatis, because the resurrection of Christ is the foundation of our faith and hope, together with him we too shall reign. This came to be through Baptism and Confirmation wherein we are inserted into the Paschal Mystery of Christ, dying, being buried, and being raised.
WHEN SHOULD EASTER VIGIL BE CELEBRATED?
Paschales Solemnitatis explains that “The entire celebration of the Easter Vigil takes place at night. It should not begin before nightfall; it should end before daybreak on Sunday.”
Paschales Solemnitatis also cautioned that this rule should be strictly followed.
WHAT HAPPENS AT THE EASTER VIGIL?
According to Paschales Solemnitatis: “The order for the Easter Vigil is arranged so that after the service of light and the Easter Proclamation (which is the first part of the Vigil), the Holy Church meditates on the wonderful works that the Lord God had done for his people since the beginning of time (the second part or Liturgy of the Word), to the moment when, together with those new members reborn in Baptism (third part), the church is called to the table prepared by the Lord for His people—the commemoration of his death and resurrection—until he comes again (fourth part).”
On Holy Saturday, Jesus paid with his own blood for the debt of his followers’ sins and He opened the way to heaven for all those who were worthy. May we always remember those sacrifices and strive to be worthy of it.