Holy Saturday: Gone to Hell, Back In a Few
Holy Saturday commemorates the final day of Christ’s death and triumphant descent into hell. It is a day of deep reflection and mourning, commemorating the day that Jesus Christ lay in the tomb after his crucifixion
Holy Saturday also called Easter Vigil, the Great Sabbath, Hallelujah Saturday, Saturday of the Glory, Sabado de Gloria, and Black Saturday or Easter Eve, and called “Joyous Saturday”, “the Saturday of Light”, and “Mega Sabbatun” is a Christian religious observance that ends the Lenten season, falling on the day before Easter Sunday. The observance commemorates the final day of Christ’s death, which is traditionally associated with his triumphant descent into hell. It is a day of deep reflection and mourning, commemorating the day that Jesus Christ lay in the tomb after his crucifixion and hoping for his resurrection- after all, no resurrection, no Christianity. For the resurrection of Christ is the foundation of our faith and hope, and through Baptism and Confirmation we are inserted into the Paschal Mystery of Christ, dying, buried, and raised with him, and with him we shall also reign.
The early church celebrated the end of Lent with large baptismal ceremonies, but for many centuries no services were held on Holy Saturday in the Western churches, recalling the suspended state of Christ’s followers in the period between his Crucifixion and Resurrection. Beginning in 1955, the Roman Catholic and some other churches restored the evening Easter Vigil. The Eastern Orthodox churches had never abandoned the ceremony. The vigil celebration may include lighting fires and candles to symbolize Christ’s passing from death to life and tolling bells to signify the joyous end of Lent. Many churches also celebrate the baptism of catechumens (unbaptized converts) and the confirmation or chrismation and first communion of both catechumens and candidates (converts who were previously baptized in a different Christian faith tradition) during the Easter Vigil.
A vigil is a 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 in anticipation of the feast.
Luke describes what happened after Christ’s death: “It was now about noon and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoonLuke
because of an eclipse of the sun. Then the veil of the temple was torn down the middle.Luke
Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit”; and when he had said this he breathed his last.
The centurion who witnessed what had happened glorified God and said, “This man was innocent* beyond doubt.”
When all the people who had gathered for this spectacle saw what had happened, they returned home beating their breasts;c
but all his acquaintances stood at a distance, including the women who had followed him from Galilee and saw these events.d
The Burial of Jesus
Now there was a virtuous and righteous man named Joseph who, though he was a member of the council,
had not consented to their plan of action. He came from the Jewish town of Arimathea and was awaiting the kingdom of God.f
He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus.
After he had taken the body down, he wrapped it in a linen cloth and laid him in a rock-hewn tomb in which no one had yet been buried.
It was the day of preparation, and the sabbath was about to begin.
The women who had come from Galilee with him followed behind, and when they had seen the tomb and the way in which his body was laid in it, they returned and prepared spices and perfumed oils. Then they rested on the sabbath according to the commandment.”
At the tomb, the guards that had been stationed there kept watch over the place to make sure that the disciples did not steal Jesus’ body. Luke 20
Scripture calls the abode of the dead, to which the dead Christ went down, “hell” – Sheol in Hebrew or Hades in Greek – because those who are there are deprived of the vision of God.
Such is the case for all the dead, whether evil or righteous, while they await the Redeemer: which does not mean that their lot is identical, as Jesus shows through the parable of the poor man Lazarus who was received into “Abraham’s bosom”:
“It is precisely these holy souls, who awaited their Saviour in Abraham’s bosom, whom Christ the Lord delivered when he descended into hell.”
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 CCC 633.
The gospel was preached even to the dead.” The descent into hell brings the Gospel message of salvation to complete fulfillment.
This is the last phase of Jesus’ messianic mission, a phase which is condensed in time but vast in its real significance: the spread of Christ’s redemptive work to all men of all times and all places, for all who are saved have been made sharers in the redemption. CCC 634
To celebrate the Easter Vigil, The Congregation for Divine Worship (CDW) documented, in excruciating detail the rites and symbology the Church is to use for such momentous event in the document Paschales Solemnitatis:
The Committee on Divine Worship, a standing committee of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, has the responsibility for all matters relating to the Liturgy
According to CDW the Church is to celebrate Easter Vigil meditating on Jesus” passion and death, and on his descent into hell, and awaiting his resurrection with prayer and fasting.
The image of Christ crucified or lying in the tomb, or the descent into hell,an image of the sorrowful Virgin Mary can be placed in thechurch for the veneration of the faithful.
It is highly recommended that on this day the Office of Readings and Morning Prayer be celebrated with the participation of the people. Where this cannot be done, there should be some celebration of the Word of God, or some act of devotion suited to the mystery celebrated this day.
The entire celebration of the Easter Vigil takes place at night. It should not begin before nightfall; it should end before daybreak on Sunday.
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),
• Holy Church meditates on the wonderful works which the Lord God wrought for his people from the earliest times (the second part or Liturgy of the Word),
• to the moment when, together with those new members reborn in Baptism (third part),
• she is called to the table prepared by the Lord for his Church—the commemoration of his death and resurrection—until he comes (fourth part).
The third part of the Vigil is the baptismal liturgy. Christ’s passover and ours is now celebrated.
This is given full expression in those churches which have a baptismal font, and more so when the Christian initiation of adults is held, or at least the Baptism of infants.
Even if there are no candidates for Baptism, the blessing of baptismal water should still take place in parish churches. If this blessing does not take place at the baptismal font, but in the sanctuary, baptismal water should be carried afterwards to the baptistry there to be kept throughout the whole of paschal time.
Where there are neither candidates for Baptism nor any need to bless the font, Baptism should be commemorated by the blessing of water destined for sprinkling upon the people.
Next follows the renewal of baptismal promises, introduced by some words on the part of the celebrating priest.
The faithful reply to the questions put to them, standing and holding lighted candles in their hands. They are then sprinkled with water: in this way the gestures and words remind them of the Baptism they have received.
The celebrating priest sprinkles the people by passing through the main part of the church while all sing the antiphon “Vidi aquam” or another suitable song of a baptismal character.
By the grace of God” Jesus tasted death “for every one”. In his plan of salvation, God ordained that his Son should not only “die for our sins” but should also “taste death”, experience the condition of death, the separation of his soul from his body, between the time he expired on the cross and the time he was raised from the dead. The state of the dead Christ is the mystery of the tomb and the descent into hell. It is the mystery of Holy Saturday, when Christ, lying in the tomb, reveals God’s great sabbath rest after the fulfillment of man’s salvation, which brings peace to the whole world CCC 624.
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