Holy Saturday’s best-kept secret
A Reflection for Holy Saturday
“Then God said,
‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.
God saw how good the light was.
God then separated the light from the darkness” (Gn 1:3-4).
It can be easy to think of Holy Saturday as a kind of nothing day. Sandwiched between the solemnity of Good Friday and the joy of Easter, Saturday can seem to have no particular draw of its own. It is kind of the sleepless night-before-Christmas of the Triduum. But Saturday can be a meaningful and important part of Easter—and not just a time to dye eggs or make tomorrow’s dessert.
If you look a little closer, Holy Saturday actually has something of an embarrassment of riches. With seven readings from the Old Testament, an epistle and the Gospel, it’s a veritable smorgasbord of spirituality. And that’s not to mention Holy Saturday’s best-kept secret: the Easter Vigil Mass, where these readings are proclaimed.
The first year my family attended the vigil, I was unenthused—a three-hour Mass?—but I found myself settling in soon enough. I have always been susceptible to “smells and bells” pageantry, and that was certainly part of my attraction to the liturgy. But it was also because the vigil is, in some ways, an extended story-telling session, a drawing nearer around the campfire to hear our own history. The readings are a crash course in Catholicism, a summary of salvation history from Genesis to the resurrection. To know where we are going, we need to know where we came from. To experience the resurrection, we need to understand the path that led to the cross. When we are between the two is when we most need direction, like a road map to Easter.
Holy Saturday can feel like the sleepless night-before-Christmas of the Triduum. But it can be a meaningful part of Easter—and not just a time to dye eggs or make tomorrow’s dessert.
The extensive readings can be daunting for some, and understandably so. They are a large part of why the service takes so long and why the vigil isn’t for everybody. But because the crowd is usually small, it feels intimate. Lighting first the Easter fire and then everybody’s individual candle, passing the flame to each other wick-to-wick up and down the pews, there’s a strong sense of community. Sitting in the darkened church lit only by candlelight, the sense of expectant waiting is palpable. At the vigil, we are all chasers of the light. We want Easter to come early, and we are the first to celebrate it. When light finally sweeps over the nave partway through the readings, it’s like the world being born new.
After Mass ends, it’s usually a small group of us, standing around the refreshments, waking up from the trance that three hours of Mass can instill. Eating chocolate or dessert for the first time in 40 days—knowing that everybody else has to wait for tomorrow—feels a bit like a secret. Maybe this is how the apostles felt when they first learned about the resurrection, before they shared the good news with anybody else. For us, Jesus is risen; the rest of the world just doesn’t know it yet.
If you, too, are attending a vigil tonight, happy Easter. And if you aren’t, then wait for one more night through the darkness until the light comes on Sunday morning.
Get to know Sarah Vincent, O’Hare Fellow
Do you cheat on Sundays?
It depends on whether I’m giving something up or trying to do something additional. I think it’s fine to take a break and eat chocolate chip pancakes on Sundays. (I’m biased; it’s a family tradition.) But you probably shouldn’t use the day to take a break from trying to pray more or have more patience.
Favorite non-meat recipe
I love to do easy Asian-inspired cooking. A really simple, tasty meal is a fried egg with soy sauce over rice with a side of oyster sauce steamed lettuce. You can even steam iceberg lettuce in the microwave by rinsing it off, covering it on a plate with a damp paper towel, and microwaving for about 2:30. Make a double batch of rice and make fried rice the next day!
Favorite Easter art
It’s not quite art but a relic! Several years ago, my family was in Rome for Easter. Our plans for the day becoming somehow waylaid, we ended up attending a vigil Mass at a random nearby church. To our total shock, after Mass, the priest asked if we would like to see the severed head of John the Baptist; we had stumbled into the Basilica of San Silvestro. He opened up what looked like an unassuming closet, and sure enough, there was the skull. Only in Rome!