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Colleen DulleMarch 07, 2024
Photo from Unsplash.

A Reflection for Holy Saturday

Today’s readings are for the Easter Vigil; there is no selection of readings—and indeed, no Mass or Communion—for Holy Saturday proper. I could reflect on the Easter Vigil readings, but I think it is important for us to sit with the absence that the liturgical calendar confronts us with today.

Last night at the Good Friday liturgy, the tabernacle was left empty; the red candle that flickers all year finally smoldered. I like to watch “Jesus movies” during Holy Week, and for Holy Saturday I usually choose “Die Grosse Stille” (“Into Great Silence”), the 2005 documentary about Carthusian monks in the French Alps.

The film’s director, Philip Gröning, waited 16 years for a response to his request to film at the monastery; when the monks finally replied, it was on the condition that there would be no added music or sounds not naturally occurring in the monastery. Since the monks take a vow of silence, there would be almost no speaking at all.

The first time I saw “Into Great Silence” was in my university’s student center during Mardi Gras break. (I went to school in New Orleans; we got the whole week off.) When I returned to my dorm after the nearly three-hour movie, another student greeted me. It took me a moment to remember that I should respond.

The silence of the monks is not, as we might expect, a blissful transcendence of the world. It is at times uneasy. The monks do physical labor. They get sick. A blind Carthusian confides to us that he is at peace with death. A fly buzzes.

Another movie I sometimes dig out during Holy Week is Terrence Malick’s “The Tree of Life.” In the middle of the film (which also includes very little dialogue), the plot is interrupted by a 16-minute sequence portraying the creation of the universe from the Big Bang through the dinosaurs, set to Zbigniew Preisner’s beautiful and haunting “Lacrimosa,” as Jessica Chastain’s character whispers probing questions to God: “What are we to you?”

Tonight at the Easter Vigil, after a night and day of great silence and perhaps labor in preparation for Easter celebrations, we will review salvation history from Genesis through St. Paul. We may find, in the silence today, that questions for God have arisen in us: Why the absence, the silence? Why the crucifixion? Tradition has it that between Jesus’ death and resurrection, he went to hell to free the souls trapped there. What does contemplating Jesus in hell raise in us? God, what are we to you?

Like the monks, let us welcome the questions and unease that arise. And let us be astounded with wonder at the response God offers us tonight.

More: Scripture

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