I ALWAYS thought of Holy Saturday as the loneliest of times for Jesus. That’s why whenever I would be sad or in torment, I would always imagine myself creeping into the tomb and joining Jesus in His loneliness. Holy Saturday is the day of silence. It is a bleak and dark day, that’s why it is also called Black Saturday.
When we recite the Nicene Creed, there is a part that says: He descended to the dead. What does this mean? From the Catholic Encyclopedia, this is what I gathered: “They mean that God, having made himself man, reached the point of entering man's most extreme and absolute solitude, where not a ray of love enters, where total abandonment reigns without any word of comfort: ‘hell’. Jesus Christ, by remaining in death, passed beyond the door of this ultimate solitude to lead us too to cross it with him. We have all, at some point, felt the frightening sensation of abandonment, and that is what we fear most about death, just as when we were children we were afraid to be alone in the dark and could only be reassured by the presence of a person who loved us. Well, this is exactly what happened on Holy Saturday: the voice of God resounded in the realm of death. The unimaginable occurred: namely, Love penetrated ‘hell’. Even in the extreme darkness of the most absolute human loneliness we may hear a voice that calls us and find a hand that takes ours and leads us out. Human beings live because they are loved and can love; and if love even penetrated the realm of death, then life also even reached there. In the hour of supreme solitude we shall never be alone.”
With this explanation, I do not look at Holy Saturday any more as a just a misery-loves-company waiting but a plucking us out from that hole of darkness. Jesus’ love will crush all kinds of death from abandonment, desperation, desolation and whatever plagues us. So long as we cry out to Him, His merciful love will comfort and console us and most especially give us hope.
Holy Saturday ends the sad season of Lent and opens into the glorious season of Easter. While there is no Mass on Holy Saturday, the Easter Vigil Mass takes place after sundown. At the Sacred Heart Shrine, Mass was at 9 p.m. I have not attended an Easter Vigil Mass in years because it is a very long mass, close to 3 hours, but I decided to partake in this one last Saturday.
Before the Mass, there was the blessing of new fire. This was held outside the Church within the grounds of the Padre Pio center. Fire is to represent life and light which is Jesus Christ. The Church was in total darkness and only candles were lit.
According to the news, Pope Francis celebrated a trimmed back Easter Vigil service last Saturday, dressed down compared to his predecessors in plain white vestments. He processed into a darkened and silent St. Peter's Basilica at the start of the service, shared the light of his candle with others. There were more than 10,000 lit candles as the 76-year-old Pope walked down the aisle leading to the altar.
What makes the Easter Vigil Mass long are the readings that recall the period between Christ's crucifixion on Good Friday and resurrection on Easter Sunday. Instead of 7 scheduled readings, there were 5 recited at the Lupit Church. Pope Francis likewise shortened the Old Testament readings. The Vatican has said these provisions were in keeping with Francis' aim not to lengthen the Masses. The Easter Vigil service under Benedict XVI would typically run nearly three hours just like the Mass I attended. Pope Francis prefers his Masses short and to the point. His vigil mass ended just shy of 2 and a half hours.
Pope Francis’ homily Saturday was short, sweet and simple, recalling how Jesus' disciples found his tomb empty a day after his death and were surprised and confused. He says: “Our daily problems and worries can wrap us up in ourselves, in sadness and bitterness, and that is where death is." He said, "Let the risen Jesus enter your life, welcome him as a friend, with trust: He is life!" He urged his listeners not to be "afraid of God's surprises," never to lose confidence during the trials and tribulations of daily life, and, if they have strayed, to let God back into their lives. "Let the risen Jesus enter your life, welcome him as a friend, with trust: he is life! If up till now you have kept him at a distance, step forward. He will receive you with open arms," he said, speaking in Italian. "If you have been indifferent, take a risk: you won't be disappointed. If following Him seems difficult, don't be afraid, trust Him, be confident that He is close to you, He is with you and He will give you the peace you are looking for and the strength to live as He would have you do," he said.
As part of the practice on Easter Vigil Masses, adult baptisms are performed. There were three who were baptized at the Shrine and they were confirmed immediately after. The rites were performed by Monsignor Louie Galbines, rector of the Sacred Heart Seminary while the Mass was officiated by Fr. Raymond Asoy assisted by Fr. Jess Ebro and Fr. Jerrybel Celestia who gave the homily basing it on the significance of Easter. Pope Francis also baptized four men at the Vatican.
As part of the Easter celebration, we the faithful in attendance are made to renew our baptismal vows. So we are asked to reject sin, reject the lure of evil and Satan. After which, we are to profess our faith and belief in Almighty God, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. The priests went around the church, blessing the faithful with Holy Water after. I always like being blessed with Holy Water. It gives such a healing feeling and rejuvenates and invigorates the spirit as we continue our spiritual journey.
Holy Saturday with its message of Jesus descended to the dead, plus the Easter Vigil Mass doesn’t seem to be as bleak and lonely as how I perceived it. Nonetheless, it has taught me that in times of trials and tribulations, I will still creep into the tomb because this is where I will find comfort, solace and most importantly hope.