A Reflection for Holy Saturday, by Fr Daniel Weatherley.
It has been the most unusual and challenging of Lents for all of us. For us priests who have the privilege of offering the Sacrifice of the Mass every day it has been a great sadness to be doing so without the Faithful physically present, and we have carried you in our hearts to the altar at every Mass.
At the Mass of Palm Sunday last weekend there was a very poignant moment. During the reading of the Passion (this year St Matthew’s account), at the very moment of the death of Jesus, the Angelus Bell rang out and reverberated through the empty Cathedral.
I found this deeply moving and significant and immediately my thoughts skipped ahead to Holy Saturday. For I feel that there is a parallel with the Annunciation and Holy Saturday. At the Annunciation there is a great silence as the Angel – and the whole of creation - awaits the response of Mary, offering the consent of her whole being to the Incarnation of the Son of God in her heart and in her womb. On Holy Saturday there is another even greater silence, as creation stands in awe at the Death of the same Son of God and awaits His Resurrection. Both silences are charged with the weight of the magnitude of events, and both are brimming with hope. In both moments there is a stillness and an emptiness which is to be filled and transformed.
Perhaps personally we have been experiencing a sort of Holy Saturday ever since this lockdown began. Perhaps these weeks have been an intensification of a life already marked by being alone, whether that is an external or internal aloneness. Perhaps it has been the opposite: cooped-up with family whom we love but maybe do not find easy to be with all the time; struggling to keep young children entertained whilst longing for a place of peace and silence for ourselves. Very likely we have been struggling with the thought of what lies ahead, in terms of our employment and security. What will ‘normal’ be when we return to that state?
Underlying all of this is our sadness that we have not been physically present together at the Holy Mass now for three weeks; that the very foundation of our lives has been taken away. Hopefully, however, there is within us at the same time a prickle of excitement in anticipating that glorious day when we will be united once more at the foot of the Altar, and singing God’s praises in His earthly House.
For the Disciples and friends of Jesus, even those on the periphery, that first Holy Saturday must have been a day of intense confusion. Failure. Numbness. Guilt (‘Why did I deny Him, resist Him?’). Horror at what He had been subjected to. Grief. A deep-down lingering hope that just couldn’t be shaken off (‘But He promised…!’).
Since there is not a single event in the life of Jesus which does not speak of our redemption and salvation, so Holy Saturday - that crucial hinge between the horrors of Good Friday and the exuberant Joy of Easter Sunday - must also speak of the Good News.
The Good News is that in the silence of the Tomb, when all was sealed-off, God was living His Sabbath: that active re-creation which is at the heart of the Sabbath Rest. Jesus, in the Spirit, descends to the underworld, to liberate those just souls whose own Saturday had lasted for untold years, to lift them up with Him and bring them into the Light of His Morning. And those wonderful words of God the Trinity, first spoken as They beheld Mankind, Their most magnificent creation, resound throughout the Tomb and in the ears and hearts of the newly-liberated: “Indeed, it is very good”.
Today above all we are invited today to authenticity. To present ourselves to the Lord just as we are – not as we think He wants to see us. He already knows; Holy Saturday was for us, not for His own sake. For it is what we truly are, how we find ourselves on this most extraordinary of Holy Saturdays which He desires to raise up, heal and transform. The silence, numbness and confusion of Holy Saturday is charged with the promise of what is to come; what He has prepared for those who cling to Him.