A Great Silence on Earth – Holy Saturday 2020
The Office of Readings for Holy Saturday includes a beautiful excerpt from an ancient homily for this day. It starts,
“Something strange is happening – there is a great silence on earth today, a great silence and stillness. The whole earth keeps silence because the King is asleep. The earth trembled and is still because God has fallen asleep in the flesh and he has raised up all who have slept ever since the world began. God has died in the flesh and hell trembles with fear.”
The Extraordinary Moment of Prayer offered on Friday 27 March by Pope Francis in a special Urbi et Orbi blessing begins with a statement from the Pope which is reminiscent of that ancient homily. His meditation is based on the calming of the storm at sea from Mark’s Gospel.
The entire meditation is worth reading and is readily available online. As a matter of fact, the entire service is worth watching. I watched it on Salt and Light, but I’m sure you can easily find it on YouTube. It shows our Pope as a pastor for a world in crisis. The image of Pope Francis standing alone in the rain at St. Peter’s Square offers a powerful message for a world in need. His meditation begins with these words.
For weeks now it has been evening. Thick darkness has gathered over our squares, our streets and our cities; it has taken over our lives, filling everything with a deafening silence and a distressing void, that stops everything as it passes by; we feel it in the air, we notice in people’s gestures, their glances give them away. We find ourselves afraid and lost. Like the disciples in the Gospel we were caught off guard by an unexpected, turbulent storm.
We have realized that we are on the same boat, all of us fragile and disoriented, but at the same time important and needed, all of us called to row together, each of us in need of comforting the other. On this boat… are all of us. Just like those disciples, who spoke anxiously with one voice, saying “We are perishing” (v. 38), so we too have realized that we cannot go on thinking of ourselves, but only together can we do this.”
We have been living Holy Saturday for a few weeks now. Many of us never know what to make of Holy Saturday, nor how to celebrate it. Do we actually celebrate? How much more uncertain are we this particular Holy Saturday! It is a day to be quiet, to wait at the tomb of Jesus? There is no liturgical celebration.
We ended the Good Friday liturgy in silence and we don’t have a liturgical celebration of Church until this evening’s Easter Vigil, the ultimate and most beautiful liturgical celebration of the year, especially when new women and men enter into the Church. What will it feel like in this unprecedented time? We won’t be gathering in the usual ways.
In a normal year, before tonight festivities, we are at the tomb of Jesus. Luke tells us, And now a member of the Council arrived, a good and upright man named Joseph [of Arimathea]. He is the one who placed Jesus in a tomb. The women followed, taking note of where the body had been laid.
Matthew describes Joseph as a disciple of Jesus. John says that he was a secret disciple. Mark describes Joseph as bold in his request for the body. They all mention the women. Perhaps it becomes more important than ever for us to stay at the tomb.
The day between Good Friday and the Easter Vigil is described in the Roman Missal.
“On Holy Saturday the Church waits at the Lord’s tomb in prayer and fasting, meditating on his Passion and Death and on his Descent into Hell, and awaiting his Resurrection. The Church abstains from the Sacrifice of the Mass, with the sacred table left bare, until after the solemn Vigil … when the time comes for paschal joys, the abundance of which overflows to occupy fifty days.”
Churches that celebrate Holy Saturday traditionally do so by observing a day of somber reflection as they contemplate the world of darkness that would exist without the hope of Christ’s resurrection.
We have a world of silence this year, but we have hope for Christ’s resurrection and our share in its graces.