ByAiveen Mullally, Lecturer, Marino Institute of Education, Dublin
What is Holy Saturday about? Is it the day we dust ourselves down after the fasting and solemnity of Good Friday and begin preparing the festivities for the Easter Vigil? We have a tendency to ignore the significance of Holy Saturday. We often overlook this middle day of the Easter Tritium because in our minds the Resurrection is a foregone conclusion once the Good Friday ceremonies are complete. As a result, the day Jesus was dead and lay in the tomb is often overlooked.
Allowing Holy Saturday to be shrouded in silence, when altars are stripped bare and Mass is not celebrated, brings us face to face with the reality that Jesus truly died. God was dead. And perhaps this day resonates with much of society today.
On Easter Saturday Jesus’ followers were experiencing devastation, hopelessness and a sense of betrayal. They did not know that Jesus would rise from the dead. He was gone. His mission was a failure. They felt betrayed and hopeless. Similarly, many contemporary Christians are experiencing a new Holy Saturday; an experience within a culture that is not only bereft of a sense of a divine presence, but is also often indifferent to it. As we witness old Church structures and norms experiencing a decent burial many people today, including committed Christians can identify with the emptiness and uncertainty of Holy Saturday.
The spirituality emanating from Holy Saturday, therefore, is a spirituality of waiting and sitting with the unknown and the darkness. This is not something most of us are comfortable with! It is about solidarity with the real, lived-experiences of hopelessness, of despair and of Godlessness that many experience. These are not experiences we can sweep under the carpet or ‘band-aid’ with optimism. For some this is a lived reality and can last all their lives. Try consoling parents who have lost a child or a person living with depression – the absence of God and the darkness of Holy Saturday is very real for them.
Medieval theology tells us that Jesus descended to hell on this middle day of the Tritium. But the contemporary message of Holy Saturday is that ‘hell’ need not be a place of torment in the underworld. We can experience the darkness and desolation of being cut off from God in this life also.
So where is God in all of this? The descent of Jesus to the underworld assures us of God’s presence in the most desolate places of the human heart. Experiences of hopelessness, of abandonment – the psychic hell of depression, of grief, of loss or rejection, are all infused with the assurance of Christ’s solidarity. He too shared fully in these human experiences and there is a palpable need for ritual and creativity around this experience in our communities.
Everyone knows of Good Friday, the day when Jesus suffered and died for all of humanity. We also know about Sunday, the day when justice and love conquered death, when hope in resurrection and freedom is assured. Saturday, however, is perhaps where many of us reside; awaiting new emergence and regeneration.
This middle day holds Good Friday and Easter Sunday in creative tension. It is the experience of an unresolved faith but a faithful waiting nonetheless. The darkness of the Holy Saturday culture wherein we reside is in need of hope, reconciliation and transfiguration. We are in the between time. Between life and death. Between sadness and joy. Between what has been and what will be.
Together we must wait in this bright darkness.