Holy Saturday: a Day out of Time

An early Christian writer once described Holy Saturday as being a day of great quietness and stillness as earth awaits the Resurrection. It is a day out of time — no sacraments to affirm the bonds between this world and the next, no warmth or colour to assuage the interior desolation, no activity to distract us or give us a false sense of security. We are simply waiting, all emotion spent.

Most of us live our lives in perpetual Holy Saturday mode, our faith a bit wobbly, our hope a bit frail, but clinging to the Cross and Resurrection with an obstinacy wiser than we know. And just as when Jesus was laid in the tomb he entered into a world outside time and an activity beyond our apprehension — the harrowing of hell — so we too, with our Holy Saturday faith, enter into a dimension of reality we cannot truly comprehend, a kind of little death that prepares us for the death we shall all one day undergo. In this state we can do nothing; God must do everything.

Holy Saturday prepares us for the newness of life that comes with the Resurrection. The silence, the stillness, the apparent inaction of this day out of time — it all sounds rather monastic, doesn’t it? Perhaps that is why I find it my natural environment, so to say. Monastic life has been described as a continuous Lent, a continuous preparation for Christ’s coming at Easter. One of the first monks expressed this very beautifully, ‘A monk’s cell is like Easter night: it sees Christ rising.’ That is a striking phrase, made the more striking by remembering that the monk’s cell is, first and foremost, the cell of his heart. Today, each of us must prepare to receive the Risen Christ into our hearts; and the only way we can do that is by allowing God to do all the doing.


11 thoughts on “Holy Saturday: a Day out of Time”

  1. Anyone who has experienced the death of a loved one will know the terrible void and emptiness once the reality hits home.
    The sense of BUT , where are they, how can this be?
    Only the hope of the Resurrection can make any sense of it.

  2. Holy Saturday changed for me after making the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius as a 30 day retreat. Aftern prayingbthe Passion and when Jesus has dies there is a Tomb Day. It is spent very much in the spirit of the aftermath of the death of a loved one, as described by Alexander. No time is spent in formal prayer becasuse Jesus is no longer there to talk to. The day can be spent in the company of Mary or one of Jesus’s friends. Itnis a day for remembering, waiting, feeling empty. I follow that pattern every Holy Saturday and it helps me to enter into Easter. It is such a short time from Friday to Sunday and without the space to experience the emptiness I can find it too unreal. People involved in church life are already into Easter preparations before the Good Friday Liturgy and it’s not helpful. I noticed our Easter flowers were already ready yesterday.

    • Like Maria, my experience of this time is heightened by my recent journey through The Exercises and especially of the ‘Tomb Day’.
      This sense of not knowing what is happening behind the stone of the tomb, not being able to grasp intellectually what is going on, but having to rely on holding still, listening and waiting in faith is an attitude I have become comfortable with. It is becoming more and more ‘my natural environment’.
      Yet, what sustains me and upholds me in this attitude, is the sense of Christ in the world, in those around me in real and virtual environments.

    • Alexander, your post is excellent. You have described the sensation perfectly
      For many years I was a part of the music ministry at various parishes throughout the time. You are right, Maria, that it is frequently not helpful. Practices for music of the Easter Mass start early and often continue through the Tridiuum, because often that is when people are not at work or school. It does make Easter seem unreal, and occasionally almost anti-climactic. After all, the ministry group has been singing and playing the songs for days, if not weeks. I have always loved being a musician, but it takes some of the anticipation out of the various liturgical seasons.

  3. Thank you for sharing your insights. You may be interested to know that we have a strict rule in the monastery that all our major preparations for the Easter liturgy should be completed before the Triduum begins. So, no choir practices, no unnecessary noise or activity. That isn’t always possible, but it is what we aim at. Our Divine office during these days reverts to an ancient, very stark form: today, for example, there is lots of psalmody, monotoned, not sung. All is plain and simple. This afternoon, before Vespers, we shall prepare our oratory for Easter, leaving the altar linens and flowers to be added just before the Vigil. Meanwhile we are quietly polishing the tabernacle and some other items we cannot usually deal with. The intention is to make this a day out of time as indicated above.

  4. Thank you for these helpful and lovely observations.

    I’ve observed that Holy Saturday seems to take us out of our time and space. There is an element of anticipation of the Resurrection, but reflecting on how Mary and the Disciples must have felt, after Jesus had been laid in his tomb, helps me to put it all into context.

    A couple of years ago, I looked after the family of a soldier killed in Afghanistan. While I’ve felt my own grief in the past, their grief and disbelief was totally outwith my experience, I had never seen or heard such grief and emotional devastation and shock from a large family. From Parents through to siblings and partner. While they had been totally dis-functional in his lifetime, united by grief they became a family again.

    Some of my hopes and aspirations is that we can take this forward and that In Jesus’ sacrifice, in his paying the ransom for our sin, we can find unity as Christians as churches and as communities together. I pray that it may be so.

  5. I like the monastic way of preparing before the Triduum. I have been used to being in silence after the Maundy Mass until after the Good Friday Liturgy since we were introduced tonit at college. I now extend it as far as possible to Holy Saturday. I have the good fortune to live alone so I can do this more easily than most. I have had to change mybplan of attending rhe Vigil because I had a bad dizzy spell this morning while organising myself. I don’t believe God sent the dizziness but it does remind me that God is in charge and I need to adjust my preparations accordingly.

  6. I’ve come out of ” time out” to say thank you for this wonderful post.
    But I also experienced something out of time this year.
    I was writing my blog on the afternoon of Holy Thursday and was well into Lenten “down “mode. I was struggling to think how on earth I would ever be able to move beyond Good Friday and how I would be able to blog on Easter and the Resurrection. I can’t really explain what happened next, but suddenly my whole being was changed and it was as if a window had been opened and I wrote my posts for Good Friday, Easter Saturday, Easter Vigil and Easter Sunday in one sitting. I would normally have kept them as drafts and
    added to them as each day went by but something very strong told me to post them then and there on Holy Thursday.

  7. ” …but clinging to the Cross and Resurrection with an obstinacy wiser than we know.”

    This Time “outside of time”.

    The monk’s “cell of the heart” ever awaiting Christ’s rising…

    ” …allowing God…”

    Thank you, S. Catherine, for sharing this glimpse of your ‘natural environment’. It so enriches our understanding and experiencing of Holy Saturday.

  8. Alexander’s comments on the sense of loss and “where can they be?” after the death of a loved one hits home. Our daughter’s co-worker, now 35, has been battling brain cancer for the past 3 years. Despite all forms of treatment, she is now in the final weeks of her life. There is a sharp divide in reaction amongst those who have faith in the resurrection, and are confident she will move into eternity, as compared with those who believe all is about to end with finality. She, herself, is composed, awaiting what is to come with faith. Holy Saturday is a time of suspended animation, as the blog post suggests, a bit of a barren desert.

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