Holy Saturday 2015

Holy Saturday is a day out of time, a day for doing nothing, because God is acting — powerfully, incomprehensibly, mercifully — while the earth remains silent and still, awaiting the Resurrection. In the past, I’ve said that the whole of monastic life is lived in Holy Saturday mode (see here or here) and I was thinking principally about the fact that we are suspended between heaven and hell, going on as best we can, placing all our hope in the God we cannot see; but I begin to think that the connection is both simpler and more mysterious. Holy Saturday is traditionally associated with the Harrowing of Hell, when Christ descended into the underworld to free the spirits of the just who had died before his coming. It is a day of mercy, and all of us live by the mercy of God. That is what we really mean by Holy Saturday as a day of waiting, a day when we await the mercy of God.

Initial D: The Harrowing of Hell

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The tenderness of this illustration, as Christ takes the spirits in Sheol by the hand and leads them out into the light, would melt the heart of anyone. It makes me wonder why we are sometimes so anxious to consign others to hell. Don’t we all long for God to be merciful to us? Haven’t we enough sins of our own to worry about, without condemning those of others? Perhaps, today, we could spend a moment or two thinking about how we judge others, and the harm we sometimes do by imprisoning them in our judgement of them.

Tonight, during the Exsultet, we’ll sing of the felix culpa, the happy fault, the necessary sin of Adam, which brought us such and so great a Redeemer. It is theology trembling on the brink of heresy, breath-taking in its conception of God’s wisdom and mercy. Holy Saturday reminds us that sin and death are no barrier to God. He will lead us into everlasting light, if we will but let him.

Note on the illustration
Unknown
: Initial D: The Harrowing of Hell, mid-1200s, Tempera colours, gold leaf, and ink on parchment
Leaf: 23.5 x 16.5 cm (9 1/4 x 6 1/2 in.)
 The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, Ms. 14, fol. 110 Used by permission under the Open Content Scheme, with thanks.

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23 thoughts on “Holy Saturday 2015”

  1. Thank you so much for this thoughtful blog, Dame Catherine. We need to be reminded about God’s mercy and forgiveness but at the same time being mindful of our own short-comings in the way we relate to others.

  2. What a beautiful, tender picture. I shall try to hold it in mind as, on this waiting day out of time, we try to cram all of Holy Week into a Messy Church this afternoon!

  3. Thank you for this……

    Today has always seemed an odd day to me – it feels as tho’ we’re in limbo, waiting……

    You’ve just made sense of it…..

    I’ve always thought I’d love to be able to keep EASTER as it should be kept…… Maybe one day…..

    Jx

  4. thanks so much for this! What a wonderful thought that felix culpa is trembling on the edge of heresy. Will think of that all day. I love the Exultet, and it is the only mention of bees in all the liturgy. A fact I will be telling every bee I meet today, rain permitting!

  5. Thank you for a wonderful post. Thank you for Deuteronomy. Thank you for being in my life with your wisdom. Tomorrow, thanks to my kind priest, I will receive communion for the first time on Easter Sunday he will come to me after mass I have so much to be thankful for.

  6. It seems to me sister that if a body is heading quite enthusiastically & violently to the place I shall not name then to merely state it is not to stand in judgement. Anymore than to state that it is raining is indicative of casting a judgement upon the rain, it just is as things stand!

    • You can know that it is raining. How can you know that God has consigned anyone to hell? You can’t. You make a judgement about it; and very often, the judgements we make are based on imperfect knowledge (who can know what a man has inside him, except the man himself, as St Paul says) and our own prejudices (literally, praeiudicium, advance judgement).

  7. Hmmm, is all I can say to congregation leaders who are so intent on analysing someone’s enthusiastic descent into the fires of hell over keeping a good eye on the safety & well-being of their other ‘vulnerable’ parishioners. That & running before you done learned enough about the world to be able to spiritually walk!

    • I find your remark a little difficult to understand, but I gather you think me a spiritual midget without any insight or knowledge of God or the world? I won’t argue against that. But I still maintain you are wrong to think you know whether God will consign a particular person to hell.

      • Once a long time ago when I was a baby Protestant Christian I knew quite clearly who was going to hell.
        Then God intervened.
        I wouldn’t judge anyone now.
        I have sat with murdersers and become friends with them.
        I have ministered to paedophiles.
        I have spent quite a long time in prisons over the years.
        I wouldn’t judge any if them or consign them by my judgement to hell.
        What do I know of others?
        Nothing.

      • Dear Digital Nun,

        it is possible to be very very mature in certain aspects of god’s work and be a virtually an infant in other aspects of god’s work. I no doubt am a babe in arms when it comes to the art of forgiveness and steadfast stolid patience. But when it comes to the type of wickedness that has an inevitable end alas I am almost as old as Methuselah!

        • Dear Missy we do not know the inevitable end of anything.
          Jesus teaches us two things.
          1. Let him who is without sin cast the first stone
          This in itself precludes us judging anyone more than that the person brought before him was in the eyes if the accusers destined for hell. Jesus smiled and sent her on her way telling her to sin no more.
          2. On the Cross, after all the wickedness perpetrated against Jesus, he asked his Father to forgive them all. That means they were forgiven.

          Forgiveness not judgement is the key here. You may also have made a mistake in thinking Nuns are innocent and naive – they aren’t!
          I am certainly not innocent in the ways of the world.

          If you are talking here about yourself there is nothing God cannot forgive. If you are talking about others then we cannot judge them. Can we?

          • We have an abundance of impoverished inner city situations in which the fact that folk where on the inevitable slippery slope to hell was clear cut. If you’re dead by the age of seventeen or sixteen or twenty-three I don’t think the priest gets much time to debate or judge whether hell is where your drug dealing, thieving ways are taking you, do you?
            This conversation isn’t really about the naivety of nuns, it’s about facing what is going on in our world outside of those circles where people philosophise endlessly about the principles of religious belief, as opposed to the practical aspects of religious practice.

        • Dear Missy we do not know the inevitable end of anything.
          Jesus teaches us two things.
          1. Let him who is without sin cast the first stone
          This in itself precludes us judguping anyone more than that the person brought before him was in the eyes if the accusers destined for hell. Jesus smiled and sent her on her way telling her to sin no more.
          2. On the Cross after all the wickedness perpetrated against Jesus said his Father to forgive them all. That means they were forgiven.

          Forgiveness not judgement is the key here. You may also have made a mistake in thinking Nuns are innocent and naive – they aren’t!
          I am certainly not innocent in the ways of the world.

          If you are talking here about yourself there is nothing God cannot forgive. If you are talking about others then we cannot judge them. Can we?

  8. Thank you so much for today’s thoughts on Holy Saturday and indeed for all your thoughts on the whole of Passontide. Food for thought indeed – very much appreciated.

  9. Like Margaret Martin above, I too was struck by the phrase ‘trembling on the brink of heresy’ and I’ve chased around the internet to find the name of the heresy that is connected with the Exsultet- to no avail, though I’ve come across a number of interesting ones on the journey!

    I hope you might be patient enough to provide an explanation? Thank you – and Happy Easter!

    • I was referring to the way in which the Exsultet refers to the ‘happy fault’ of Adam’s sin, ‘the necessary sin of Adam’. If you think about it, to describe sin in those terms is to tremble on the brink of saying sin is good because it won for us our Redeemer, Christ.

      • Yes, that was the thought that HAD occurred to me. I had wondered if that particular heresy went by a name?
        The other thought that had flitted across was that it could also be interpreted as positing the idea that original sin had deliberately been built into creation – which seemed even more crass.
        Thank you for your reply.

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