15 April [Holy Saturday, Vigil Mass of Easter Sunday]
After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for His appearance was like lightning and his clothing white as snow. For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, 'He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.' This is my message for you.”
There is no Eucharist of Holy Saturday. The altars are stripped bare, tabernacles lie open and empty – an extraordinarily powerful symbol for Catholics. The whole Church is one with Christ in his death. It is necessary to experience this. We have to allow ourselves to experience sadness and loss. The Liturgy is a wise teacher.
However, piety immediately negates the power of the empty tabernacle by setting up an ‘altar of repose’, much more elaborately decorated with flowers and lighted candles than the high altar ever was. We find it hard to live even for a day with anything that seems like emptiness.
George Steiner, among others, remarked that our world around us today is a kind of prolonged Holy Saturday: the age between Friday and Sunday, between defeat and hope. Today, of all days, the Christian heart feels the darkness of the world, and allows itself to look at the darkness in itself.
The emptiness and darkness that we have allowed ourselves to feel will show us the light of Easter all the more brightly. In the darkness we rise for the Easter Vigil. Against a black sky we light the Easter fire. But this would be a forlorn gesture if Christ were not risen from the dead! Suddenly the Paschal candle is alight. Lumen Christi! – the light of Christ lightens our darkness. Exultet! – “Exult, all creation...! Rejoice, O earth, in shining splendour, radiant in the brightness of your King.... Darkness vanishes forever...! Let this place resound with joy, echoing the mighty song of all God's people!”
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