Saturday, April 3, 2010

Holy Saturday & Easter Vigil

Holy Saturday is the final day of Holy Week, the final day of the traditional 40 day Lenten Fast, and a part of the Triduum, and commemorates Jesus lying in the tomb until his resurrection on Easter Sunday. In 2010, Holy Saturday falls on the morning and afternoon of April 3.


Holy Saturday, Sabbatum Sanctum in Latin, is the last day of Holy Week, and the 40th day of the traditional fast of Lent, although Lent ends liturgically on the evening of Holy Thursday. The evening of Holy Saturday begins the third and final day of the Paschal Triduum. In the Western Church, no Masses are said on Holy Saturday, and the day is essentially a liturgically sparse time of reflection upon Christ's death and burial in anticipation of the Great Vigil of Easter (Paschal Vigil). The vigil usually begins the night of Holy Saturday, lasting until Easter morning. Very little happens on Holy Saturday, that is until the beginning of the Great Paschal Vigil.

There is deep symbolism upon which we can reflect on Holy Saturday. On this day, the Church waits at the Lord's tomb, and meditates on His Passion and Death and His descent into Hell. With prayer and fasting we await His glorious Easter resurrection. Mary is also a Holy Saturday symbol. According to Catholic tradition, Mary represents the entire body of the Church. As she awaited in faith for the victorious triumph of Her Son over death on the first Holy Saturday, so we too wait with Mary on the present Holy Saturday. This faithful and prayerful symbolic waiting has been called the Ora della Madre or Hour of the Mother.


In the earliest days, there was no special celebration on Holy Saturday, except perhaps anticipation of the all-night Paschal Vigil. Eventually this emphasis on preparation for the Great Vigil became more emphasized.

Easter Vigil

On Holy Saturday the Church meditates on the suffering and death of Jesus. Then the Church gathers to celebrate the Easter Vigil. The celebration of the Easter Vigil should take place at night, beginning after nightfall or ending before the dawn of Sunday.

The Easter Vigil has four parts: The Service of Light; the Liturgy of the Word; the Liturgy of Baptism; and the Liturgy of the Eucharist.

During the Service of Light, all the lights in the church are turned off and a fire is prepared outside the church. Then the fire is blessed and the Paschal Candle is lighted from the new fire. The candle is carried into the dark church. It is a sign of Christ, the Light of the World, who has overcome the darkness of sin and death. The lighted Paschal Candle provides the only illumination. Then, from the flame of the Paschal Candle, members of the congregation light the small candles that they are holding. The flame is passed from person to person until everyone is holding a lighted candle. The light from the Paschal Candle and all the small candles provides the only illumination in the church during this portion of the liturgy. This section concludes with the singing of the Easter Proclamation, the Exsultet.

During the Liturgy of the Word, the story of God's great love for us is proclaimed in readings from the Old and New Testaments. There are seven Old Testaments texts. Although it would be preferable that all seven Old Testament readings be proclaimed, the number of readings may be reduced if the circumstances necessitate. However, three Old Testament readings should be proclaimed. Minimally, two Old Testament readings must be proclaimed. The readings recall the great events of salvation, beginning with creation itself and were selected to dispose people to celebrate the sacraments of Christian initiation with great faith.

During the Liturgy of Baptism, those who have been preparing for Baptism and their godparents are called forward. The priest and ministers then go to the baptismal font", if this can be seen by the congregation. Otherwise a vessel of water is placed in the sanctuary. After the candidates are baptized, all present stand with lighted candles and renew their baptismal promises as a sign that they share the new life of Jesus through his resurrection. The newly baptized and confirmed await their first sharing in the Eucharist.

The Easter Vigil concludes with the celebration of the Eucharist. This is a joyous sharing in the sacrificial meal of Jesus Christ, Lord and Risen Savior.

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