Holy Saturday –
Easter Vigil, solemnity
“The women saw how his body was laid; and they prepared spices and ointments; and rested the sabbath day according to the commandment.” -Luke 23:55,56
Holy Saturday (in Latin, Sabbatum Sanctum ), the ‘day of the entombed Christ,’ is the Lord’s day of rest, for on that day Christ’s body lay in His tomb.
We recall the Apostle’s Creed which says “He descended unto the dead.” It is a day of suspense between two worlds, that of darkness, sin and death, and that of the Resurrection and the restoration of the Light of the World. For this reason no divine services are held until the Easter Vigil at night.
This day between Good Friday and Easter Day makes present to us the end of one world and the complete newness of the era of salvation inaugurated by the Resurrection of Christ.
The Easter Vigil
“Very early in the morning, they came unto the sepulchre, bringing the spices which they had preparedand they found not the body of the Lord Jesus.” -Luke 24:1,3
The night vigil of Easter signifies Christ’s passage from the dead to the living by the the liturgy which begins in darkness (sin, death) and is enlightened by the fire and the candle representing Lumen Christithe Light of Christjust as the Church, the Mystical Body of Christ, the community of believers, is led from spiritual darkness to the light of His truth.
Christ’s baptism, which our own baptism imitates, is represented during the liturgy by the blessing of the water of baptism by immersing (`burying’) the candle representing His Body into the font.
During the liturgy we recall God’s sparing of the Hebrews whose doors were marked with the blood of the lamb; we are sprinkled with the blessed water by which we were cleansed from original sin through Christ’s sacrifice, and we repeat our baptismal vows, renouncing Satan and all his works.
We rejoice at Christ’s bodily resurrection from the darkness of the tomb; and we pray for our passage from death into eternal life, from sin into grace, from the weariness and infirmity of old age to the freshness and vigor of youth, from the anguish of the Cross to peace and unity with God, and from this sinful world unto the Father in heaven.
The Easter Vigil includes a blessing of water. The water is a sign of purification and of baptism. Holy water, that is, water that has been ceremonially blessed is a sacramental. Sacramentals are “sacred signs which bear a resemblace to the sacraments[by which the faithful are] given access to the stream of divine grace which flows from the paschal mystery of the passion, death, and resurrection of Christthe fountain from which all sacraments and sacramentals draw their power.”
[Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, No. 60. Second Vatican Council Documents]
Some other common sacramentals are blessed palm (and the ashes used on Ash Wednesday made from them), candles, medals, priestly blessings and other prayers. Water blessed during the Easter Vigil is used for baptisms and other blessings.
This water does not last the whole year, so there is a special blessing for holy water used at other times of the year, also. Traditionally the blessing of holy water includes an exorcism, or protection against evil, and the addition of salt, a spiritual symbol of wisdom which preserves our faith.
Catholic churches have basins or `fonts’ containing holy water near the entrance so that believers can dip their fingers in it before making the sign of the cross as they enter the House of God as a symbol of purification.
This simple gesture reminds believers of their consecration to Christ in baptism, and visibly indicates their acceptance of the Catholic faith.
The Light of Christ (Lumen Christi)
The Paschal candle represents Christ, the Light of the World: “I am the light of the world. He that followeth me walketh not in darkness” [John 8:12].
The pure beeswax of which the candle is made represents the sinless Christ who was formed in the womb of his Mother. The wick signifies his humanity, the flame, his divine nature, both soul and body.
Five grains of incense inserted into the candle in the form of a cross recall the aromatic spices with which his Sacred Body was prepared for the tomb, and of the five wounds in his hands, feet, and side.
During the Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday night the priest or deacon carries the candle in procession into the dark church. A new fire, symbolizing our eternal life in Christ, is kindled which lights the candle.
The candle, representing Christ himself, is blessed by the priest who then inscribes in it a cross, the first letters and last of the Greek alphabet, (Alpha and Omega `the beginning and the end’) and the current year, as he chants the prayer below; then affixes the five grains of incense.
The Easter candle is the largest and most beautiful in the Church.
It is a reminder of the Risen Redeemer “who shining in light left the tomb.”
It is lighted each day during Mass throughout the Paschal season until Ascension Thursday.