Holy Saturday is a day of grief and mourning, of patient waiting and hoping. With Mary and the disciples, we grieve the death of the most important member of our Christian community. The faith of Mary and the disciples was strongly challenged on that first Holy Saturday as they awaited the resurrection.
When the full impact of the death of friends and loved ones fully hits us, it has the potential to stun, dull, and crush the human heart. It can immobilize us from action and thought. If we are people without faith and hope, the experience of confusion, grief and loss has the potential to kill us.
Today we reflect on that period of confusion and silence, between the sadness of the cross and the joy of Easter. From the bewilderment of Jesus' disciples to the great faith of Mary, we examine our own lives in light of the great “Sabbath of Time” and draw courage from Mary’s example to face the future with deep hope, patience, love and interior peace.
At the end of this long day of waiting, we celebrate the mother of all liturgies, a true feast for the senses. The Church gathers in darkness and lights a new fire and a great candle that will make this night bright for us. We listen to our ancient Scriptures: stories of creation, Abraham and Isaac, Moses and Miriam and the crossing of the sea, poems of promise and rejoicing, and the story of the empty tomb. We see, hear, taste, feel the newness of God in Jesus Christ, risen from the dead. In the “Mother of all liturgies” the past and present meet, death and life embrace and life is triumphant; we reject evil and renew our baptismal promises to God.
On Holy Saturday, many of us are far too busy with Easter preparations than reflecting on the significance of this day. We do not take the necessary time to grieve, ponder and enter into the mind and heart of Mary and the disciples on that first Holy Saturday.
I am very grateful to one of my good friends and Basilian confrères, Fr. Robert Crooker, CSB, who taught me years ago about the mystery and meaning of Holy Saturday. Fr. Crooker is a retired professor of Canon Law from our Basilian University of St. Thomas in Houston, Texas. Though now in his eighties, this priest is a great example of one who has remained “evergreen” in his faith, spirituality, outlook, and love of the Church. He is one of those special persons with whom one can discuss the deepest spiritual and religious matters in simple, profound, wise and always hopeful ways. Fr. Crooker sent me the following text back in 1990, which I have read every year since on Holy Saturday. His words can help us appreciate more deeply the significance of this great day of watching and waiting.
Our Lady’s Sabbath
Fr. Robert Crooker, CSB
I've read your book now, Luke, and even though you asked me to correct or amplify those parts about the days before my son began to teach and preach in Galilee, not one line of it would I change. But oh, the memories it stirred! I never tire of thinking back on all he did and said, and weighing it anew within my heart. Even the things that you had learned from me came to me with new force. A case in point: I told you when we found him in the Temple, we did not understand, Joseph and I, the word he spoke to us, how he must be about his Father's business; but now it seems to me that everything he said was full of deeper meanings than we grasped, and only on the Last Day shall we know all that he meant.
You know Elizabeth said to me at our visit, "Blest is she who has believed." The more I think on that, the plainer it becomes that my belief is dearer than my motherhood itself. (You also wrote how Jesus told that woman, the one who called the womb that bore him happy, that happier are they who hear God's Word and keep it.) True indeed it was that day that God Almighty did great things for me, but greater yet are those God has done since, although in ways so hidden and sublime no human words can tell, even to one so docile to God's Spirit as are you!
And so it was, my thoughts turned as I read to something that you scarcely touched upon: the Sabbath when my son lay in the tomb (of which you say no more than that we kept the rest according to the Law's command). That was the day the Spirit poured on me such gifts of faith and hope as to surpass, if such may be, the very ones the Spirit gave at Pentecost in tongues of holy fire. When we had buried Jesus' body, John insisted that I not go to my home, but come to spend the Sabbath rest with him. We said but little to each other there, and if we sought to speak our voices failed. And yet, for all the grief and pain that pierced my heart that night, there was a certitude and peace beyond expression that I would have shared with him, so desolate he seemed, had I but found the words. (My son himself was much like that the day that Joseph died: we sat, he held my hand, we wept together, yet almost nothing did he find to say. I wondered, later, that he chose to speak so much to Martha at her brother's tomb, more than to me at Joseph's death-- but then my Joseph has to wait for the Last Day to rise, and so the case was not the same.)
Mary and Martha had, of course, told me the words he spoke as he prepared to call their brother from his grave, especially that phrase so deeply graven in their minds: "I am the Resurrection and the Life." It was those very words that came to me the afternoon I stood and watched him die: I asked within myself as once I had to Gabriel long before, "How can this be?" The answer was the same: with God all things are possible. So, as I sat next day, and weighed these words again within my heart, even amid the darkness and the pain, they seemed to me most certain, and my soul did magnify my Savior God the more.
Do not misunderstand: I knew not then just how it all would happen on the morrow. But when they went with spices to the tomb, I sensed within that it would not be right for me to go along and seek him there. In all the wild confusion of that day, I stayed at John's, and while they dashed about with half-believed reports that he was risen, he came himself to share with me his joy and let me glimpse the blessed, glorious light that radiated from his precious wounds.
Yet even then, I somehow could not touch: He spoke to me as through some mystic veil that hung between the mortal and the Risen. (It was the same, I later heard, with Mary of Magdala, who met him in the garden beside the tomb.) When afterwards they told of how he made poor Thomas feel his hands and side, I wondered why it was that I, who bore him in my womb and at my breast had nurtured him, was not allowed to touch and others were. I've pondered that, and now I see a reason for it: the Apostles are sent to tell the world what they have heard and seen and touched, but I was called to be perfect disciple, steadfast in belief even that day when he who is called "Rock" was shaken, and had first to be restored before he could confirm his brothers' faith. Thus even in his rising he has left his mother here to walk by faith, not sight, until he shall return to take her home. It will not be much longer now, I think, before I share his glory to the full and drink with great delight the joys that he prepares for me.
The Sabbath is not kept, these days, the way it was when I was young; my son himself was never strict on that the way my parents were, and now of course his followers prefer to celebrate the first day of the week, to mark the day he arose triumphant over death. I know that this is right; yet all the same I love to keep the holy rest each week, and recollect with awe and thankfulness the graces of that blest but dreadful day when I, alone unshaken, held within my heart the faith of God's new Israel.
Father Thomas Rosica, CSB
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