When I was growing up we started Easter Vacation on Thursday. But it was not vacation. No, that actually started on Easter Monday. For the next three days it was church and more church. Mass on Holy Thursday was lots of incense and feet washing. Good Friday was dour, lots of purple, the saying of the Stations of the Cross. And Holy Saturday was lots of ‘Let us kneel’ and ‘Let us stand,’ and ‘Let us pray,’ [maybe not in that order] preparing was how I always thought of it.
Then one Easter, I must not have been paying attention, sometime in the 80’s, Holy Saturday went away, and I feel the loss. We knew the Good News was coming, but Holy Saturday was the final wrap-up. To appreciate. To think. To meditate. It was one more opportunity to look into the darkness, to see the despair, to know that at one time there was little hope for redemption or salvation. That there had been only waiting. But the waiting was almost over.
Now, Saturday is the Easter Vigil. A long, long, event with the lighting of the first fire, the lighting of the Paschal candle, baptism and confirmation if we have RCIA candidates. Long. But there is no step in between the awfulness of Good Friday–to die on a cross, to hang suspended by nails in your hands and feet, to wait for that moment when the pain and suffering of the moment ends–to Easter. Christ dies and YAY, he is Risen.
When we were in Massachusetts, attending St. Edward the Confessor church, I joined the liturgy committee. A Ph.D in Theology from Boston College came once a week for three or four months and helped us to understand how the liturgy had evolved from the first Christians in the catacombs to the present time. Mostly it was of the Western civilization bent, before the mass was codified in the Roman Catholic church as we know it today. Although that changed with Vatican II and opening the windows–when some people wanted to open the doors too. To me, Vatican II was never about change but about letting both Catholics and non-Catholics learn about who we are, what we are. I came to understand it was big risk, but not as big as leaving the Church as an impenetrable monolith, feared and mysterious.
I think we took a big risk too, getting rid of Holy Saturday. The journey for the Jews and Christ’s followers was not an easy one–it was arduous, fraught with terror and fear, open to seeing the worst of mankind as those in authority tried to suppress this new faith.
Although my knees are not good, I do miss standing shoulder to shoulder with friends and family on a Saturday night, and Father intoning from the altar, ‘Let us kneel’ and ‘Let us stand,’ and ‘Let us pray.’ More than ever we should feel the need to kneel and pray as we too wait in hope for redemption and salvation.