HOLY SATURDAY

Out of the Darkness!
by
Abbe Dom Prosper Gueranger

    The quiet of the tomb causes us to continue to reflect in a somber mood during this Third and Final Day of the Easter Triduum as we anticipate the glorious hour when the Gloria rings out, the statues are unshrouded, glorious white lilies are placed on and around the high altar to announce to all that He has risen as He said, Alleluia! Alleluia! But before that moment, the Mystical Body of Christ must traverse through the darkness as the rubrics convey until we are guided by the Light of Christ: Lumen Christi and the great Litany of the Saints is chanted to remind us of our duty as members of the Church Militant in the great Communion of Saints.

      Editor's Note: Because of the spiritual importance of the entire Liturgical Season of Lent, we are bringing you excerpts for this penitential season focusing today on the culmination of Lent with Holy Saturday, the third day of the Easter Triduum with excerpts below taken from Volume 6, pages 546-640. We have thus turned to the most traditional and practical Catholic source available, none other than the inspired and motivating words of the esteemed Abbot of Solesmes Dom Prosper Louis Pascal Gueranger, renowned for his masterful work The Liturgical Year, which is often considered the Summa for the Church's Liturgy in History, Mystery and Practice. It is in those areas that we feel it is important to address in order to help readers live as better Catholics in knowing, living, and applying their Faith to the fullest and giving to Christ and His Blessed Mother all that they can. Few capture the essence as this humble but brilliant abbot who is known simply as "the Gardener of the Canticles of Eternity."

    "Let us not here omit to notice, that the putting out of all the lights in the church is a symbol of the abrogation of the old Law, which ended with the rending of the veil of the temple; and that the new fire represents the preaching of the new Law, whereby our Lord Jesus Christ, the light of the world, fulfilled all the figures of the ancient Covenant."

    ...The soldiers may watch, as best they will, over that grave: they cannot hold Jesus prisoner, as soon as the moment fixed for His Resurrection comes. The holy angels are there, profoundly adoring the lifeless Body of Him, whose Blood is to reconcile all things, both on earth, and in heaven.(1)-{Col. i. 20.} This Body, though for a brief interval separated from the Soul, is still united to the Person of the Son of God; so likewise the Soul, during its separation from the Body, has not for an instant lost its union with the Word. The Divinity remains also united with the Blood which lies sprinkled on Calvary, and which, at the moment of the Resurrection of the Man-God, is to enter once more into His sacred veins.

    ...The sight of this tomb, wherein His Body lies lifeless and cold, teaches us something far more important than the power of death: it reveals to us the immense, the incomprehensible love of God for man. He knew that we were to gain by His humiliations; the greater His humiliations, the greater our exaltation: this was His principle, and it led Him to what seems like an excess! Let us, then, love this sacred sepulcher, which is to give us life. We have thanked Him for having died for us upon the cross; let us thank Him, but most feelingly, for having humbled Himself, for our sake, even to the tomb! (pages 546-547)

Blessing of the New Fire and Incense

    Our Lord said of Himself: 'I am the light of the world.' (1)- {St. John viii. 12} Light, then is an image of the Son of God. Stone, also, is one of the types under which the Scriptures speak to us of the Messias. St. Peter (1)-{1 St. Peter ii. 6}, and St. Paul, (2)-{Eph. ii. 20}, quoting the words of the prophet Isaias, (3)-{Is. xxviii. 16}, speak of Jesus as the Corner-Stone. The spark which is struck from the flint represents our Lord rising from His rock-hewn sepulcher, through the stone that had been rolled against it.

    ...Let us not here omit to notice, that the putting out of all the lights in the church is a symbol of the abrogation of the old Law, which ended with the rending of the veil of the temple; and that the new fire represents the preaching of the new Law, whereby our Lord Jesus Christ, the light of the world, fulfilled all the figures of the ancient Covenant.(pages 553-554)

    The Church also blesses the five grains of incense, which are to be used in this morning's Service. They represent the perfumes prepared by Magdalene and her holy companions for embalming the Body of Jesus. The prayer said by the bishop, when blessing the incense, not only shows us the connection there is between it and the light, but it also teaches us what is the power these several sacred objects have against the wicked spirits. (page 555)

The Paschal Candle

    ...The Church has provided a torch, which is to spread its light upon us during the whole of this long vigil. It is of an unusual size. It stands alone, and is of a pillar-like form. It is the symbol of Christ. Before being lighted, its scriptural type is the pillar of a cloud, which hid the Israelites when they went out from Egypt; under this form, it is the figure of our Lord, when lying lifeless in the tomb. When lighted, we must see in it both the pillar of fire which guided the people of God, and the glory of our Jesus risen from His grave. Our holy mother the Church would have us enthusiastically love this glorious symbol, and speaks its praise to us in all the magnificence of her inspired eloquence... (page 560)

    ...Whilst these rites (Baptism of the catechumens) are being administered to the catechumens, the rest of the faithful are listening to appropriate passages from the Scripture, which are being read from the ambo, and which are the complement to the lenten instructions.

    These lessons are twelve in number... In order to fix the attention, and excite the devotion of her children to what she reads to them, the Church, after each lesson, recites a prayer, which sums up the doctrine expressed in the preceding prophecy... Frequent genuflections, and the somber-colored vestments, strongly contrast with the beautiful flame of the Paschal torch, which sheds it silent beams of light upon the faithful. Their hearts are still throbbing with the emotions excited within them by the Exsultet: they are impatient to see their Jesus' Resurrection fulfilled in the Baptism of the catechumens. (page 568)

Editor's Note: For the Twelve Prophecies, Blessing of the Font and Litany of Saints, see the links below:

Holy Mass

  • Holy Sacrifice of the Mass - Easter Vigil

        ...During this time [when the Kyrie eleison is being sung] the bishop [or priest] is reciting, at the foot of the altar, the usual psalm and prayers; and then, ascending to the altar, he offers the homage of incense to the Most High. Hence, an Introit, which on other occasions, is sung by the choir during the procession from the secretarium to the altar, is not needed. (page 626)

        The censing of the altar is finished: and then - Oh, glorious triumph of our risen Jesus! - the priest sings forth, in a transport of joy: Gloria in excelsis Deo! The hitherto silent bells peal to the glad angelic hymn. The enthusiasm of our holy faith has mastered every heart, making it beat with emotion. The people take up the heavenly canticle, and continue it to the end; and then the bishop [the priest] sings the collect. (pages 626-627)

        The Communion over, the bishop [or priest if there is no bishop present] ends the holy Sacrifice with a prayer, in which he beseeches God to unite us all to each other in a spirit of fraternal charity, seeing that we all participate in the celebration of the Pasch... The signal for departure being given by the deacon, in the bishop's departure being given by the deacon, in the bishop's name, the faithful leave the church, and return to their homes, there to remain till they reassemble for the holy Sacrifice, which is again to be offered up in a still more solemn celebration of this the Feast of feasts, the Pasch of the Resurrection. (page 633)

    Evening Vespers

        The description we have been giving of the magnificent ceremonies of Baptism, has made us forget the sepulcher wherein reposes the Body of our crucified Jesus. Let us return thither in thought, for the hour of His Resurrection has not yet come. Let us devote a few moments to meditation on the mystery of the three days, during which the Soul of our Redeemer was separated from His Body. We went, this morning, to visit the tomb, where lies our buried Jesus; we adored that sacred Body, which Magdalene and her companions are preparing to honor, by anointing it early on the morrow. Now let us offer the tribute of our profound adoration to the Soul of our divine Master. It is not in the tomb, where His Body is: let us follow it to the place where it lives during these hours of separation.

        In the center of the earth there are four immense regions, into which no one living can ever enter: it is only by divine revelation that we know of their existence. The farthest from us is the hell of the damned, the frightful abode where satan and his angels and the reprobate are suffering eternal torments. It is here that the prince of darkness is ever forming his plots against God and His creatures. Nearer to us, is the limbo wherein are detained the souls of children, who departed this world before being regenerated. The opinion which has met most favor from the Church is that these souls suffer no torment; and that, although they can never enjoy the beatific vision, yet are they enjoying a natural happiness, and one that is proportionate to their desires. Above the abode of these children, is the place of expiation, where souls that have departed this life in the state of grace cleanse themselves from any stains of lesser sins, or satisfy for the debt of temporal punishment still due to divine justice. And lastly, still nearer to us, is the limbo where are kept from heaven the saints who died under the old Law. Here are our first parents, Abel, Noe, Abraham, Moses, David, and the prophets; the just Gentiles, such as that great saint of Arabia, Job; and those holy personages who were closely connected with our Lord, such as Joachim and Anne, the parents of His blessed Mother, Joseph her spouse and His own foster-father, and John His precursor, together with his holy parents Zachary and Elizabeth.

        Until such time as the gate of Heaven shall have been opened by the Blood of the Redeemer, none of the just can ascend thither. How holy soever they might have been during this life, they must descend into limbo after death. We meet with innumerable passages of the old Testament, where mention is made of hell (that is, that portion of the regions in the center of the earth which we call limbo) as being the abode of even the holiest of God's servants: it is the abode of even the holiest of God's servants: it is only in the new Testament that Heaven is spoken of as being the bode of men. The limbo of the just is not one of torment, beyond that of expectation and captivity. The souls that dwell there are confirmed in captivity. The souls that dwell there are confirmed in grace, and are sure of enjoying, at some future period, an infinite happiness; they resignedly bear this long banishment, which is a consequence of Adam's sin; and, as they see the time drawing nigh for their deliverance, their joy is beyond all we can imagine.

        The Son of God has subjected Himself to every thing, save sin, that our human nature has to suffer or undergo: it is by His Resurrection that He is to triumph, it is by His Ascension alone that He is to open the gates of heaven: hence, His Soul, having been separated from His Body by death, was to descend into the depths of the earth, and become a companion with the holy exiles there. He had said of Himself: 'The Son of Man shall be in the heart of the earth three days and three nights.' (1)- {St. Matt. xii. 40} What must have been the joy of these countless saints! And how majestic must have been the entrance of our Emmanuel into their abode! No sooner did our Jesus breathe His last upon the cross, than the limbo of the saints was illumined with heavenly splendor. The Soul of the Redeemer, united to the Divinity of the Word, descended thither, and changed it from a place of banishment into a very paradise. Thus did He fulfill the promise He had made to the good thief: 'This day shalt thou be with Me in paradise.'

        The happy hour, so long expected by these saints, has come! What tongue could tell their joy, their admiration, and their love, as they behold the Soul of Jesus, who thus comes among them to share and close their exile! He looks complacently on this countless number of His elect, this fruit of four thousand years of His grace, this portion of His Church purchased by His Blood, and to which the merits of His Blood were applied by the mercy of His eternal Father even before it was shed on Calvary! Let us who hope, on our departure from this world, to ascend to Him, who has gone to prepare a place for us in Heaven,(2)-{St. John xiv. 2} joyfully congratulate these our holy ancestors. Let us also adore the condescension of our Emmanuel, Who deigns to spend these three days in the heart of the earth, that so He might sanctify every condition of our nature, and take upon Himself even what was but a transient state of our existence.

        But the Son of God would have this His visit to the regions beneath our earth to be a manifestation of His sovereign power. His soul does not, it is true, descend into the hell of satan, but He makes His power felt there. The prince of this world is now forced to bend his knee and humble himself.(1)-{Phil. ii. 10} In this Jesus, whom he has instigated the Jews to crucify, he now recognizes the Son of God. Man is saved, death is conquered, sin is effaced. Henceforth, it is not to the 'bosom of Abraham', but to heaven itself that the souls of the just made perfect shall ascend, there to reign, together with the faithful angels, with Christ their divine Head. The reign of idolatry is to be at an end: the altars, whereon men have offered incense to satan, are to be destroyed. The house of the strong one is to be entered by his divine Adversary, and his goods are to be rifled.(2)-{St. Matt. xii. 20} The hand-writing of our condemnation is snatched from the serpent.(3)-{Col. ii. 14} The cross, which he had so exultingly prepared for the Just One, has been his overthrow; or, as St. Anthony so forcibly expresses it, it is the bait thrown out to the leviathan, which he took, and taking it, was conquered.

        The Soul of our Jesus makes its presence felt also by the just who dwell in the abode of expiation. It mercifully alleviates their sufferings, and shortens their purgatory. Many of them re delivered altogether, and numbered with the saints in limbo, where they spend the forty days, between this and the Ascension in the happy expectation of ascending to heaven with their Deliverer. It is not contrary to the principles of faith to suppose, as several learned theologians have taught, that the visit of the Man-God to limbo was a source of blessing and consolation to the abode of unregenerated children, and that they then received a promise that the time would come, when they should be reunited to their bodies, and, after the day of judgment, be placed in a happier land than that in which divine justice now holds them captives.

        We adore Thee, O holy Soul of our Redeemer, for having deigned to pass these hours with Thy saints, our fathers, in the heart of the earth. We extol Thy goodness and love shown towards these Thy elect, whom Thou hast made to be Thine own brethren. We give Thee thanks for that Thou didst humble our enemy: oh, give us grace to conquer him! But now, dearest Jesus, it is time for Thee to rise from Thy tomb, and reunite Thy Soul to Thy Body. Heaven and earth await Thy Resurrection; the Church, Thy bride, has already sung the Alleluia of her glad expectation: rise, then, from Thy grave, O Jesus, our Life! Triumph over death, and reign our King for ever! (pages 636-640)

      Editor's Note: Space does not permit the full scope of all that Abbe Gueranger wrote for Holy Saturday(from pages 520 to 644)and we would hope this would serve as an impetus to also encourage you to invest in The Liturgical Year from St. Bonaventure Publications for your own edification, education and spiritual inspiration year in and year out.





    Reflections by Dom Prosper Gueranger for Holy Saturday