The National Catholic Review

Most of our lives are spent in Holy Saturday. In other words, most of our days are not filled with the unbearable pain of a Good Friday. Nor are they suffused with the unbelievable joy of an Easter. Some days are indeed times of great pain and some are of great joy, but most are…in between. Most are, in fact, times of waiting, as the disciples waited during Holy Saturday. We’re waiting. Waiting to get into a good school. Waiting to meet the right person. Waiting to get pregnant. Waiting to get a job. Waiting for things at work to improve Waiting for diagnosis from the doctor. Waiting for life just to get better. 

But there are different kinds of waiting. There is the wait of despair. Here we know—at least we think we know—that things could never get better, that God could never do anything with our situations. This may be the kind of waiting that forced the fearful disciples to hide behind closed doors on Holy Saturday, cowering in terror. Of course they could be forgiven; after Jesus was executed they were in danger of being rounded up and executed by the Roman authorities. (Something tells me, though, that the women disciples, who overall proved themselves better friends than the men during the Passion, were more hopeful.) Then there is the wait of passivity, as if everything were up to “fate.” In this waiting there is no despair, but not much anticipation of anything good either. 

Finally, there is wait of the Christian, which is called hope. It is an active waiting; it knows that, even in the worst of situations, even in the darkest times, God is at work. Even if we can’t see it clearly right now. The disciples’ fear was understandable, but we, who know how the story turned out, who know that Jesus will rise from the dead, who know that God is with us, who know that nothing will be impossible for God, are called to wait in faithful hope. And to look carefully for signs of the new life that are always right around the corner--just like they were on Holy Saturday. (Image: The Two Marys Watch the Tomb of Jesus, by James Tissot.)

James Martin, SJ

Comments

Michael Casey | 4/7/2012 - 3:15pm
Thank you Father, that was lovely.  Oddly, it brought to mind Beckett's play "Wating for Godot" which I always thought took place on Holy Saturday. The play is infused with passion references, tremendous fear and pofound, absurd hope.
     Thanks again.
David Pasinski | 4/7/2012 - 10:16am
What was teh waiting like for Magdalene? It seems that she was the first one to overcome the inertia and go forth- whether in fear or despair, she went forward to at least attend to a beloved corpse - with greater love, I'd argue, that the collective... and women are not fit to be priests...? Ah... no,better wait til the MEN decide what course to take... we may still be waiting...
6466379 | 4/11/2012 - 1:06pm
Hey Maria - Don't want to get into an endless "you say, I say" exchange, but one last comment please. I agree when you say, "I don't have to determins on my own what Christ's descent into Hell means." True, one doesn't HAVE to determine what the Church means, simply  accepting what the Church seems to be saying. But because our Church does not know exactly what the descent of the Lord into "the realm of the dead" means, I believe we are free to speculate. Theological speculation is good, even desirable, as long as one remains committed to the definitive declaration of the Church whenever it may come, as to what exactly its teaching that after death Jesus "descended into Hell" means.

If any human person is in Hell is another one of those "ify" questions. If you want, look up my 2/29 Posting on "No Afterlife" to get a clue on what I think about Hell. Don't want to go into it again here.  Thanks for hearing me out.
6466379 | 4/10/2012 - 5:57pm
Maria - Thanks for the comment. Did you ever stop to think what "descending into Hell" might mean? "Hovering"  as I suggested Jesus maybe did, could be seen as "Hell" in that the victorious Jesus was required by the Father to WAIT for the public declaration of his victory, which at Resurrection released him to the acclaim of all the saints waiting to get into heaven, all happening in God's own way and in God's own time. The Article of Faith says that Jesus descended into Hell which I believe and accept. But WHICH Hell? Certainly not to the Hell of the Fallen Angels - somewhere in the Gospel Jesus points out that Hell was created ONLY for the Fallen Angels - not even sure if any human being is there!
6466379 | 4/9/2012 - 4:11pm
It seems to me that everything in creation and obviously all that awaits creation is modeled on that condition in time called Holy Saturday, WAITING. Holy Saturday is now. Everything Waits to happen some of which has already happened, but much of which is yet to happen in the visible and non-visible realm, in spiritual and material realities. Paradoxically love, that we are told God is, although restless, has an infinite capacity to Wait.
We see this in the creation that we know about, itself an act of love, because it is an act of sharing, showing fulfillment in the incalculable length of time it takes evolutionary principles to evolve into working entities. “What’s your hurry?” seems to be the refrain  throughout the indescribable vastness of the universe, into the very Inner Sanctum of the Godhead where a multiplex of indescribability  WAITS to happen!
So, Holy Saturday’s period of waiting is a predictable part of the picture. For me, the bigger question is where was Jesus WAITING? Prayerfully we say “he descended into the realm of the dead (hell), but did he? It was an ancient belief of Judaism (maybe it still is) that the spirit  (soul) of the deceased hovered for three days over the body it once inhabited, departing only when decomposition set in. Did the soul of Jesus, his spirit, hover over his dead body WAITING for the Resurrection, giving clear focus to the innate meaning of Holy Saturday?  I think so!
Holy Saturday is a time to “hover” with Jesus to WAIT with, and for, him. In that sense isn’t every day Holy Saturday, as we are ever in a WAITING mode until he comes again. Thank you Fr. Martin helping to stir these thoughts.  
 
RALPH BREMIGAN | 4/7/2012 - 11:26am
Thanks, Fr. Martin.  I have already emailed the link to your article to several people.  Have a blessed and happy Easter.
Karen Hill | 4/9/2012 - 1:30pm

Let us remember the True Significance of Holy Saturday - Catechism of the Catholic Church:

Christ went down into the depths of death so that ''the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live.''485 Jn 5:25; cf. Mt 12:40; Rom 10:7; Eph 4:9. Jesus, ''the Author of life'', by dying destroyed ''him who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and [delivered] all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong bondage.''486 Heb 2:14-15; cf. Acts 3:15.Henceforth the risen Christ holds ''the keys of Death and Hades'', so that ''at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth.''487 Rev 1:18; Phil 2:10.
Today a great silence reigns on earth, a great silence and a great stillness. A great silence because the King is asleep. The earth trembled and is still because God has fallen asleep in the flesh and he has raised up all who have slept ever since the world began. . . He has gone to search for Adam, our first father, as for a lost sheep. Greatly desiring to visit those who live in darkness and in the shadow of death, he has gone to free from sorrow Adam in his bonds and Eve, captive with him - He who is both their God and the son of Eve. . . ''I am your God, who for your sake have become your son. . . I order you, O sleeper, to awake. I did not create you to be a prisoner in hell. Rise from the dead, for I am the life of the dead.''~ Ancient Homily for Holy Saturday: PG 43, 440A, 452C; LH, Holy Saturday, OR.
JANICE JOHNSON | 4/7/2012 - 1:40pm
Thank you, Fr. Jim, for your beautiful reflection on Christian faith and hope.  Your words this Holy Saturday are very meaningful to me personally.  I can attest to the presence of God "in the darkest of times: and to God's gracious gifts, often given through the mediation of people in our lives.  The gift can even be a ventricular pacemaker-defibrillator!

A blessed Easter!!
david power | 4/7/2012 - 9:10am
Lovely meditation on the meaning of this day!
The Christian varies though, and so is always called back to believe in Jesus just like the Apostles in the Gospels who "believed" in him over and over again.
The actualisation of realities is essential and you have done it well here.
In "Waiting for Godot" Beckett absolutely nailed the drama of Holy Saturday.

Happy Easter! 

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