|Instructions for Holy Saturday|
by Leonard Goffine, 1871
Why is this day called Holy Saturday?
Because on this day Jesus, the Holy of Holiest, through whom we also should become holy, rested in the sepulchre, and because the Church to-day receives the blessed baptismal water, by which the unbaptized is born again to a new, holy life, which is also indicated by the blessed fire and the Easter-Candle.
Why is new fire struck from a flint, blessed, and the lamps and candles in the Church lighted from it?
In old times it was customary to strike a new fire, bless it, and light the candles by it every day, and later every Saturday; it is said, that in the eleventh century this ceremony was restricted to Holy Saturday. The fire is struck from a stone to indicate, that Christ is the light of the world, and the stone which the Jews rejected, has now become the corner stone of His Church (Ps. cxvii. 22.); that the divine Son, the light of the world, was apparently extinguished at His death, but at His resurrection shone anew; that all those who in Church to-day are physically lighted by this fire, may one day be filled anew, in the future life, with spiritual light. This fire is blessed, because the Church blesses every thing that is used in her service in Church, and because the light and fire used in Church must be holy, for they represent Christ, who brought the fire of love upon earth with which to enkindle our hearts. (Luke xii. 49.)
What is represented by the triple candlestick?
The triple candlestick represents the most Holy Trinity of which the second Divine Person came down to earth as the true light. For this reason the priest (or deacon), sings three times at the lighting of each candle: Lumen Christi, "Light of Christ," and kneeling three times humbly adores the Triune Deity, and especially the true divine light of Christ for which he says Deo gratias, "Thanks be to God".
What is the Easter-Candle?
It is an emblem of Christ, who has risen from death, of whom the pillar of fire which led the children of Israel out of the bondage of Egypt, was a prototype, as Christ, the true light, has led us from the bondage of Satan into the freedom of the children of God. The five holes in the candle represent the five wounds of Jesus by which mankind was healed (i. Pet. ii. 24.), and the five grains of frankincense signify the spices with which the body of our Lord was embalmed.
Why are the Easter-Candle and all the others lighted from the triple candle?
To show that Christ was begotten by the Father of light from all eternity, and is therefore true God from true God, light from light--that from God, through Christ, He being the light of the world, comes all man's enlightenment, and is diffused by the grace of God over all. (ii. Cor. iv. 6.)
To what do the twelve lessons, sung after the blessing of the baptismal water, all point?
They point to the baptism in which we are born again to a new life.
Why is the baptismal water blessed with so many ceremonies, and what is its signification?
The baptismal water signifies the blood of Christ by which our souls are purified, and in which the devil is drowned as Pharao in the Red Sea, and is blessed with so many ceremonies, that the different effects of baptism may be known, and that this holy Sacrament may be administered and received with the more reverence, devotion, and sanctity.
What is the meaning of these ceremonies?
The priest with his hand parts the water into the form of a cross, to illustrate that God gives the secret virtue to this water, through Christ who died on the cross, of changing all those born in original sin into holy people. He touches the surface of the water with the palm of his hand, to show that the Holy Ghost is over this water as at the creation, and bestows many graces on those who are baptized. He blesses it, signing it three times with the sign of the cross, because the water receives its sin-cleansing power only through the sufferings and the merits of Christ, from the Father, by the cooperation of the Holy Ghost. The baptismal water is thrown by the priest towards the four parts of the earth, because the grace of baptism should reach all nations. The priest breathes on the water three times in the form of a cross: the Creator breathed upon the first man, and breathed into him the breath of life, Christ breathed upon the apostles the Holy Ghost who by His grace and power revives and sanctifies those who are baptized. The Easter-Candle (emblem of Christ, risen from the dead), is dipped three times, and each time deeper into the water, to show that the baptized should become more and more enlightened through the light of Christ's doctrine, more and more penetrated by its divinity, more and more purified from sin. The people are sprinkled with this water to remind all those present who have received sanctification in baptism, and have lost it by sin, that they should strive by tears of repentance to regain it. Finally, oil and chrism are mixed in the water as a sign that the grace of the Holy Ghost which is represented by the oil and chrism, is given in its fulness to the water; and also, that the baptized should, after baptism, devote themselves exclusively to the service of Christ, the Anointed One, and unite themselves in love to Him.
Why is the baptismal water blessed only on this day and on the Saturday before Pentecost?
Because in early times adults and neophytes were baptized only on these days; and because the Saviour, risen, is the example of a soul sanctified by baptism and by the Holy Ghost, the Author of all sanctity and the true fountain of the grace of baptism.
How should we assist at the blessing of the baptismal water?
With sentiments of sincere gratitude for having been given the holy grace of baptism; with the firm resolution of preserving our baptismal innocence, or if we have lost it, of obtaining it again by penance. We should renew our baptismal vows on this day especially, first by saying the apostle's creed, making acts of faith, hope, and love, and an act of contrition, and then saying with heart and lips: I renounce the devil, all his pride, and all his suggestions."
Why does the priest prostrate himself after blessing the baptismal water, rising again when the litany of the saints has been sung?
To most humbly ask God, by the intercession of the saints, that He would give to all men without exception the grace of baptism, that as all men have been dead and buried in sin, so they may rise with Christ as new creatures to grace and eternal life.
Why are the altars redecorated on this day?
Because the Church, the beloved bride of Christ, desires to announce in advance to her children the glad tidings, that the Lord has risen from the dead: she decorates herself therefore, and causes the bells to peal and joyous hymns to resound. It also refers to Christ, at His resurrection, having adorned Himself with a glorious, incorruptible body. Why is there no Introit in this day's Mass?
The Introit of Mass was formerly an entire psalm, sung while the people were assembling in Church; but as in early times the people on Easter were already assembled and assisting at the ceremonies, no Introit was sung at the Vigil Mass, as to-day, although Mass is now said in the morning, the Church having abolished the night vigils, on account of abuses. PRAYER OF THE CHURCH. O God, who enlightenest this most sacred night by the glory of the resurrection of the Lord; preserve in the new offspring of Thy family the spirit of adoption Thou hast given them; that being renewed in body and soul, they may serve Thee with purity of heart. Throught etc.
EPISTLE. (Colos. iii. 1-4.) Brethren: If you be risen with Christ, seek the things that are above; where Christ is sitting at the right hand of God: mind the things that are above, not the things that are upon the earth. For you are dead; and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ shall appear, who is your life; then you also shall appear with him in glory. Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia. EXPLANATION. St. Paul places Christ's resurrection before us as the example and motive of the spiritual resurrection from sin, which should be effected in us by the holy Sacraments at Easter time.--With Christ we should die to the world, and live hidden in Him, if we desire to rise at the Last Day with Him in glory and be acknowledged before all men by Him as His own.
After the epistle the priest says three times: Alleluia! as a joyful exclamation over the Redeemer's triumphant victory.
GOSPEL. (Matt, xxxviii. 1-7.) In the end of the Sabbath, when it began to dawn towards the first day of the week, came Mary Magdalen and the other Mary to the sepulchre. And behold, there was a great earthquake. For an angel of the Lord descended from heaven; and coming, rolled back the stone, and sat upon it: and his countenance was as lightning, and his raiment as snow. And for fear of him, the guards were struck with terror, and became as dead men. And the angel answering, said to the women: Fear not you; for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he is risen as he said. Come, and see the place where the Lord was laid. And going quickly, tell ye his disciples that he is risen: and behold, he will go before you into Galilee: there you shall see him. Lo, I have foretold it to you.
What are we to learn from this gospel?
That we, too, will receive the plenitude of divine grace and heavenly blessings, if like these pious women we seek Christ early, that is, by making a good intention before we begin our work.
Why is there no Credo or Agnus Dei said, nor the kiss of peace given, and short vespers said after communion?
Formerly, and in Rome even now, the Credo or confession of faith is said by the newly baptized, the Agnus Dei was sung in the litany of the saints, and these are therefore omitted in the Mass. The kiss of peace is not given, because Christ has not yet said to His disciples, Peace be with you. Short vespers are said after the priest's communion, because this day is a type of the eternal Sabbath in heaven which has no vespers, that is, evening.
Do not omit to-day to once more visit the holy sepulchre, to adore Christ in the Blessed Sacrament, to thank Him for His passion and death, and to honor His sorrowful mother. If in the evening the solemn ceremonies of the resurrection are held, assist at them and there make the repeated resolution to rise from the sleep of sin and begin a new life with Christ.