This is an unusual day in the Liturgical Calendar. There is no event to commemorate and no Eucharist. However, there is profound meaning in this day and much to ponder.
The first Holy Saturday was a day of quiet and rest because it was the Sabbath. Out of respect for the Sabbath, the body of Jesus was hurriedly put in the tomb and the women waited until after the Sabbath to anoint his body. But it wasn’t merely a coincidence that Jesus’ body laid in the tomb throughout the Sabbath; it points to the deeper meaning of the death of Christ.
In Genesis we read, “Thus the heavens and the earth and all their array were completed. Since on the seventh day God was finished with the work he had been doing, he rested on the seventh day from all the work he had undertaken. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work he had done in creation.” (Gen 2:1-3)
But God’s work had not yet been fully accomplished after the sixth day described in Genesis. He created the heavens, the earth, the seas, the creatures and plants and all humankind in order for all of them to share in his divine life. But that purpose was hindered by human sin. And so God resolved to carry out a new plan to allow this union. The new plan called for another arduous work by God, the work of redemption. This work required the Son to empty himself, take on human form, and bear all the sufferings of human beings, including death, even death on a cross. By that work, Jesus finally made it possible for creation to achieve its purpose: union with God.
Holy Saturday is the day Jesus rested after his work of redemption.
This is a day of rest, but its purpose is not only to reflect on what Christ has done for us, but to prepare to carry that work of Christ into the world—the world we live in. We are children of the cross, yes, but also children of the resurrection and of Pentecost. Use this rest to gather strength for the hard work ahead, not the work of redemption—that has already been accomplished by Christ—but the work of carrying his redemption to the ends of the world.
Reflection by Abbot Benedict Neenan, OSB