Every year during the season of Lent, there are many opportunities for us to enter deeper into Christ’s Passion. Of course there is Ash Wednesday and with it the reminder of our own mortality. There are also the customary reminders for increased penance, fasting, prayer, and almsgiving. If, during Lent, we take the opportunity to attend the Stations of the Cross, or at least read The Way of the Cross by St. Alphonses di Liguori, it gives us the opportunity to draw a little closer to Jesus as we admit that it was not Pilate but our sins that condemned Him to die. We accompany Him on the Via Dolorosa to Calvary, and ask for His mercy just as the penitent thief did, hanging on a cross next to our Lord.
The liturgical readings also bring us through a condensed account of Jesus’ public ministry, leading to the crescendo of Passion Sunday. We wear red, carry palms, and during the Gospel we join our voices with the Jews who shouted “Crucify him! Crucify him!” As we progress through Holy Week, the Church offers us a seat at the Last Supper on Holy Thursday, calls us to remember the death of our Lord with the silence of Good Friday, and then join together for the triumph of Easter Sunday.
But there’s another day in there that is probably the most under-appreciated day of the Easter Triduum: Holy Saturday. Christ had died. He had not yet risen. And aside from the evening Easter Vigil Mass that welcomes the new catechumens into the Church, there’s usually not a lot going on. We’re kind of like the disciples, left to wander around, not sure what we should be doing. But it does offer us another opportunity, though an overlooked one, to grow closer to our Lord.
Let us imagine for a moment, that we are James, brother of John. You and the other disciples fled into the night at Gethsemane. Now, you gather the courage to return to the room where Christ had celebrated the Passover meal. You go in and you see your brother there, along with Mary. John comes over and embraces you and starts filling you in about what you missed. Pilate. The crowds. The scourging. The blood. Barabbas. The crown of thorns. The carrying of the cross. The scene at Calvary. Standing at the foot of the Cross with Mary and the other women. The casting of lots. The vinegar. The mocking. As he talks, your eyes look to the bowl where Jesus dipped his bread with Judas. Then your brother John says to you, “Jesus looked at me and He said to Mary, ‘Woman, behold your son.’ Then He said to me, ‘Behold your mother’ and looked back to Mary.” You, James, look over at Mary across the room, and you understand what your brother is saying to you: she is your mother now too.
You go over to her and weep, and apologize for running away. She comforts you. And she begins to speak of her son. Not of Jesus the crucified Son, but of Jesus her son. First she talks about remembering how he learned to walk. You both laugh as she describes his first attempts at the craft of woodworking. As she speaks, one by one the other disciples begin to come into the room and gather around. She begins telling the story of how he was lost at the Temple for three days. Everyone is there in time to hear of her anguish as she and her husband looked for him. Everyone shares in her sorrow as she tells of the death of her husband some years later, and how Jesus wept at the loss of his father.
Then she begins to tell the story of the day he came to her and told her that he was going to be baptized by his cousin in the Jordan, and how she knew what that meant. You share in her concern when she tells of His forty days in the desert, and your heart leaps with hers as she shares the story of His return, and His turning water to wine at her request. The more she speaks of His humanity, the more you see Jesus not just as the Messiah, but as your brother. Your brother who is dearly loved.
As she speaks of His Passion, you experience the heartbreak of a sorrowful mother. Your sorrowful mother. Your tears mingle with hers as she tells you about your brother’s death. Your heart breaks as you realize that her son, your innocent brother, was nailed to a cross because of you, and out of His love for you. Again, your eyes see the bowl where Jesus dipped His bread with Judas.
This is the story of Holy Saturday. On this day while the Church awaits the resurrection of our Lord, let us join with our Sorrowful Mother and turn our thoughts to the life and humanity of Christ our brother, who “opened Heaven for us in the manhood he assumed.”*
We adore you, O Christ, and we praise you. Because by your holy Cross, you have redeemed the world.
Mary, Mother of Sorrows, pray for us.
*“Christ opened heaven for us in the manhood he assumed” — St. Iranaeus