Growing up, I somehow missed the richness of the holy days preceding Easter.
Perhaps with Grandma’s house in Bismarck in our sights, our spring-break travel plans demanded all our attention. My sister and I would arrive especially eager to see who could create the most beautifully dyed egg and, on Easter morning, discover our baskets filled with chocolate bunnies and marshmallow chicks.
Easter Mass figured in there as well, but, sadly, my memories of it aren’t vivid as the ham dinner afterward. Only years later would I realize that the days leading up to the Resurrection of Christ are every bit as meaningful as Easter itself, the crux of our Christian faith.
Eventually, the Triduum became a big part of what I anticipated most about Easter, beginning with Holy Thursday evening, when we recall the institution of the Eucharist; Good Friday, the annual commemoration of our Lord’s Crucifixion; and Holy Saturday, perhaps the most mysterious day of all.
Indeed, today is when Christians confront the reality that, as recited weekly by many in that ancient prayer The Apostle’s Creed, God “descended into hell.”
Not only did Jesus perish on Good Friday, but following his death, he “descended into our humanity…into the depths of our suffering…into the very realm of death itself in order to free its captives.”
The above comes from my devotional, “The Magnificat.” In the same issue, a reflection by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, or Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, describes what he calls “the terrible mystery of Holy Saturday.”
Ratzinger notes that today is “the day of the hiddenness of God,” an “empty” day, when “the heavy stone of the new tomb covers the deceased, everything is over, and faith seems definitively unmasked as fanaticism.”
It is a time when we peer into the frightening possibility, albeit temporarily, that “No God has saved this Jesus who called himself the Son,” when “those sober ones…were right all along.”
On Holy Saturday, Ratzinger says, an “icy emptiness grows in the heart of the disciples…”
And yet, it’s all for a beautiful purpose. For in experiencing God’s death and descent, we are better prepared to absorb and appreciate his resurrection, a hopeful preview of our own eventual rising into eternal life.
As we read in Ephesians 4:10: “The one who descended is also the one who ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.”
So, if your day’s feeling gray, don’t despair. Allow yourself to feel God’s absence. But know, too, that soon, new life will come. And then, as the “City of God” hymn reminds us, our “tears will be turned into dancing, for the Lord, our light and our love,” will turn “the night into day.”
[For the sake of having a repository for my newspaper columns and articles, I reprint them here, with permission, a week after their run date. The preceding ran in The Forum newspaper on April 15, 2017.]