The Coming Quiet

Couched within the practice of our well-articulated faith, there is a deep, resounding silence – the counterbalance to our Palm Sunday revelry. Listen to the coming hush and ignominy of Holy Saturday: a day marked by the lack of liturgy, by the absence of the Eucharist, and by a large degree of indifference in the Catholic populace. Even we who reverently bare our feet on Maundy Thursday, beat our breasts on Good Friday, and prepare carefully for the glorious Easter Masses tend to allow Holy Saturday itself to pass by with no sense of grief, nor triumph, in contemplation of the Lord’s action for us on this day. Our Catholic tendency to skirt around the issue is well-documented in its general absence from documentation. Though it does appear in Scripture (thus the foundation of our belief), Christ’s descent is not detailed there. The Church Fathers also have very little or nothing to say on the matter. Even within Pope Paul VI’s extensively detailed Credo of the People of God, Jesus’ hell is not mentioned; instead Paul VI writes: “He was buried, and, of His own power, rose on the third day….” More silence. Should we not badger the theologians: ‘But what happened on that essential, horrible day in between?’ Perhaps we dare not ask or answer. Perhaps the shame is too great, as it reinforces in tone and scandal the Lord’s cry of abandonment. “’Eli, Eli, la’ma sabachtha’ni?’ that is, ‘My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me’” (Matthew 27:46)? After all, it is the well-pronounced abandonment of Christ on the cross which has always constituted a stumbling-block in the Christian interpretation of the Good Friday mystery; as French King Clovis said of the crucifixion, “If I had been there with my Franks, we would not have stood for that sort of thing!” With admirable courage yet dishonorable pride, we fancy ourselves to be outside of the event, uniquely able in some way to defend the Lord from His own love for us, from the necessary sacrifice that originates in our own individual choices. The harsh cruelty of the injustice makes us shudder. We want to reach through history with a Petrine double-edged sword to somehow stop the Double-edged Sword (cf. Hebrews 4:12) from saving us. But we cannot. Indeed, we must not!

Let us look carefully at what Christ did while there, in the pit of despair, in the place where He finally, totally, scandalously abandoned Himself to you and me. St. Peter tells us, “For Christ also died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit; in which he went and preached to the spirits in prison… (1 Peter 3:18-19). He evangelized! In hell, where Christ the Messiah did not deserve but desired to be, completely torn away from sight of his own identity in the Trinity, rejected, humiliated, scorned, and put to shame, mired in the deepest, grossest, foulest, stench of sin, Christ is still The Word. From the pulpit of hell, He chooses to teach us about mercy, hope, grace, and peace. The upshot for us is that not only must we hear and obey this good news, but that we, too, must preach it. Even when we do not feel loved. Even when we are suffering. Even when despair and darkness threaten. St. Therese of Lisieux reminds us that even in a dark night of the soul, we can “remember that Jesus, the Strong God, experienced our weakness.” And even there, in the midst of hell, with Him by our side – whether we FEEL Him there or not, we too can obediently proclaim “Jesus Christ, and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2b). May our upcoming Holy Saturday be a blessed one.

Marian Bart

Parish Catechetical Leader