Holy Saturday

Holy Saturday is the day in the Christian liturgical calendar that celebrates the 40-hour-long vigil that the followers of Jesus Christ held after his death and burial on Good Friday and before his resurrection on Easter Sunday. Holy Saturday is the last day of Lent and of Holy Week, and the third day of the Easter Triduum.

In the second century, people kept an absolute fast for the entire 40-hour period between nightfall on Good Friday recollecting the time Christ was removed from the cross and buried in the tomb and dawn on Easter Sunday when Christ was resurrected.

In the early church, Christians gathered on the afternoon of Holy Saturday to pray and to confer the Sacrament of Baptism on catechumens—converts to Christianity who had spent Lent preparing to be received into the Church. As the Catholic Encyclopedia notes, in the early Church, “Holy Saturday and the vigil of Pentecost were the only days on which baptism was administered.” This vigil lasted through the night until dawn on Easter Sunday, when the Alleluia was sung for the first time since the beginning of Lent, and the faithful—including the newly baptized—broke their 40-hour fast by receiving Communion.

With the reform of the liturgies for Holy Week in 1956, those ceremonies were returned to the Easter Vigil itself, that is, to the Mass celebrated after sundown on Holy Saturday, and thus the original character of Holy Saturday was restored.

Until the revision of the rules for fasting and abstinence in 1969, strict fasting and abstinence continued to be practiced on the morning of Holy Saturday, thus reminding the faithful of the sorrowful nature of the day and preparing them for the joy of Easter feast. While fasting and abstinence are no longer required on Holy Saturday morning, practicing these Lenten disciplines is still a good way to observe this sacred day.

As on Good Friday, the modern church offers no Mass for Holy Saturday. The Easter Vigil Mass, which takes place after sundown on Holy Saturday, properly belongs to Easter Sunday. The modern Easter Vigil Mass often begins outside of the church near a charcoal brazier, representing the first vigil. The priest then leads the faithful into the church where the paschal candle is lit and the mass is held. 

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