Holy Saturday: Anxiety and Uncertainty

This is Holy Saturday (not ‘Easter Saturday’ which is actually in a week’s time). I would urge you, if you haven’t already heard it, to listen to the Catholic commentator and former Tablet editor Catherine Pepinster who spoke on ‘Thought for the Day this morning on Radio 4 (it won’t be available for catch up until later today). As she pointed out, we join the disciples who are, after the crucifixion, anxious and waiting.

There are never morning Masses today so once again we would normally gather for the Office of Readings, as we are livstreaming this morning. We often sing at this service St John Henry Newman’s great hymn ‘Praise to the Holiest in the Height’, originally from the ‘Dream of Gerontius’. After psalms 4, 16 (15) and 24 (23) we hear our last reading from Hebrews (4:1-13) which talks of God resting on the seventh day: so we see the Lord’s time in the tomb as a time of rest and of quietness. What people often remember about this service is the non-biblical reading, an ancient and anonymous Holy Saturday homily which imagines Jesus going to the place of rest of dead figures in the history of humanity (usually called by the Hebrew name ‘sheol’), including Adam, to take them with him. This scene is often called the ‘harrowing of hell’, depicted in the icon here.

The opening words of the reading are especially apt this year: ‘What is happening? Today there is a great silence over the earth, a great silence, and stillness, a great silence because the King sleeps…’ In much of the world this morning, and certainly this country. there is great silence; we all want to ask ‘what is happening?’ And, sadly, it is the silence of the tomb, of a country where nearly 1000 people are dying every day because of the Covid-19 virus. As Catherine Pepinster pointed out, we’re like the disciples after the crucifixion in that we’re anxious and uncertain. Spiritual writers and therapists rightly urge us in times like this to ‘live in the present moment’, to try and stay where we are: not in anxiety but in attentiveness to what God is saying to us. It’s not easy, especially when national or political leaders seem increasingly desperate; but surely it’s what our faith should give us now.

Traditionally in our parish and elsewhere on Holy Saturday morning we also bless the new Easter food (usually including joints of lamb and lots of eggs), a custom the Polish community here has brought to this country. Like everything else I shouldn’t think it’s happening anywhere, but our second picture reminds us of what it’s like.

Our parish website webcam – CLICK HERE – enables you to participate in our livestream services this morning (Office of Readings) and the Easter Vigil this evening. I will be adding more posts during the day.

God bless and take care,

Fr Ashley

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