Saturday, April 4, 2015

The Day of Gloom and the Coming of the Light

Paolo Veronese, Dead Christ Supported By Angels
Italian, 1587-1589
Berlin, Staatliche Museen
On Holy Saturday the church is quiet, the tabernacle empty, the altar stripped.  People come for services such as Tenebrae, made up of readings, songs and symbolic acts such as the snuffing out of candles or for Confession to ask God for forgiveness.  Basically, the prevailing mood is quiet, a little gloomy even, but with a hint of excitement nonetheless.

We remember the hours between the evening of Good Friday, when the body of Jesus was laid hurriedly in the tomb with little ceremony, and the morning of Easter Sunday, when the women who came to complete the proper burial customs found an empty tomb.

But, underneath it all is the sense of expectation.  And, late in the afternoon, the church will close and the flowers, which have been hidden since their delivery will be brought out, the altar will be dressed and the church made ready for the amazing event recollected in the evening at the Easter Vigil.
Deacon Singing the Exultet from  an Exultet Roll
In this scene he gestures toward the Paschal Candle,
which is being incensed
Italian (Montecassino), ca. 1072

As the massive newly carved and lit Paschal Candle is carried down the aisle of the darkened church, and as people light their own small candles from its flame, we are confronted with a symbolic image that has come down to us from remote centuries, for the light represents the Risen Christ.  As each of us lights his/her smaller hand-held candle from it we begin to see ourselves and those around us as bearers of a bit of that same light.  And, when all have lit their candles the church is ablaze with candle light.  What was obscure and gloomy just moments ago is now seen clearly.  It is a magnificent symbol of the Resurrection, of the share we each have in it and of the effect that spreading that light can have on the world.

For more information on the images that relate to both the day of waiting and of the Paschal Candle, please click on the following:

The Harrowing of Hell here

The Dead Christ in the Tomb here

Easter Vigil and the Paschal Candle here

©  M. Duffy, 2015

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