Holy Saturday

Holy Saturday


Holy Saturday, Easter Eve, is the day after Good Friday. It is the Saturday before Easter and the last day of Lent. The Latin, Sabbatum Sanctum, means Holy Sabbath, the 'day of the entombed Christ', as it commemorates the day when Christ's body lay in the tomb of Joseph of Aramathea.

What happens at St James's

Easter candleThe Easter Vigil is held in the hours of darkness between sunset on Holy Saturday and sunrise on Easter Day and at St James's, at dawn on Easter Day.

The congregation gathers around a fire in the courtyard and from this the Easter Candle is lit. Everyone then moves into the darkened church led by the candle, and three times ‘The light of Christ’ is proclaimed. The light spreads outwards as the candles of the congregation are lit. The Easter Candle is placed in its stand in a prominent position in the church and would then be lit at every eucharist until Pentecost. (The Candle would then placed by the font to be lit at baptisms and funerals.)

So the first part of the service sees us pass over from darkness to light as this was the day of resurrection. Secondly, with just enough light to see, there are several readings from the Old Testament pointing to God’s loving purposes which find their fullest expression in the resurrection. In the light of Easter, we pass over from the old to the new. Third, the waiting was over, and the resurrection is proclaimed. All the lights in the church are put on, and all candles lit. The account of Jesus’ resurrection is read. Just as the readings hinted at the ancient practice of a long vigil so also does what follows as the congregation renew their baptismal vows. We celebrate the passing over of Christ from death to life, and the reality of this for each person present.

The service moves into the first Eucharist of Easter. The Eucharist is above all the celebration of the resurrection. Easter has begun, and we proclaim that Christ has risen. The service includes the first use of the word 'alleluia' since the beginning of Lent as well as the first Eucharist of Easter.

The Paschal CandleThe large wax candle which is lit during the Easter Vigil is called the Easter Candle. This candle is also known as the 'Paschal' Candle from the Hebrew pesach meaning 'passover'. The Easter Candle is the principal symbol of the resurrection during the season of Easter. It is the sign of Christ's 'passover' from death to life. Usually the candle has specific decorations on it, a transfer in plastic or wax of a cross with the date of the year and the letters 'alpha and omega' (the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet) and five pins or nails. During the Easter Liturgy the cross on the candle, the symbol of salvation, is traced by the presiding priest. Then the alpha and omega, for Christ is the beginning and end of all things. Then the year is traced, for it is in our own time that Christ is alive and present. The priest says: "Christ yesterday and today, the beginning and the end, alpha and omega. All time belongs to him, and all ages; to him be glory and power, through every age and for ever. Amen."  Then the five pins or nails are put in, reminding us of the five wounds of Christ. The Gospel of John records how the risen Christ still had his wounds. The priest says: "By his holy and glorious wounds may Christ our Lord guard us and keep us."

Background

In the early church, Holy Saturday was a day of fasting and preparation for the Easter Vigil. Whenever it is celebrated, it is the first celebration of Easter Day since, in Church (and Jewish) reckoning, days begin at sunset the night before. Holy Saturday is a time of silent waiting and anticipation and at this liturgy, rich symbolism is used as the worshipper celebrates Christ’s 'Passover' from death to life.

Find out more

Easter Vigil (service booklet)