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. In the early church, Holy Saturday was a day of fasting and preparation for the Easter Vigil.

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. 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.

In the service we move or 'pass over' from darkness to light as the Easter Candle is prepared, lit, and then brought into a darkened church. In the semi-darkness we move or 'pass over' from the old to the new, reading from the Old Testament, and then hear the Gospel of the resurrection in the now fully lit church. We move or 'pass over' from death to life in baptism as we renew our baptismal vows. 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."

As Easter is not just one day, but a season, the Easter Candle burns from Easter Day, beginning with the celebration of the Easter Vigil, right through until the day of Pentecost, at the very end of the Easter season. It is lit at all celebrations of the Eucharist during this time. After the celebration of the Eucharist at Pentecost, the Easter Candle is placed near the font. It is then lit again at services which point people to new life in Christ - baptisms and funerals.