“He descended into Hell” is probably one of the more powerful parts of the Apostles Creed. And yet the Church has allotted this odd phrase to one of the holiest days of the liturgical year, Holy Saturday (CCC 631-637). On Good Friday we gaze upon the broken body of Christ crucified, but Holy Saturday is the day where God seems absent— He is asleep in the tomb and to the world it seemed He would never rise to preach, heal, correct, bless, perform miracles, or teach again. To Christ’s disciples, the darkness cast over the earth at their Master’s execution continued to overshadow their lives in a gloomy pall as they now hid in fear of the Jews in the Upper Room where they had shared the Last Supper. Now that Jesus had died, they reasoned, it would only be a matter of time until the world forgot about Him. The question remained to be answered: “Now what?”
Growing up, I echoed this puzzlement every Holy Saturday as I sat at home during the Easter Break. Good Friday had always been an emotionally draining day (and when it was time to fast, a physically rough time as well), and the time spent in between Friday and Sunday was meant to reflect on our Lord’s Passion, if not to nap sometime prior to the six-hour Easter vigil that needed to be prepared for. More often than not, the house remained quiet, and the fact that there was no daily Mass being celebrated anywhere on the planet that day gave a particular feeling of emptiness similar to what the disciples must have experienced. Still, there was something strangely refreshing about the stillness, if not a result of disconnecting from all technology, entertainment, socialization, and the stresses of daily life. That emptiness could and would only be filled with the singing of the Exsultet, the first “Alleluia” uttered on Easter morning, and the knowledge that Christ had forever conquered death.
Between the sadness of the Cross and the joy of Easter, from the bewilderment of the disciples to Mary’s great faith, we now draw courage from the latter’s example to face the future with faithful hope, patience, love, and interior calm. Whereas it was under the cover of darkness that the disciples abandoned the Lord that fateful night in the garden, it is also in darkness that the Church gathers in vigilant expectation to celebrate His triumphant rising from the dead. We are also reminded of those who have been in darkness since the Fall awaiting the opening of Heaven. It wasn’t until Christ descended into the darkness inhabited by those cut off from God that they were restored to their eternal inheritance. We now take part in their rejoicing and endeavor to form our lives to make ourselves worthy to share eternal life.
On Holy Saturday we must not become lost in the preparations for Easter and forget to reflect on the day’s significance. It is necessary that we take the proper time to grieve, reflect on, and contemplate the thoughts and emotions of Mary and the disciples as they pondered the sudden death of the Lord. While we rest in the hope of the Easter Resurrection, let us not neglect to ponder the pain and anguish of those who were standing at the foot of the Cross or hiding in the Upper Room. After all, the descent into Hell precedes the rising from the dead (CCC 638).
Thomas Wong is an undergraduate at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.” (John 3:16-17)
Most parents feel incredibly protective of their children and hate to see them hurting. Chances are, if you ask your mom or dad, they would say that watching you break an arm, fall off your bike, or be picked on by a bully was painful for them. Maybe you are a parent who has experienced how hard it can be to see your child in pain. God, who is infinitely perfect, loved us so much that He was willing to sacrifice His only Son so that we would have a chance at Heaven. God knew that some would chose to reject His love. He knew exactly how painful it would be, for both Himself and the Blessed Mother, to watch His Son suffering on the cross.
On Good Friday, we commemorate the ultimate sacrifice. The Stations of the Cross allow us to journey with Christ the last hours of his life on earth. Even if you are unable to physically move from station to station, it is a wonderful opportunity to mediate on all that Jesus was willing to undergo for our sake.
The First Station: Jesus is condemned to death.
The Second Station: Jesus carries His cross.
The Third Station: Jesus falls the first time.
The Fourth Station: Jesus meets His mother.
The Fifth Station: Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus to carry His cross.
The Sixth Station: Veronica wipes the face of Jesus.
The Seventh Station: Jesus falls the second time.
The Eighth Station: Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem.
The Ninth Station: Jesus falls the third time.
The Tenth Station: Jesus is stripped of His clothes.
The Eleventh Station: Jesus is nailed to the cross.
The Twelfth Station: Jesus dies on the cross.
The Thirteenth Station: Jesus is taken down from the cross.
The Fourteenth Station: Jesus is laid in the tomb.
Imagine how the Virgin Mary must have felt when she met her Son on the way to Golgotha. Her heart must have been breaking watching Him struggle to carry the cross. Her tears must have hurt Jesus’ own heart.
After Jesus fell for the third time, He got back up and continued on. He didn’t grumble or complain. It would have been easy to decide that it was too hard and to just stop. When we carry our own cross, however small that burden, it is incredibly easy to complain to God and to say that we cannot do it. We might not be able to on our own, but with God’s help, all things are possible.
In His last moments on the cross before He died, Jesus was thinking of us. “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34) God stands ready to give us His unconditional love and forgiveness. He has already done the hard part. Through His suffering and death, He threw open the gates to Heaven. He is ready to give us the graces to get there. All we need to do is ask Him for it.
Jennifer Beckmann is a Staff Assistant for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Alleluia! Doesn’t it feel great to be able to exclaim that again? After forty days of restraining ourselves from singing it either as part of a hymn or before the Gospel reading was proclaimed, we are finally permitted to once again raise our voices in this superlative expression of thanksgiving, joy, and triumph. In his book, Crossing the Threshold of Hope, Soon-to-be Saint John Paul II boldly announced, "We are the Easter people and ‘Hallelujah’ is our song,” and as such, how can we keep from singing?
On Sunday we celebrated the Solemnity of Easter, the most important liturgical celebration of the year. So grand, so significant is Easter that each Sunday of the year is a reflection of this feast to some degree. Each and every holy sacrifice of the Mass, though, is a memorial of the Lord’s Passion and Resurrection (cf. CCC 1330). It is important, then, to realize what sets apart the celebration of Easter from the rest of the year, apart from the colorful dresses and elaborate dinners that have become traditional for this time of year.
On Good Friday, Jesus Christ, the Son of God sent to ransom the world for our sins, hung on the Cross and, after three hours of agony, “bowed His head and gave up His spirit” (Jn:19:30). Though Jesus had warned His followers of His necessary death, they were unable to understand what He was saying and were utterly shocked at what finally happened outside Jerusalem’s walls on that dark day. What a turn of events from when that very city had joyfully embraced Christ’s entrance only a few days earlier! Separated from their teacher and friend, and struggling to deal with the chaotic incomprehensibility of that Passover weekend, the disciples of the Lord locked themselves in the Upper Room of their Last Supper, fearful of what awaited them outside and in the future. Imagine their surprise, then, when Mary Magdalene burst into their presence and breathlessly announced that Jesus’ body had been taken from where it had been laid. Immediately, Peter and “the beloved disciple” ran to the tomb of Jesus, not prepared for what awaited them. What comes next would alter both their and our lives forever.
Jesus was dead. There was no doubt about that. The news that Jesus was not in His tomb must have inspired those two disciples with a much needed measure of hope, if not curiosity and wonder, as they boldly ran through the streets to see the sight for themselves. Jesus’ Resurrection was unprecedented, that is, totally and radically new— no one had ever been raised from the dead like this before! Though they were not yet able to fully express, let alone comprehend, what had happened, the disciples would have had their hearts aflame with the news, a combination of joy, relief, praise, excitement, comfort, and hope that needed to be shared with the other followers of the Risen One.
Upon their return to the Upper Room, Peter and the beloved disciple, along with Mary Magdalene and the other women with her, become the first evangelizers— proclaimers of the resurrected Christ to the world. Here we find the origins of the Resurrection language Christians used two millennia ago and continue to speak through today. As part of the New Evangelization, we too are called to share the Good News of Christ’s victory over death with everyone, friends and family, peers and enemies alike. It is impossible (if not selfish) to keep such wondrous news to ourselves— we need to share the joy and enthusiasm of the disciples as they gradually began to recognize the significance of the Resurrection, initially in the empty tomb and later through their encounters with the living Jesus. How, then, can we ever become complacent in our celebrations of Easter? In the weeks leading up to Christmas, we anticipate Christ’s first coming into the world with carols, treats, and gift-giving. Easter is so much more important! As the Catechism states:
“If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.” The Resurrection above all constitutes the confirmation of all Christ’s works and teachings. All truths, even those most inaccessible to human reason, find their justification if Christ by his Resurrection has given the definitive proof of his divine authority, which he had promised… The Paschal mystery has two aspects: by his death, Christ liberates us from sin; by his Resurrection, he opens for us the way to a new life. This new life is above all justification that reinstates us in God's grace, “so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” (651, 654)
It is often said that without Easter there would be no Christmas (Or Good Friday). This day celebrates the most important event in all of history, when our lives were changed forever. Now living in the promise of eternal life, we are called to obey Christ’s great Commission, to “go and make disciples of all nations” (Mt: 28:19) This isn’t confined to the octave of Easter (which is technically an eight-day celebration) or one liturgical season, but each and every moment of our lives, through our thoughts, words, and actions. The Resurrection of Jesus is not merely a moment in time, but the very definition of time itself. No matter how dark or painful our lives may seem, we can find comfort in the joys of Easter and carry the spark of that day each day of our lives, to be shared with all. Let us cry out in song that Christ has been raised from the dead: Alleluia!
Thomas Wong is a student at The Catholic University of America and a member of the Catholic University Knights of Columbus.
We have all been there – mid-morning on Ash Wednesday, awkwardly trying to hide the fact that our stomach is grumbling, wondering what actually constitutes as a “small meal”, and attempting to find it within ourselves to pray when all we can think about is those pangs of hunger. Or the classic Friday in Lent – where every meatless option seems unappetizing, and it is impossible to stop thinking about how badly we want chicken nuggets. Or that Lent when you decided to give up all sweets and you find yourself agonizing over whether or not a frosted donut really counts as a sweet . . . Why is this? Why is it that on days (or seasons for that matter) where we are called to fast or abstain from certain foods or other comforts, we feel conflicted about what the Church is calling us to do? There are any number of contributing factors (including the fact that chicken nuggets and donuts are delicious), but the heart of the matter is this: when we make sacrifices both big and small, we are often focused on what we are doing and forget the sacrifices of Lent are really about what is being done to us.
In her wisdom, the Church gives us Lent to take a step back - to simplify and to ultimately journey towards Christ in His suffering, death, and resurrection. During this season we are more aware of what we are giving up – of the sacrifices that we are making, and those things that we are temporarily missing out on enjoying. It can be all too easy to fall into the trap of grudgingly accepting what we have decided to sacrifice, instead of using it as an opportunity to better ourselves on the journey to Easter. Every time we make the mistake of thinking our own sacrifices about us, we are missing the point of this Lenten journey.
The reality of the world that we live in is that sacrifice is underrated – our friends and people around us may not understand why we would willingly give up earthly comforts for a Church season. But we know differently. Every small sacrifice we make is about becoming more aware of the sacrifice that Christ made for us 2000 years ago. Instead of sighing in frustration about what we cannot have every time our stomach growls, we should utter a prayer of gratitude for the chance to conform our lives more to the life of Christ.
We have the privilege to journey through these 40 days towards the cross of Good Friday. Although we all have to take up our own small crosses in the form of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, the most important thing we will do is walk confidently towards the cross of Christ. The beauty of the cross is that it is bigger than any one thing that we can do, and the cross has the power to continually renew us in our mission as baptized Christians. So although we may be temporarily missing our favorite treat or meat on Fridays, we can take hope that our sacrifices are not about how much we can do, they are about making ourselves more ready to celebrate the Easter Sunday that comes after the Good Friday.
Lauren Scharmer is a senior at the Catholic University of America studying Social Work & Theology and is active in both retreat and youth ministry in both the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C. and Diocese of Arlington.