What is Holy Saturday: Observance, and Importance

Holy Saturday is a time of reflection, meditation, and renewed hope for God’s people. 

What is Holy Saturday and why is it considered sacred and holy? What is the significance of the day that is in between Christ’s death and resurrection? Let’s get into details and uncover the history, meaning, and the different Christian traditions that are observed during this sacred day. 

What is Holy Saturday?

Christians refer to the Saturday between Good Friday and Easter Sunday as Holy Saturday. This day is a remembrance of the period between Christ’s crucifixion and His resurrection. To transition the Eastertide season, Christians of different denominations start the commemoration of the Easter Vigil service on this day. It’s usually a time for quiet self-reflection, meditation, and preparation for the celebration of Christ’s resurrection. 

The History of Commemorating Holy Saturday

According to history, the early church held large baptismal ceremonies to celebrate Holy Saturday and the end of Lent. During the 2nd century CE, Christians fasted between dusk on Good Friday and daybreak on Easter Sunday, in the spirit of the first disciples of Christ. However, there were many centuries where no services were held in the Western Churches to memorialize Holy Saturday. 

By the 4th century, the vigil would start on Saturday at sundown. The church would center the service on the transition from darkness to light. As age passed, the Easter Vigil’s hour shifted to earlier times and was observed on Saturday morning. During the reform of Holy Week liturgies in 1956, the Roman Catholic and a few other churches revived the evening Easter Vigil. 

What does the Bible Say About Holy Saturday?

Each of the four canonical Gospels has similar accounts of Christ’s crucifixion, death, and resurrection. You can find these accounts in Matthew 27, Luke 23, John 19, and Mark 15. These chapters of the Bible describe how the followers and family of Jesus held a vigil for Him outside His tomb as they waited for His promised resurrection. However, except for His last words to Barabbas, the thief in Luke 23:43, there is no direct evidence or references as to what Jesus did during His family and friends’ vigil. 

Names of Holy Saturday

You might also hear or know of other names of Holy Saturday. Some of them are the Great Sabbath, Sabado Gloria and Black Saturday (in the Philippines), Hallelujah Saturday (in Portugal and Brazil), Holy and Great Saturday, Easter Eve, and among Coptic Christians,  “The Saturday of the Light,” “Mega Sabbatun,” and “Joyous Saturday.”

Why is Holy Saturday Significant? (The Meaning of Holy Saturday)

Holy Saturday is significant because, just like the account in the Gospels, Holy Saturday is the commemoration of the day that precedes the miracle, which is Christ’s resurrection. It was a day for His disciples to rest, wait, and believe that He would rise again the next day. It was a great act of faith on their part to be still, pray, and believe that what Christ said would happen after His death would come to pass. In the same way, as Christians, it is also a day where they can be still, meditate, and reflect to prepare their hearts for the celebration of the resurrection. 

What are Some Holy Saturday Traditions?

We will see that Holy Saturday tradition in many parts of the world, and different churches will look different. Let’s take a look at some of them:

Easter Vigil

The Easter Vigil is a solemn commemoration or vigil held the night before Easter. In the strictest sense, the ceremony should not start before nightfall and end before Sunday dawn. It usually consists of four parts: (1) The Service of Light, (2) The Liturgy of the Word where the church meditates on the beautiful works that the Lord made for His people since the earliest times, (3) the rite of Baptism where the congregation renews their baptism vows, and (4) the Liturgy of the Eucharist where the church remembers the death and resurrection of Christ. 

Service of Light

The Service of Light starts with the lighting of the Easter fire, and the Paschal candle is blessed and lit. Then, an appropriate area outside the church is set up for the blessing of the new fire. Then, by a procession, the people would enter the sanctuary (in complete darkness) and be led by the light of the Paschal candle alone, which is carried by a deacon. He then would stop three times to shout the acclamation “Light of Christ,” of which the congregation would respond with “Thanks be to God.” The light of the Paschal candle is then passed one by one to the people’s candles in the congregation.

Scripture Readings

There should be at least three readings from the Old Testament for the Scripture Readings. These should be taken from the Law and the Prophets; the reading from Exodus chapter 14 with its hymns should never be neglected. 

After the first reading, the hymn “Gloria in Excelsis” is sung, and the bells are rung. The collection is also recited, and the ceremony proceeds to the readings from the New Testament. A sermon from the Apostle on Baptism is also read. Then the congregation stands, and the priest sings the “Alleluia” three times, each time raising the pitch. The people would then repeat it after him.

Finally, a reading from the Gospel proclaims the Lord’s resurrection, the high point of the whole Liturgy of the Word. After the Gospel, a priest would then give a homily or sermon. 

Baptismal Liturgy

The baptismal liturgy comes after the conclusion of the Liturgy of the Word. First, the baptismal font’s water is blessed. Next, any catechumens (a person taking instruction from a catechist) and participants for the whole communion are introduced by confirmation or baptism into the church. Then, after celebrating these sacraments, the church congregation reaffirms their baptismal vows and receives the sprinkling of baptismal water. After that, the prayer of the faithful follows. 

Eucharistic Liturgy

The Eucharistic Liturgy is the fourth part of the Easter Vigil and marks its high point. Also known or called the Holy communion, the Eucharist is where the newly baptized receive their holy communion for the first time. As a rule of the church, this ceremony needs to be over before dawn. 

How Do Christians Observe Holy Saturday?

Let’s take a look at how different Christian denominations celebrate Holy Saturday and what their customs are:

Catholics

For the Catholics, Holy Saturday lasts until dusk, and then the Easter Vigil is observed and celebrated. 

Protestants

Churches such as Lutherans, United Church of Christ, and Methodists regard Holy Saturday as a day of meditation and contemplation. So, commonly, they don’t hold any special services. 

Eastern Orthodox Churches

The Eastern Orthodox Churches regard Holy Saturday as Blessed Sabbath. Some church parishioners attend evening prayers and listen to the Liturgy of Saint Basil.

Russian Orthodox

As for the Russian Orthodox churches, Holy Saturday is part of the week-long Great and Holy Week. The holy week starts on Palm Sunday, and Saturday is the last day of their fasting. Celebrants or participants would then break the fast and attend church services. 

Bible Verses to Reflect and Meditate On During Holy Saturday

Do you want to spend the Holy Saturday in solemn reflection, meditation, and prayer? Here are some Bible verses that you can read and meditate on:

John 3:16 

The most incredible display of God’s love. He loved us so much that He gave His one and only Son so that we have that chance of eternal life with Him. 

Lamentations 3:19-24 

These verses remind us that the reason we are still alive is that God allows it. Every morning we wake up is a display of His mercies. What a comforting thought that each morning is a clean slate for us and a chance to live a changed life.

Matthew 27:57-66

These verses are an account of the burial of Christ. Here, we can see how the Roman soldiers ensured that His disciples would not take His body by sealing the tomb with a heavy stone. The sacred burial is a confirmation of His death. Yet, at the same time, it is a preparation for the greatest miracle that’s about to happen, which is His resurrection. 

1 Peter 4:1-8 

These verses talk about living for God. This is somehow the appropriate response to God’s grace and the gift of eternal life. Here is where the apostle Peter talks about how we should live our lives that glorifies the Lord. These verses can help us reflect on our habits and attitudes that we need to change. We are also reminded to love deeply just as Jesus Christ loves us because love covers a multitude of sins. 

Romans 6:3-11 

These verses remind us that death has lost its sting because of Christ. Here, the apostle Paul reminds us that there is hope no matter how dark the night or how hopeless our situation seems to be. That hope is Christ. His resurrection that followed that dark and sorrowful night is something that we can also look forward to during our times of distress. He has already won the most significant battle we could ever face, and He has given us hope in this life as long as we follow Him and put our faith in Him. 

A Holy Saturday Prayer

Father, I am reminded that this day, Your one and only son, Jesus, had finished His work on the cross two thousand years ago. He suffered and died not for anything He did but because of His great love for us. He who was without sin bore our sins and gave Himself to be the sacrifice to save us. 

Thank You for your great love, Lord. Thank You for seeing me worthy of that sacrifice, no matter how weak and broken I am. I know that nothing I do or could ever do would save me from sin and death. Only through Christ would I enjoy that eternal life with You. 

I repent of the times I have taken Your grace and Your wonderful gift for granted. Help me to change my heart and attitude. Guide me so that I can live a life that pleases and glorifies You. 

Thank You for Your amazing grace and beautiful, unconditional love, Jesus. Thank You for the promise of Easter, the promise of a new life with You. I pray this is Your sweetest name, Amen. 

In Summary

For the disciples, family, and friends of Christ, Holy Saturday was their day of preparation. They kept vigil and were expectant. They were not hopeless but rather, they were waiting on the Lord and looking forward to the miracle that was to occur the next day. What a great display of faith that we can imitate. 

This is the promise of Christ: the hope of a new day, a new life with Him. May this Holy Saturday be a time of reflection, meditation, and renewed hope for us. God is ever true to His promises and Christ is the fulfillment of His greatest promise of salvation for us. 

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Alex Shute
EDITOR
Alex Shute, MBA
Alex is a family man and entrepreneur based in Los Angeles. His passion is to serve the global Church and bring people of diverse backgrounds together to learn & grow.