Sabbatum Sanctum

by Rebecca Curtin

Lent is almost over, so it’s confession time: I don’t think I’ve ever been to a Catholic Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday, at least not one that I can remember. In fact, I first learned of the Easter Vigil when I overheard other Catholic students discuss it at Harvard Divinity School. And honestly, I didn’t think much of it. I thought it was just an evening service in celebration of the coming Easter feast.

One year ago, I read Rebecca Fullan’s beautiful piece on Holy Saturday (, and I was shocked by what I had been missing. Some websites (yes, I turned to the web to find out more) cite the Easter Vigil as the most important mass of the liturgical year for Roman Catholics. Apparently, I have been missing out, and I had no idea.

Upon exploring how I might have missed the most important mass of the liturgical year, I discovered that at the parish I grew up in, the pastor did not encourage young children to attend the Easter Vigil. During my childhood and teenage years my family always had a young child – when I left for college my youngest sibling had just turned eight years old.

But, perhaps having had younger siblings is not a very good excuse for never attending an Easter Vigil. After all, I’m an adult now, and I’m sure there have been opportunities. However, I think that in adulthood we have a predilection toward recreating the ceremonies and traditions we knew and loved in our childhood. I remember very well waiting in line for confession on the Wednesday of Holy Week, the services on Holy Thursday and Good Friday, and mass on the morning of Easter Sunday, where my family often stood cleaned and pressed, clogged and congested, in the church atrium among people we didn’t recognize, who went to church this one day out of the year. Attendance at these services has always been a part of my annual Holy Week practice, while the Easter Vigil was the hole in my Triduum that I never knew existed.

And, now I find Holy Saturday rather perplexing. I had always thought of Holy Saturday as it its own day, a day of waiting, of patience, but now it seems that it is really a part of Easter Sunday. At the Easter Vigil are we celebrating the Resurrection or the fact that it will soon happen? Should we plan to attend the Easter Vigil and then another mass on Easter morning? I ask all these questions with a real sense of guilt. I should know this, right? I went to CCD and church every Sunday, sang in the church choir, was a member of the youth group, got confirmed, went to a Catholic university, and I still missed it. Could someone really be Catholic who was ignorant to the most important mass of the liturgical year?

I am always amazed at how much I don’t know about Catholicism despite lifelong practice. Perhaps, the Easter Vigil of Holy Saturday was a casualty of a rough and somewhat confused transition from Catholic child to Catholic adult. I missed this initiation into full communion with the Catholic liturgical calendar.

But, the cool thing about discovering something new as an adult is the sense of wonder and astonishment that often comes with experiencing that thing for the first time. In this way, my excitement to attend the Easter Vigil for the first time mirrors that theological anticipation with which we all experience this waiting for the Resurrection. Scared of the unknown, nervous, confused, but impatiently and with anticipation, awaiting joy, fulfillment, and spiritual delight.

Rebecca Curtin lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts and is excited to celebrate the Easter Vigil and Holy Week this year at the same time (for the first time) as her Eastern Orthodox boyfriend.


One Response

  1. I hope you liked it! 🙂 Happy Easter.

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