Holy Saturday

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Holy Saturday
Cristo yacente Gregorio Fernandez.jpg
Statue of Christ in the tomb by Gregorio Fernández. (Monastery of San Joaquín y Santa Ana, Valladolid)
Official nameHoly Saturday
Also calledEaster Eve, Black Saturday
Observed byChristians
SignificanceMarks the day Jesus' body lay in the tomb and the Harrowing of Hell
DateDay before Easter
2020 date
  • April 11 (Western)
  • April 18 (Eastern)
2021 date
  • April 3 (Western)
  • May 1 (Eastern)
2022 date
  • April 16 (Western)
  • April 23 (Eastern)
2023 date
  • April 8 (Western)
  • April 15 (Eastern)
Related toEaster

Holy Saturday (Latin: Sabbatum Sanctum), also known as Great and Holy Saturday (also Holy and Great Saturday), the Great Sabbath, Hallelujah Saturday (in Portugal and Brazil), Saturday of the Gloria and Black Saturday (in the Philippines) or Easter Eve,[1] and called "Joyous Saturday", "the Saturday of Light", and "Mega Sabbatun" among Coptic Christians, is the final day of Holy Week, between Good Friday and Easter Sunday, when Christians prepare for the latter. The day commemorates the Harrowing of Hell while Jesus Christ's body lay in the tomb. Christians of the Catholic, Lutheran, Methodist, Anglican and Reformed denominations begin the celebration of the Easter Vigil service on Holy Saturday, which provides a transition to the season of Eastertide; in the Moravian Christian tradition, graves are decorated with flowers during the day of Holy Saturday and the celebration of the sunrise service starts before dawn on Easter Sunday.[2][3]


Jewish Nazarenes[edit]

Whereas the Great Sabbath in Jewish liturgy occurs the sabbath before the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the sabbath in the midst of the feast is celebrated as a Special Shabbat § Shabbat Chol Hamoed Pesach. In the book of Hebrews chapter 4, Jewish christians are admonished to make every effort to enter this sabbath and every sabbath in repentance, and psalm 95 is excerpted by the author of Hebrews: "today if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts." The entire Psalm 95 is read on friday afternoon every week in synagogue prayers immediately before receiving the sabbath in rabbinic Judaism.

Eastern traditions[edit]

Eastern Orthodoxy

In Eastern Orthodoxy this day, known as Holy and Great Saturday, is also called The Great Sabbath since it is on this day that Christ "rested" physically in the tomb. But it is also believed that it was on this day he performed in spirit the Harrowing of Hell and raised up to Paradise, having liberated those who had been held captive.

Oriental Orthodoxy

In the Coptic, Ethiopian and Eritrean Orthodox Churches, this day is known as Joyous Saturday, otherwise known as the night of light and joy.[4] It is known as the Saturday of Good Tidings or Gospel Saturday in the Syriac Church, which is also a day where Syriac Christians remember their departed. [5]

Western traditions[edit]

In Western traditions, the day is usually called Holy Saturday, although in the Moravian Church, the day is referred to as the Great Sabbath and in the Anglican Communion, the Book of Common Prayer refers to the day as Easter Even.[6][7] Although the term Easter Saturday is usually applied to the Saturday in Easter week,[8][9] in English-speaking countries it is sometimes applied to Holy Saturday, including in legislation in the Australian states of New South Wales and Queensland,[10] and by Australian government agencies.[11] In the Catholic tradition, the Blessed Virgin Mary as Our Lady of Sorrows is on this day assigned the title Our Lady of Solitude, referring to her solace and grief at the death of her son.

Religious and cultural practices[edit]

Eastern traditions[edit]

The icon of Holy and Great Saturday, portraying the Harrowing of Hades

Matins of Holy and Great Saturday (in parishes usually held on Friday evening)[12][13] takes the form of a funeral service for Christ. The entire service takes place around the Epitaphios, an icon in the form of a cloth embroidered with the image of Christ prepared for burial. The first part of the service consists of chanting Psalm 118, as usual at both Saturday matins and at funerals, but interspersed with hymns (enkomia or lamentations) between the verses. The predominant theme of the service is not so much one of mourning, but of watchful expectation:[14]

Today Thou dost keep holy the seventh day,
Which Thou has blessed of old by resting from Thy works.
Thou bringest all things into being and Thou makest all things new,
Observing the Sabbath rest, my Saviour, and restoring strength.[15]

Near the end of matins, at the end of the Great Doxology, the Epitaphios is taken up and carried in procession around the outside of the church, while the Trisagion is sung, as is done when carrying the body to the cemetery in an Orthodox burial.

Divine Liturgy of Holy Saturday in a Greek Orthodox church in the United States

On Saturday, a vesperal Divine Liturgy of Saint Basil the Great is celebrated, called the First Resurrection Service (Greek: Ἡ Πρώτη Ἀνάστασις), named so because chronologically it was composed earlier than the Paschal Canon by St John Damascene, rather than because it occurs earlier liturgically.[16] This is the longest Divine Liturgy of the entire year and is performed later than on any other day of the year, "at the tenth hour of the day".[17] After the Little Entrance there are 15 Old Testament readings that recall the history of salvation. In the Russian tradition, just before the Gospel reading (Matthew 28:1–20) the hangings, altar cloths and vestments are changed from dark to bright and the deacon performs a censing of the church. In the Greek tradition, the clergy strew laurel leaves and flower petals all over the church to symbolize the shattered gates and broken chains of hell and Jesus' victory over death. While the liturgical atmosphere changes from sorrow to joy at this service, the faithful continue to fast and the Paschal greeting, "Christ is risen!", is not exchanged until after midnight during the Paschal Vigil since this service represents the proclamation of Jesus' victory over death to those in Hades, but the Resurrection has not yet been announced to those on earth which takes place during the Paschal Vigil.

Great Lent was originally the period of catechesis for new converts in order to prepare them for baptism and chrismation and when there are converts received, that occurs during the Old testament readings during the vesperal divine liturgy. Before the midnight service, the faithful gather in church for the reading of the Acts of the Apostles in its entirety. Preceding midnight the Paschal Vigil begins with the Midnight Office, during which the Canon of Holy Saturday is repeated, toward the end of which the epitaphios is removed from the center of the church and placed on the altar table where it remains until the Ascension[1]. Then, all of the candles and lights in the church are extinguished, and all wait in darkness and silence for the proclamation of the Resurrection of Christ.

Prior to the composition of the current Paschal Vigil of St. John of Damascus,[18] this day's vesperal liturgy was the main Easter celebration.[citation needed]


1.^ In Greek practice, this was done at Matins the night before (i.e. Matins of Holy Saturday).

Western traditions[edit]

The chancel of a Lutheran church on Holy Saturday is adorned with black paraments, as black is the liturgical colour of this day in the Lutheran Churches.
Benedictine monks singing Vespers on Holy Saturday

In the Roman Catholic Church, the altar remains stripped completely bare (following the Mass on Maundy Thursday). The celebration of the Sacraments is extremely limited: Holy Communion is given only as Viaticum to the dying; while Penance, Anointing of the Sick and baptism may be administered because they, like Viaticum, are helpful to ensuring salvation for the dying. The day is the second day of the Paschal fast as outlined in Sacrosanctum Concilium, Article 110.[19]

Many of the churches of the Lutheranism, Anglicanism, Methodism, and some other Churches observe most of the same customs of the Catholic Church; however, their altars may be covered in black instead of being stripped. In some Anglican churches, including the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America, provision is made for a simple Liturgy of the Word on this day, with readings commemorating the burial of Christ. Daily Offices are still observed. In the Moravian Church, the day is known as Great Sabbath.[6] The Anglican Book of Common Prayer uses Easter Even to designate the day.

Holy Saturday and other named days and day ranges around Lent and Easter in Western Christianity, with the fasting days of Lent numbered

In the Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Anglican and Methodist traditions, Holy Saturday lasts until nightfall, after which the Easter Vigil is celebrated, marking the official start of the Easter season.[20] The rubrics[21] state that the Easter Vigil must take place in the night; it must begin after nightfall and end before dawn. The service may start with a fire and the lighting of the new Paschal candle. In Roman Catholic and some Anglican observance, the Mass is the first Mass since that of Maundy Thursday, and during it, the "Gloria" — which has been absent during Lent — is used as the statues and icons, covered with purple veils during Passiontide, are dramatically unveiled. Some Anglican churches prefer to celebrate Easter and the lighting of the new Paschal candle at dawn on Easter Day. Baptisms may take place in this service and Baptismal vows are often renewed.

In the Moravian Church, people decorate the graves in God's Acre with flowers; the sunrise service, the first liturgy of Paschaltide, begins before dawn of Easter Sunday.[3]

In the predominantly Roman Catholic Philippines, the day is legally and colloquially known in English as Black Saturday, given the colour's role in mourning. Traditional taboos from the previous day are carried over and are sometimes broken; swimming is allowed in the afternoon. Most commercial establishments resume operations, with smaller enterprises remaining closed until Easter. Television and radio stations broadcast on shorter hours with special programming or remain off-air. In predominantly Roman Catholic Poland, Święconka (Polish pronunciation: [ɕvʲɛnˈtsɔnka]), meaning "the blessing of the Easter baskets", on Holy Saturday, is one of the most enduring and beloved traditions.


  1. ^ "Public Report on Audience Complaints and Comments, April–June 2006" (PDF). Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 4 May 2013.
  2. ^ Steenwyk, Carrie. "Easter Vigil". Christian Reformed Church in North America. Retrieved 3 April 2021. The Easter Vigil, also referred to as the Paschal Vigil or the First Service of Easter, is held either on the Saturday evening before Easter or very early Easter morning.
  3. ^ a b "Lent, Holy Week and Easter". Home Moravian Church. Retrieved 3 April 2021.
  4. ^ Michael Keene (1995). The Christian Experience. Nelson Thornes. p. 112. ISBN 978-0-7487-2188-7.
  5. ^ "Bible Readings For Gospel Saturday (Saturday of Good Tidings), Lectionary for Passion Week, Lectionary for Holy Week, Lectionary of the Syrian Orthodox Church, Lectionary of The Syriac Orthodox Church, Lectionary of the Jacobite Syrian Church, Lectionary". www.malankaraworld.com. Retrieved 30 March 2021.
  6. ^ a b Walker, Donna (19 April 2014). "Moravians celebrate the Great Sabbath". LancasterOnline. Retrieved 11 April 2020.
  7. ^ https://www.churchofengland.org/prayer-worship/worship/book-of-common-prayer/collects-epistles-and-gospels/easter-even.aspx
  8. ^ "Public Report on Audience Complaints and Comments, April–June 2006" (PDF). Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 25 April 2011.
  9. ^ "Confusing Easter Dates". The Liturgical Commission of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Brisbane. Archived from the original on 19 January 2012.
  10. ^ Public Holidays Act 2010 (NSW) s 4, Industrial Relations Act 2016 (Qld) Schedule 5, definition "public holiday".
  11. ^ Australian Government, Public holidays Archived 4 January 2015 at the Wayback Machine
  12. ^ "The Lamentations Service for Holy Saturday Matins". OrthoChristian.Com. Retrieved 28 April 2019.
  13. ^ "Protopresbyter Alexander Schmemann: This is the Blessed Sabbath". schmemann.org. Retrieved 28 April 2019.
  14. ^ Kallistos (Ware), Bishop; Mary, Mother (1977). The Lenten Triodion. South Canaan PA: St. Tikhon's Seminary Press (published 2002). p. 63. ISBN 1-878997-51-3. OCLC 189871515.
  15. ^ Matins Canon of Holy and Great Saturday, Ode 4
  16. ^ Parry, Ken; Melling, David J.; Brady, Dimitri; Griffith, Sidney H.; Healey, John F. (1999). The Blackwell Dictionary of Eastern Christianity. Oxford: Blackwell. pp. 390–391. ISBN 0-631-23203-6.
  17. ^ Archbishop Averky (Taushev) (1976). "Great Saturday". Liturgics. Translated by Archbishop Laurus Škurla. [Holy Trinity Monastery (Jordanville, New York)]. Retrieved 14 September 2020.
  18. ^ Parry et al. (1999), p. 390
  19. ^ "Sacrosanctum concilium".
  20. ^ "Liturgical Seasons of the Church Year". St John Lutheran Church. Retrieved 11 April 2020. Holy Saturday is a day of waiting and yearning until evening when the Easter Vigil is celebrated. A service of light, readings, Holy Baptism and Holy Communion. It is the first Easter liturgy celebrated in the darkness of Easter Eve.
  21. ^ Roman Missal (3rd ed.).


External links[edit]