Tag Archives: Great Sabbath rest

The liberation of the Great Sabbath Rest

Today, even in ordinary times there is no Mass, no Communion – only the Liturgy of the Hours.

Nothing – the body of Jesus is in the tomb.

Father Damasus Winzen OSB, founder of Mount Saviour Monastery, reflected on this “great Sabbath rest.”

To the people of the [northern] hemisphere, always active and wanting to be kept busy, a day with nothing is a frightening prospect.

That’s where we are in almost all the world – a day with nothing. Curfew, confined to the house, with virtually nothing to do.

Many of us will fill the nothingness with time on the internet, watching movies, reading books, making bread, cleaning those rooms and those windows we’ve neglected for so long.

But are we missing something by trying to fill up our days? How can we make this time “a source of spiritual blessing for the individual and the family”?

I can give no answers, only a few thoughts, more for me than for others.

Though I am an introvert and have been called a hermit, I like to be in control, to get things done. I was thus in my element this week when I was asked to help drive food stuffs and soap to remote villages with some people working with the municipality.

But yesterday and today, I am alone in the house. I only went out once to say hello to neighbors and buy water. I am making bread.

So the words of Father Damasus challenge me. (Please excuse the non-inclusive language; it was written in 1957.)

Through his work, man exercises dominion over this world. By ceasing from all work on the seventh day he strips himself of his power and surrenders himself and all he owns to God’s supreme rule. The “rest” on the Sabbath is not a breathing spell to gather new strength for another week of effort. It means a consecration of man to glorify God, the opening of a new dimension, that of the Kingdom of God….
Let us then enter with Christ into the rest, and let us use this day to put the god of progress, who drives us into a whirl of external activity, down from his throne that the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ may take our human destiny into his own almighty hands…. Christians are not slaves in the prison of this world. We do not try to build the tower of Babel to make a name for ourselves. We do not try to keep our destiny in our own hands. We are not “self-made men.” We recognize that these is something beyond the reach of our own activity, the realm of divine grace, which we enter through faith….
We do not mean that to say that all activity as such is bad. Man is called to work. It is unique distinction. But without the Sabbath he is bound to lose control over his activity. Work will become an end in itself, and lose its blessing. It becomes a wall between man and God, a veil which hides from his eyes the goodness and kindness of God, our Saviour, until the lights go out over man’s world and he, who has grown accustomed to trusting in himself alone, falls a victim to despair. The sabbath shows is that there is something beyond all human activity, the peace of God our Father, into which we enter through faith in his infinite love. He who has counted every hair on our heads holds us in the palm of his hand, so that even the darkness of the tomb is filled with the light of hope.

There is hope.

On my kitchen counter, the bread is rising. I did my part – and now I let the dough rest. And in its rest it will, God willing, rise.

So too, may our rest from the hectic world these days be the place where God rises to make a new world, a world where the poor have enough, where we don’t have to go out and give people food, but where people work and share – signs of the Reign of God.

The bread is rising.


The Great Sabbath – Silence

Holy Saturday is here, an in-between day. Yesterday we lived the Passion and Death of Jesus with Stations of the Cross and the reading of the Passion. Tonight we begin the celebration of His resurrection with light, readings, and baptism.

It is a day of silence. As Pope Francis said earlier this week:

Holy Saturday is the day of the silence of God. Jesus shares with all humanity the drama of death, not leaving any space where the infinite mercy of God does not reach. On this day, love does not doubt, just as Mary, the first believer, did not doubt, but kept silence and hoped. Love hopes confident in the word of the Lord until Christ rises in splendor on the day of the Paschal feast.

It is a day to set aside to watch and wait, preferably in silence.

Father Damasus Winzen, the founder of the primitive Benedictine Mount Saviour Monastery near Elmira, New York, wrote a beautiful little essay on Holy Saturday, entitled “The Great Sabbath Rest.” In this essay he notes the importance of silence:

Next to fasting, silence is the most important means to keep the spirit of Holy Saturday. Turn off the radio and television. Avoid all unnecessary talking. Stop the voice of man that God may have a chance to speak to our heart. “It is good to wait in silence for the salvation of God” [Lamentations 3:26], is one of the verses we hear during Matins of Holy Saturday. Silence is fasting with our tongue. We disclaim the right to make ourselves heard. We take our place among God’s disciples. We are ready to listen. Silence is the external sign of an inner conversion from self-assertion to faith in God’s saving love. “For thus says the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel. If you return and be quiet, you shall be saved: in silence and in hope shall your strength be” [Isaiah 30:15]. The silence of Holy Saturday is not only the empty silence of not talking and of stopping all noise. It is an imitation of our Lord’s silence, of the silence of selfless love, which, instead of accusing and defending, covers all sins and carries them in the depth of forgiveness. Therefore, the silence of Holy Saturday should be an inner silence of the heart.

Today I will not be all that silent and restful. The Dulce Nombre choir is supposed to come here to my house for a morning of silent retreat. I will try to lead them into silence.

UPDATE: They cancelled the retreat morning. Someone left a message last night after  had gone to bed. But still, here’s what I had planned.

First we will spend some time quieting ourselves with meditative prayer.

Then I will invite them to walk in silence accompanying Mary, John, Peter, Mary Magdalene, or another of the women who accompanied Jesus to the Cross or another of the apostles who abandoned Him. What did they experience, what did they feel on this day of rest, but also of silence, perhaps filled with a spirit of abandonment.

Finally I will share with them a meditation on the resurrection by Carlo Carretto.

I need this as much as they might to prepare for the Great Vigil where we will celebrate the Light of Christ come into the world – with fire, readings, the waters of baptism, and the Eucharist.

And so I recall the words of Psalm 46:

Be still and know that I am God…

Great advice before the Easter Vigil.

The Great Sabbath Rest and The Harrowing of Hell

Holy Saturday is the one day in the Catholic liturgical calendar where there is no liturgy. It is a day of rest, remembering how the women waited till Sunday to go to the tomb to anoint the body of Jesus. It is “the great Sabbath rest.”

The icon of the resurrection most used by the Orthodox Church is Jesus in “hell,” opening the gates so that Adam, Eve, John the Baptist, and others might share in the glory of His resurrection and experience fully the joy of God’s presence, Heaven.

In the west, especially since the Middle Ages, the image has most often been Christ rising from the tomb, with the soldiers falling to the ground.

However, there is a beautiful image of Jesus “harrowing hell” by Fra Angelico and his followers in one of the friar’s cells in the Convento San Marcos in Florence.


Christ, triumphant, has broken down the door to the cave and brought light to those awaiting his coming. He reaches out as if to pull them out of the darkness into light.

An ancient homily, used in the Holy Saturday office of Vigils, says:

 …the Lord sleeps in His fleshly nature,; in the netherworld he is wakening those who have slept for ages.

…He wills to visit those who sit in the dark shadows of death… The Lord takes Adam’s hand and says: “Awake, sleeper, and rise from the dead and Christ will give you light….

I bid you: awake, sleeper! I did not create you to lie bound in hell. Arise from the dead, for I am life to those who have died. Rise up, work of my hands, my likeness, made in my image. Rise. Let us go hence.

We rest, today, waiting to celebrate the risen Lord. But also we wait to celebrate the promise of life eternal – which begins now. That means respect for our bodies and for all creation.

Today, the Greek and Russian churches celebrate St. John Climacus. Though a severe ascetic, he wrote:

How can I run away from my body, when it will be my companion at the resurrection?

To celebrate Christ, who died and was raised up from the dead, is thus to celebrate the call of creation to be holy. We are called not to despise creation, but to celebrate the work of God in Jesus who wishes to restore to us and to all creation the holiness and goodness with which God endowed it, seeing it as “very good.” (Genesis 1: 31)