Holy Saturday is the Jewish Sabbath before Easter, and a day to be observed during Holy week. Holy Saturday is the time period between Good Friday - Jesus' crucifixion - and Easter Sunday - the resurrection of Jesus. Holy Week begins with Palm Sunday and ends with the glorious celebration of Easter Sunday. On Palm Sunday in the Bible, people lined the streets shouting the praises of Jesus as He rode in on a donkey (John 12:13). Maundy Thursday is the next observed day, followed by Good Friday.
Fast Facts on Holy Saturday:
- Generally observed by the Catholic Church, Holy Saturday is a 40-hour vigil between Good Friday and Easter Sunday
- Just as the family and friends of Jesus spend Saturday waiting and praying, we too can use Holy Saturday as a day of meditation and reflection
- Holy Saturday is the end of Lent and fasting
What Is Holy Saturday?
Holy Saturday is referred to in each Gospel, but Luke gives a glimpse into the law behind this specific day. Luke 23:55 shares, “As his body was taken away, the women from Galilee followed and saw the tomb where his body was placed. Then they went home and prepared spices and ointments to anoint his body. But by the time they were finished the Sabbath had begun, so they rested as required by the law."
Saturday in Jewish tradition is the Sabbath, so it was against the law of the land for the women to place the oils and spices they had prepared for the body. This timing is no coincidence, for after the Sabbath is over at the dawn of Sunday they attempt to go and honor the body again, and it is then in Luke 24 that the glorious miracle is revealed that indeed Jesus was true to His word to rise again.
Each Gospel account is very similar in the account of what occurred between the death of Christ and His resurrection. Matthew 27, Mark 15, Luke 23, and John 19 each share in describing that a man by the name of Joseph made provisions for Jesus’s body to be laid in a new tomb and Mary Magdalene and the other Mary intended to assist in preparing the body with spices and oils. The women ran out of time before it was officially the Sabbath, so the anointing of the body would have to wait until Sunday morning. One would imagine that the hours between arriving at the tomb must have been filled with tears of sorrow, yet glimmers of hope that indeed He would do as He said on Sunday.
How Should Christians Observe Holy Saturday?
The day preceding the miracle is yes, a Sabbath, a day to rest, but it is also a day to be still. Exodus 20:8 is the original verse explaining to God’s people how to observe this law, “Remember to observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. You have six days each week for your ordinary work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath day of rest dedicated to the Lord your God.” The act of keeping something Holy is to keep it set aside or reserved for a purpose, and this specific day is meant to rest in dedication to the Lord. On Holy Saturday Christians today can take this a step further in resting or abiding in what the Lord is doing today.
Just as Jesus’ followers waited the tedious hours of that Saturday to see what would occur Sunday, so we wait to see the hand of the Lord in our own lives. The prayers that are yet to be answered and the hopes left lingering still can all be placed at the throne of God as we rest and abide in His presence. Exodus 14:14 shared to, “be still and wait for the Lord” as the Israelites stood at the banks of the Red Sea waiting for the Lord to act, and so in that they yielded their fears, their worries, and their own actions to the Father for movement. When it was time to move, the Lord made it clear to them, but there came a time of trusting in being still before He revealed what was next.
Holy Saturday is a time for us to lean into being present in the Lord, placing our own agendas at the door, and coming before Him to simply be with Him. The Lord desires a relationship with us, and a requirement of a relationship is time together. Holy Saturday is a great day not to ask for anything, but to simply spend time within the Spirit of the Lord.
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Is Holy Saturday Observed in Catholicism, Protestantism, and Orthodoxy?
Different denominations celebrate Holy Saturday differently in the Church. For denominations that observe Lent, it is the final day of Lent (except for those who celebrate the end of Lent on the Thursday before Easter). Lent is a period prior to Easter in which something is given up or fasted from.
Roman Catholic churches hold vigils in the evening prior to the dawn of Easter. Eastern Orthodox take this vigil a step further with lighting fires and candles while tolling bells to signify the joy that the Lenten season is over. Many people of Mexican descent who live in Los Angeles in California celebrate Holy Saturday with a colorful ceremony known as the Blessing of the Animals.
It is encouraged to read the four accounts throughout the Gospels of the death and resurrection of Christ on Holy Saturday. Preparing hearts for the weight of what Easter means can be the blessing of Holy Saturday.
A Holy Saturday Prayer
Father, We recognize the significance of Holy Saturday for the Easter season. It is not merely a day between Good Friday and Easter, but it is a day to observe in consecration of what You did for us. We leave our own agendas, our own desires, and our own pleas at the door and crave today to be still and rest in Your presence. We are so grateful for the ability to quiet our hearts and stand in Your presence, we want to come to know Your heart more this day. Thank You for sending Your Son, Jesus to die for us, and thank You that You kept Your promise that Easter Sunday. Let us not be so hurried in our own lives that we forget the glory that You brought forth that day.
In Jesus name, Amen
For the women who would come to the Tomb the next day, Holy Saturday was a day of rest and preparation within their hearts. The oils and spices were finished, but the preparation of their hearts took place that Saturday. We too can prepare our hearts for the joy that is to come dawning Easter Sunday. Taking part in that joy can include leaning into what He has to share to our hearts on Holy Saturday. May God fill you with the delight of His love, and the elation of what is to come by His hand.
Encyclopedia Britannica: Holy Saturday
Holy Bible, NIV
Photo credit: ©Getty Images/Romolo Tavani
Cally Logan is an author and US History teacher from Richmond, Virginia. In her free time, she enjoys leading a high school girls’ small group, cooking, and spending time in tree houses. Her latest books, Dear Young Sparrow and Unveiled are available on Amazon and at Barnes and Noble. Check her out on Instagram and Twitter, @CallyLogan.
This article is part of our larger Holy Week and Easter resource library centered around the events leading up to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We hope these articles help you understand the meaning and story behind important Christian holidays and dates and encourage you as you take time to reflect on all that God has done for us through his son Jesus Christ!
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