Mazurland's Religion Desk should be busy during Holy Week. And indeed, over the years, we've written about Palm Sunday, Triduum (the three days before Easter), and Easter itself (if only to convey wishes). But we admit to being a bit brief and superficial on these most important Christian Holy Days. We have never covered Good Friday, the day our Lord purchased our salvation, nor, in depth, Easter, which celebrates the story of the first fruits of Christ's promise to us. Holy Week is a busy week, and by time we sit down to write, often the opportunity has passed for longer reflection. And again this year, we have let Good Friday pass without notice here, though the day's importance was not lost on us.
Most of the days of Holy Week commemorate a specific event leading to the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Some of these are well-known by regular church-goers: Holy Thursday recalls the Last Supper, Friday Christ's death, Sunday His resurrection. Some are less well-known: Wednesday is sometimes called "Spy Wednesday" because the Gospel tells of Judas's treachery.
Today, Holy Saturday is a "between day". We know where Christ was that day. He was in his tomb. But what was he doing? Well, it turns out that he wasn't just chillin'. In Catholic practice, as on Good Friday, no mass is celebrated until the Easter Vigil, which is technically part of Sunday's worship. So we can't look to the Liturgy of the Word for that day for clues. But Christ was actually quite busy. He was harrowing Hell.
The Harrowing of Hell is a difficult teaching, different and controversial among the many Christian denominations. The Apostles Creed and the Athanasian Creed, two of the earliest statements of Christian belief, both say that before His resurrection, Jesus descended into Hell. (The Nicene Creed does not mention this descent.) Dante describes the "after-effects" of this descent in several Cantos of the Inferno. But what exactly did Christ do in Hell? The denominations that believe in this event disagree. Some say that He went there to complete His death, only after which He could rise. Some say the "hell" He went to was not the "Hell" of eternal punishment, but merely the place where all souls go upon death. Some say He did go to Hell, and He went for an express purpose. To raid it. To put the devil in his place. To bring out the virtuous dead of the Old Testament. And Hell has never been the same. According to Dante, He did a lot of damage down there, and mere mention of Him gets the fearful attention of any demon.
But back on Earth, Holy Saturday is the last day of Lent and a day of preparation for Easter. My wife and I cleaned house and prepared food. We also went to Church at noon to get our Easter baskets blessed. It's an old tradition, particularly among Slavic parishes. Our parish is not Slavic, but our pastor once served in one and liked the tradition, so brought it to ours. I remember the tradition from my youth. Women would put together a basket of all the food they'd be serving on Easter: ham, sausage, eggs, horseradish, wine, salt, butter lambs. Most of these foods have symbolic significance. And boy do they smell good after six weeks of Lenten fasting! And the women were usually tacitly competing for "presentation points" - flower garlands, embroidered blankets over the food, decorated breads, eggs, and cakes.
So today, my wife and I learned that our Lenten penitence was at least partly in vain. The blessing ceremony takes about 10 minutes. A mother was there with her daughter. They were right in front of us. The girl looked to be 9 or 10, definitely old enough to know how to behave. But she fidgeted, asked a lot of questions in a loud whisper, which here mother diligently answered rather than admonishing her to follow the teachings of St. Fu. I knew Vicky and I were on the same wavelength. We said nothing. But we thought: "spoiled kid", "that's why kids have no religion - parents don't put the fear of God in them", "unchurched yuppie twits", "Hell is other people's children", etc. On our way to the parking lot afterward, I broke the silence, saying "I wanted to smack that Mom."
So what was the Christian thing to do? Did we do it by being silent and tolerant during the service (only to let off steam afterward)? Or did we shirk our duties by failing to remind the mother, who seemed to be treating her daughter to a "novelty", of the solemnity of the ceremony? Our Dad, Big Al, would have said something in Church. Quietly, but sternly. He never let an opportunity to instruct an idiot pass by.
I'm glad Christ harrowed Hell, and that by His death and resurrection He has shown that He tolerates, forgives, and redeems us all. I'm glad for me, and glad for the idiot in front of me.