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Holy Saturday: A Great Silence and Stillness on the Earth Because the King is Asleep

By Deacon Keith Fournier
April 7th, 2012
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

This is the day when we are invited into the deep, hope filled prayer of the whole Church as we prepare for the great Easter Vigil. "Something strange is happening - there is a great silence on earth today, a great silence and stillness. The whole earth keeps silence because the King is asleep. The earth trembled and is still because God has fallen asleep in the flesh and he has raised up all who have slept ever since the world began. God has died in the flesh and hell trembles with fear" .

CHESAPEAKE, Va. (Catholic Online) - Among the great treasures of being a Catholic Christian we are given the wealth of inspired himilies, writings and reflections in our unbroken Christian tradition; our family history. For example, the many writings of those whom we call the early fathers of the church.

As a member of the clergy, a deacon, I was asked to pray every day what is most often called the Liturgy of the Hours when I was ordained. It was more often called the Breviary when I was young. We associated it with priests, monks and religious men and women. Since the Second Vatican Council, the Church has encouraged ALL of the faithful, clergy, consecrated religious and the lay faithful to join in praying this marvelous order of prayer. 

I began praying "the Hours" many years before my ordination. I was impressed by many in my own Christian journey who helped me along the way. They had a deep insight into the truths of the ancient yet ever new Catholic faith - and I wanted what they had. One of the priests whom the Lord gave me over the years to help guide me on the way of faith was Fr Michael Scanlan, the founder of the renewed Franciscan University of Steubenville.

Fr Mike was always quoting from the early Church writings in his inspired talks, articles, books and homilies. I asked him one day where he got all those wonderfully inspiring quotes and he showed me the source. he also encouraged me to begin to pray the Hours. I will be eternally grateful to him for this gift, and so many more. 

This beautiful format for prayer places us in a solidarity of worship with the Church universal. In it's Office of Readings we find selective quotations and citations from our history - and from the rich teaching of the Church - which open up the treasury of which I write - on a daily basis - for our prayerful reflection. They can -  and they do - change your life.

However, like all gifts, they must be received and unwrapped. The four volume set can be purchased in most Catholic Book Stores and can be ordered online here. Many Christians of other faith communities are now praying the Liturgy of the Hours.

In fact, these readings are often credited by those who come into the full communion of the Catholic Church as having been one of the sources of water on their journey home. I strongly suggest that people have the actual set to pour over during times of prayer, highlight and return to over the years. However, it is also available online.  

Over the years of my service as a Deacon of the Church, the rich readings I have feasted on in morning prayer have gotten inside of me, changing me even after my eyes have left the page. That is what happens with inspired writings. The word "inspire", in its etymology, means "God breathed". The Holy Spirit has indeed guided the Church, leading her in all truth just as the Lord promised.

I have frequently been asked where I find the treasures I share with others. I find myself quoting the writings from the Office of Readings and sharing them frequently in my work of evangelization, apologetics and catechesis. I always tell people where they can find this wonderful source of riches from the Christian tradition. I feel as though I am just one beggar telling another beggar where to find some bread. 

I was given a four volume leather bound set of the Liturgy of the Hours at my ordination. It sits under my icons in that area of the room where I pray every day. Each morning, after reading the daily readings for the Mass or Liturgy of the day and spending time in silence, I open the treasure box and pray the Liturgy of the Hours.

Every time I open to the Office of Readings, I know I will find that bread on the trail of my daily Christian journey. I cannot even begin to recount the number of mornings when it has been those readings which acted as a pump for a heart which had grown heavy. The readings help to prime the springs of living water which well up within me as the Holy Spirit begins its work.

On this Holy Saturday, we are offered in the Office of Readings in the Liturgy of the Hours an exquisite excerpt from a Second Century Bishop of Sardis named Melito. I offer the holy Bishop's inspired words for my readers below. This is the day when we are invited into the deep, hope filled prayer of the whole Church as we prepare for the great Easter Vigil.

Please, take time out of your morning to sit in prayer and read this homily.I also present one of the multiple icons which this mystery has inspired to enhance our prayerful reflection for the Great Easter Vigil in which we will soon participate.Now, with the Church joined in communion, in heaven and on earth, through the centuries, let us wait at the tomb in holy silence.

*****

Bishop Melito of Sardis: īThe whole earth keeps silence because the King is asleepī

Something strange is happening - there is a great silence on earth today, a great silence and stillness. The whole earth keeps silence because the King is asleep. The earth trembled and is still because God has fallen asleep in the flesh and he has raised up all who have slept ever since the world began. God has died in the flesh and hell trembles with fear.

He has gone to search for our first parent, as for a lost sheep. Greatly desiring to visit those who live in darkness and in the shadow of death, he has gone to free from sorrow the captives Adam and Eve, he who is both God and the son of Eve. The Lord approached them bearing the cross, the weapon that had won him the victory.
 
At the sight of him Adam, the first man he had created, struck his breast in terror and cried out to everyone: "My Lord be with you all." Christ answered him: "And with your spirit." He took him by the hand and raised him up, saying: "Awake, O sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ will give you light."

"I am your God, who for your sake have become your son. Out of love for you and for your descendants I now by my own authority command all who are held in bondage to come forth, all who are in darkness to be enlightened, all who are sleeping to arise. I order you, O sleeper, to awake. I did not create you to be held a prisoner in hell.

"Rise from the dead, for I am the life of the dead. Rise up, work of my hands, you who were created in my image. Rise, let us leave this place, for you are in me and I am in you; together we form only one person and we cannot be separated.

"For your sake I, your God, became your son; I, the Lord, took the form of a slave; I, whose home is above the heavens, descended to the earth and beneath the earth. For your sake, for the sake of man, I became like a man without help, free among the dead. For the sake of you, who left a garden, I was betrayed to in a garden, and I was crucified in a garden.

'See on my face the spittle I received in order to restore to you the life I once breathed into you. See there the marks of the blows I received in order to refashion your warped nature in my image. On my back see the marks of the scourging I endured to remove the burden of sin that weighs upon your back. See my hands, nailed firmly to a tree, for you who once wickedly stretched out your hand to a tree.

"I slept on the cross and a sword pierced my side for you who slept in paradise and brought forth Eve from your side. My side has healed the pain in yours. My sleep will rouse you from your sleep in hell. The sword that pierced me has sheathed the sword that was turned against you.

'Rise, let us leave this place. The enemy led you out of the earthly paradise. I will not restore you to that paradise, but I will enthrone you in heaven. I forbade you the tree that was only a symbol of life, but see, I who am life itself am now one with you. I appointed cherubim to guard you as slaves are guarded, but now I make them worship you as God.

"The throne formed by cherubim awaits you, its bearers swift and eager. The bridal chamber is adorned, the banquet is ready, the eternal dwelling places are prepared, the treasure houses of all good things lie open. The kingdom of heaven has been prepared for you from all eternity".

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