In the Epistle for the Easter Vigil St. Paul wrote, “Are you unaware that we who are baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?”
Three days ago I received a request to subscribe to a Catholic magazine that promised to free its readers from what it called the destructive liberalism that came into the Church after 196o.
I disagree with their assessment. As a server boy in the 1940’s and as a young priest in the 1950’s the two of us were the only people in church on Holy Saturdays before the confessions started in the afternoons. We had prayers over tubs of water, and we plowed through a long hodgepodge of readings and rituals introduced into the liturgy at different times through the centuries.
Vatican II did away with those meaningless rituals by reviving the Holy Saturday practices of the Apostles. We were led to dramatize what Paul meant by saying we die with Christ in order to rise with him.
Each year in the first centuries Christians reviewed the complete life of Jesus. They thought of him as being born again at Christmas, as going into the desert on Ash Wednesday. He died for them on Good Friday, and then he rose on Easter.
But, what about Holy Saturday? What was Jesus doing then? Well, his body was lying in the tomb cut from rock. Christians represented that tomb for themselves with a tank or pool filled with water.
The people to be baptized would gather around that pool, and they would listen to the priest quoting words of St. Paul. Paul had said that the death by which Jesus saved us was not his physical death but his death to sin. The priest presiding at the ceremony would tell those people that Jesus was inviting them to share with him in that death to sin. They could do that symbolically by going down into the tomb-like baptismal pool. If they died to sin with him they would be prepared to rise to glory with him.
When they came up from the tank they would go one by one before the bishop. As he anointed each of them with oil consecrated to the Holy Spirit, he would say something like this: “To the extent that by dying to sin you have made room in your hearts for the Holy Spirit, he is now entering you.” That was Confirmation. Following on that, the newly baptized would go in to fully take part in the Easter Eucharist.