Holy Saturday, which for us is a nothing-day between Good Friday and Easter Sunday, was a big day in the first two centuries of Christendom. Back then, they reviewed the life of Jesus in the twelve months of every year. He was born again for them on Christmas. He went into the desert on Ash Wednesday. He died again on Good Friday, and rose again on Easter every year. That yearly sequence was what they called their liturgical year.
Let me say something about that word liturgy. As a seminarian in the 1940’s and 1950’s I was told that Catholics had two kinds of religious activities. Their were devotions, like the rosary and night prayers which lay people could carryout on their own; but separate from them were liturgical activities that could only be practiced under the supervision of the clergy. Then, when the 19060’s and 1970’s came along, we realized that liturgy referred to religious activities open to all. The word l-i-t-u-r-g-y comes from two Greek words, laic and ergon, which literally mean, “The work of the laity.”
On Good Friday the laity observe the death of Jesus, and on Sunday they celebrate his Resurrection. On Saturday, with deep emotions, they picture Jesus lying in the tomb. With St. Paul, in addition to mourning his physical death, they celebrate the triumph by which “he died to sin.” In Romans 6:10 Paul wrote, “He died to sin, once and for all.” By that Paul meant that the death by which Jesus saves us was not so much his physical death, but his having finally put to death in himself every urge toward sinfulness.
For early Christians Holy Saturday was the only day on which they baptized. They all gathered around the baptismal pool, and in their imaginations they saw the pool as the tomb of Jesus. Each person who went down into the pool said something like, “By going into Our Lord’s tomb I pledge to die to sin with him.”
Then, all the Christians who had been baptized in earlier years, in imagination went down again into the tomb, repeating his or her baptismal vows. We do not have the Profession of Faith as part of our Easter Mass. It is replaced by our vowing to die to sin with Christ. The whole purpose of Lent is to prepare us to really mean it when we repeat our baptismal vows.