An Uncommon Commentary
The tradition of the Catholic Church is the richest spiritual heritage in history, and it provides, by the grace of Christ, the strongest link to Christ himself, the one Savior and Mediator between us and the Father. But the richness of the One Catholic Church is not monotone; it is nuanced and varied, and spread out over the various branches of the one Church – the traditions and “particular churches” which form it together, each contributing its part.
The contribution of the Chaldean Church of the East to the entirety of the Catholic Faith is second to none, and the Basilica Hymn of Holy Saturday, “The Saturday of Light,” is a contribution that no other particular church has accomplished. It is a commentary on a verse of the Bible that is avoided by most commentators, both because it is difficult to explain as a historical circumstance and because even its spiritual significance is obscure. The verse is Matthew 27:50-53: “And Jesus cried again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit. And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom; and the earth shook, and the rocks were split; the tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many.”
No other church has had the courage to interpret with such depth such an odd passage, claiming that many of the dead were raised and came out of their graves when Christ died on the Cross. What could the significance of this event be for the souls of the faithful who read the Gospel?
Sleep No More
Every event in history had led up to the passion, death and resurrection of Christ. This was the climax of everything that had happened before, which had been prefigured and prophesied by the entire Old Testament. Therefore, the Chaldean Church made an attempt to tie all of history together into this one moment, by “waking up” all the “sleeping” prophets who had awaited the Messiah, and to point out to them the fulfillment of all of their hopes. Beginning with Adam and ending with Zechariah and John the Baptist, one by one, the most significant of the prophets are “awakened” and shown the dead Messiah hanging upon the Cross.
From age to age, amen, amen. In our Lord’s passion there was real suffering, and awe seized angels and men. The dead who had been buried arose and left their tombs while singing: “Glory to the Son who was brought low and, for our sake, hung on a piece of wood, and who cried out with his living voice and shook heaven and earth!”
Awake O First Adam, and see the Only-Begotten Son who suffered like a sinner at the hands of sinful people!
Awake and arise O cheated Abel, killed by the unjust brother, and see the Savior of the world, who dies for the life of the world!
Awake and arise O innocent Noah, who was an intercessor for the world, and see the Son of the Most High, who hangs on wood today!
Awake O sons of blessings, Shem and honorable Yafeth, who covered the nakedness of their father who was fast asleep: come and see the light of the sun and the beautiful lamp of the moon wearing a gloomy darkness, so that their Lord might not be seen disgraced!
Awake O high priest Melchezidech, who did not offer flesh on the altar: come today and see the Son who gave us his Mysteries in bread and wine!
Awake O Abraham, and see the Son who was shown to you in a revelation: for today he was hung on a piece of wood, like that mystery that was revealed to you!
Awake O blessed Isaac, saved by a lamb in a tree, and see that true mystery fulfilled by your Lord today!
Awake O righteous Joseph, who was spat upon by his brothers, and see Jesus the Savior who is spit upon by their sons!
Awake O Moses, head of the prophets, and see the Lord of the prophets, who suffers at the hands of the sons of the prophets, as was foretold by the prophets!
Awake O heroic Joshua, who stopped the sun and the moon: see that they wear a gloomy darkness today, because of the death of the Son!
Awake O David, O Psalmist, come out of the grave today; take up your harp and lyre, and preach, speaking in a Psalm: “They divided his clothes between them, placed their bets on his robes, and were like dogs around the Lion who did not speak to them.”
Awake and arise from the dirt O Solomon, sea of wisdom, and see the Lord of wisdom who is mocked by ignorance!
Awake O glorious Isaiah, look and see Christ the King; behold him bearing murder like a sacrifice, without opening his mouth!
Awake O blessed Joel, and see the darkness and gloom, the blood and the cloud of smoke, which reign over the world today!
Awake O Jonah, who for three days was like a dead man, and showed Judaism the resurrection after three days!
Awake O Micah, and see the Shepherd who came to return the stray, whom the Jewish nation has risen against and crucified like a sinner!
Awake and arise O blessed one who made judgment with the Lord, and see the marvel today: the Judge becomes the one condemned!
Awake O Zephaniah, and see the Church which was saved by the crucifixion; the distant became the close, and the assembly became scattered!
Awake O blessed Haggai, who was so diligent in building, and see that today the veil of forgiveness is ripped open!
Awake O Jeremiah the priest, who was thrown into the pit of mud, and see your Lord today, for whom a tomb has become a bedroom!
Awake O blessed Zechariah, and his beloved son the Baptist, and see today your Lord made into a sacrifice and offering!
Awake and arise O Fathers who died in the hope of the resurrection, and see, atop Golgotha, the Lord of all creatures!
Awake and arise all you deceased, and see the dead among the living, who bring forth to the house of the dead, the Lord of the living and the dead!
Awake O deceased from ages ago, and see the Son who is from of old, who took your form in his love, and in whom all Scriptures are fulfilled!
Awake O you who are dead in sin, see the Son who does not know sin, who dies with the slaves of sin, in order to kill death and sin!
Awake O deceased, and see the marvel on the cross of the first-born Son, who by his murder has rent the earth, and by his death has abolished death!
O Conqueror whose friends abandoned him and whose servants judged him, by his choice: give victory to those whose sins have conquered them, in your mercies which brought them into existence! Blessed is your death, glorious your resurrection! Have pity and forgive, by your grace, your servants who confess your Divinity. In your power, be an aid for us, and make your mercies flow at every time upon the assemblies of the Church who confess that you have risen in truth. To you, with your Father be glory and adoration, and to the Holy Spirit, at all times.