Saturday, 11 April 2009

a day without prayer

Ignatius of Loyola, in his Spiritual Exercises, departs from the normal prayer structure for the Exercises-equivalent of Holy Saturday. Rather than pray four or five times as usual, he recommends praying the Passion once at midnight, again on rising, and then spending the rest of the day pondering Christ’s actual death, as well as imagining the loneliness felt by Mary and the disciples.

At first blush, it’s a sensible suggestion: take time to let Jesus’s death sink in. But at second blush, it is striking that Ignatius recommends, in effect, that we not even try to pray — not formally at least — but that we ponder and reflect instead.

Of course, if you’ve spent a week imaginatively meditating on the Passion, trying to stay alongside Jesus in his suffering, then his death does interrupt everything. With Jesus dead, Christian prayer doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Praying to the Father through the Son in the Spirit doesn’t work — unless you anticipate the resurrection.

Just as most of the Church does not celebrate the Eucharist on this day, so it is no surprise that Ignatius counsels against praying on this day. Instead, Ignatius suggests that we let the bottom fall out of our world too, just as it would have done for Mary, for the other faithful women, and for the apostles. He wants us to experience Jesus’s death without anticipating the resurrection. True, he is setting the stage for the next day’s prayer, when we ask to share in Jesus’s own joy at his resurrection, but the reality of Jesus’s death has to be plumbed first to make space for his own exquisite joy.

Some people might not appreciate such a suspension of the truth (of the resurrection) as a spiritual good. How could good come out of pretending not to believe something that you do actually believe? How do you even do that psychologically? But Ignatius is simply asking us to attend to the story as it unfolds, even if the story is familiar. And attending to Jesus’s all too real death is something many of us need to work at, not least to get over our inability to let Jesus be truly human, let alone truly dead. Unless we let him die, we lose out on Jesus’s own joy, his own gratitude, his own amazement, his desire to share his joy.

So if you’re wondering what to do this Holy Saturday, why not spend the whole day imagining that Jesus is dead. Go through the day, doing whatever it is that one does on a Saturday, but do so as if he has not been resurrected. Forget about the ‘not yet’. Go through the day as if his death had been the end of the story. Imagine everything Jesus said and did, imagine the promise of it all, but then also imagine that he was killed for it. But don’t anticipate. Ignore the speculative metaphysics of souls, and let him be utterly dead.

If you must sneak a prayer in, pray to God for some measure of desolation; pray for a real sense of spiritual numbness and darkness; pray for a sense of infinite grief; pray to experience the loss of any ground to prayer — pray even to be unable to pray. And then wait … for the darkness of the Vigil.

Posted by Joe Cassidy on Saturday, 11 April 2009 at 7:23am BST | TrackBack
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Categorised as: just thinking

I love this suggestion.

Posted by: Rosemary Hannah on Saturday, 11 April 2009 at 1:25pm BST

"With Jesus dead, Christian prayer doesn’t make a whole lot of sense" - Joe Cassidy -

Is this not, Joe, the whole paradox about the Christian life? The Eucharist, par excellence, reminds us of the twinned reality of Christ's death and resurrection - all of a piece. The Christian epic is not based on either one or the other - death or resurrection alone, but on both having being experienced by Jesus in order to bring God's salvation into being.

This is why, in the Church where I experience the Liturgical cermonies of Holy Week and Easter, we do not ignore the importance of the Eucharist on Good Friday - even though it is not 'celebrated' in the liturgical sense. Having made Eucharist on Maundy Thursday, after the Foot Washing, we process with the remains of the Eucharist to an Altar of Repose, where a Watch is kept throughout the night, until Good Friday morning, when the Liturgy of The Passion is re-enacted with the Veneration of the Cross. The Eucharist is then brought into the main Church building and quietly and without ceremony, distributed to the Faithful most of whom have been travelling with Christ through the liturgy of the Sacred Triduum.

The Eucharist is always, for me, and for many catholics, the symbol of the eternal Presence of Christ, wherein we celebrate both his death and resurrection in the Liturgy. There is no time that we can separate one from the other - even when we specifically commemorate one or other.
The symbolic hiatus of Holy Saturday can still be a time for prayer and expectation.

Christ is Risen, Alleluia! He is Risen indeed, Alleluia, Alleluia!

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Sunday, 12 April 2009 at 2:06am BST

In the Spiritual Exercises, at least, the non-anticipation of Easter is crucial (pun only half-unintended). There is a second naivete involved here (akin to Ricoeur's), which suspends certain things we know (like the Resurrection), to enable us to enter more fully into the symbolic realm. The liturgical seasons require a certain suspension, for the past is no longer simply sequence, which Ron reminds us of. But it can be imagined as sequence still, as the calendar demands of us. Sure, Jesus is risen indeed, but we don't say that on Good Friday or Holy Saturday, when alleluias are still out of place.

My own experience of reception of the preconsecrated on Good Friday (which is not the Eucharist, but an extension of Maundy Thursday's Eucharist) is that on Good Friday the invitation is to remain united to the one we united ourselves to (or let ourselves be united to by him) on Holy Thursday -- a real Amen to his self-offering of himself on the cross, a yes to his consummation. For me, at least, it is not a yes to the Resurrection: it's a yes to being inserted into a particular moment in the paschal mystery, albeit knowing where it's all leading. Obviously, I can only say 'yes' to the real Jesus, really present, who is resurrected, but I am uniting myself to his memory of the cross; I am uniting myself to that eternal self-offering which is expressed in a particular way on Good Friday, and which is sat-with on Holy Saturday.

There's something different about an Amen with Jesus on the cross, which means an utter abandonment and openness to God, without anticipating the resurrection. That suspension, not of disbelief but of belief, allows me at least to desire Jesus' own openness to an indeterminate graced future; and anticipating things changes things: I want/need to enter into Jesus' faithful darkness.

The Carmelite tradition, with its emphasis on the dark nights, does in some sense require a similar attending to loss within the broader context of faith: the dark nights are not just the loss of the familiar, the eschewing of ideas of God for the pure divine subject, they are also an entering into the paschal mystery. Ignatius travelled a different sort of path, but the need to attend to the various moments in the pascal mystery is no less important.

Having directed many thirty days retreats during my Jesuit years, I'm fairly certain that this is, as awkwardly as I have expressed it, something that Ignatius was hoping for in the way he set out the Exercises. It explains, in part, why those making the Exercies were discouraged from reading ahead.

Ron: if you'd like to discuss this further off-site, send me an email @


Posted by: Joe on Sunday, 12 April 2009 at 6:56pm BST
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