IN no part of the course of the Gospel history is the arrangement of events by the sweet Providence of God more delicately beautiful than in the incidents of Holy Saturday. The Church was like a garden which had been visited by a storm which had swept it bare, and reduced it to apparent desolation. The Shepherd had been smitten indeed, and the sheep had been scattered. Never since the world was had there been such calamity as that which had befallen the followers of our Lord. Never was there such deep grief wasting the holiest souls among the children of men, never ruin so great, never darkness so deep, enfolding the tenderest and yet the strongest hearts in the world. And yet there was light and hope and calm resolution, mutual union, the sense of great duties to be done and of great hopes made certain. This peace and ineffable confidence and strength of purpose had shown itself in the solemn ceremonies of the Burial of our Lord, Who had been borne to His grave as if all the world had indeed acknowledged Him as the King Whom Pilate had declared Him to be. The last thing we hear of the Sepulchre on the Friday night is that it is too precious to be left unguarded, and the soldiers of the Imperial power are to remain and watch by it. His enemies thought they were inflicting a fresh stigma on His memory, in providing against the possible tricks of the disciples. But they were serving humbly the behests of His honour, and providing His Church with irrefragable evidence of strangers and enemies to the truth of His Death and Resurrection.
The same Providence which thus made use of the Priests and Pharisees for the future furnishing of evidence to the Church, had arranged that when the great blow of the Passion fell upon her children it should leave them as it might seem, without any natural leader, any recognized centre around which to gather and to rally. The Apostles were them selves dispersed and had fled from our Lord. It must have been known among the disciples that St. Peter had denied Him in the house of Caiphas. They were dispersed, scattered as our Lord said, "every man to his own” 1 and it could not have been surprising humanly, if they had never come together again. It might have seemed that they hung so completely upon our Lord that when He had gone they would not have found any one to be their centre, even for the reception of the glorious tidings of the Resurrection. The hope that might have held them together, by remembering our Lord's words about the "third day," was shattered, because their faith had received so rude a blow. There was not strength enough in it, even among those who were marked out as leaders, to give them courage. The priests remembered our Lord's prediction, but it was almost as if it had been never uttered to most of His disciples. And yet we find that on the Sunday morning, they are united and able to act and take counsel together without hesitation. The Body has not lost its cohesion, they are ready for the visits of their risen Lord. Nothing but the Sabbath had intervened, and, though the great news had to be broken to them most gently and most tenderly, and though the faith of some hung back for awhile on account of their excessive love, which made it seem impossible to receive what was the cause of delight so rapturous, the apparitions take place in their appointed order, and by the evening of the Sunday the scattered flock is once more united together.
But it is clear that they had not been gathered together, in the first instance, by the action of Peter or of the Apostles. Peter himself needed encouragement, consolation, assurance of pardon, the revival of his hope, perhaps even the strengthening of his faith. The Apostles need bringing together, and for this they needed some centre to which to betake themselves, and more than that, they needed some one who could speak to them in the Name of our Lord, some one who had never failed or fled or faltered, and in whose words they could hear the echoes of the loving and tender Heart of Him Whom they had deserted. This day between the Passion and the Resurrection was the most critical time in the history of the Church, and it was arranged by Providence that at this time there should be but one figure in the Church around which others could gather, and that that figure should be the Blessed Mother herself. It was the time for the work and the office of the Mother of the Church to begin. It was not authority, or hierarchical rank, or the might of eloquence, or the power of miraculous signs, or even supreme sanctity, that made her the centre of the holy company. It was that now began to work, so soon after it had been spoken, that wonderful third Word from the Cross, "Behold thy Mother !"
We are told that when the Entombment was accomplished our Lady took her way to the Cenacle, which it must be supposed had been made over to the use of our Lord's followers by the devotion of its owner, and that she was accompanied by the women who had been with her on Calvary, save that " Mary Magdalene and the other Mary," as the Gospel says, lingered awhile watching the Tomb. St. John of course accompanied her also and acted as the visible superior, taking his counsels from our Lady. They prepared to pass the night in prayer and contemplation, and perhaps, some one of those who had seen most of the Passion might be asked to recount it for the rest. Mary would give herself in retirement to the old habit of her life, "keeping all these things, pondering them in her heart." Thus she might have repeated hour by hour, as the time passed on, the events of the last days. At all events, the whole of the marvellous history would furnish ample food for her intelligence, and exercise for the affections of her heart. But we may suppose also that she was not without some intelligence of what was passing in that other world in which our Lord was now applying most abundantly and prodigally the fruits and benefits of the Passion to a larger and more noble assemblage of souls than could be found in that world of earth which He had left behind Him. For the world beyond the grave is not only more important than this, for the reason that we are to be there for ever, and here only for a short and uncertain time, and also because it contains a far larger number of the children of God, and is the home of all the great and good and saintly and heroic, not of one generation alone, but of all generations since the beginning of time. As the earth on which we live is but a dot in the midst of the universe, so the generation that finds itself at any given time in the occupation, so to speak, of the earth is but puny indeed when compared to the inhabitants of the other world. There is no ignorance or diversity of opinion there as to the truths of the creed, or the duties of creatures before their God. All are of one mind as to the eternal truths, and over the whole of the immense universe of souls and spirits our Lord's Kingdom was now extended without question and without resistance. We have considered it to have been the habit of our Blessed Lady from the first to take into her heart the various classes and communities of men who were brought before her in succession, in her companionship with our Lord, as for example, when the Shepherds came, or the Wise Kings of the East, or when she had to sojourn among the Egyptian Jews, and their heathen neighbours. In each such case she made the acquaintance of a new world of souls, with whom the work of her Divine Son lay, and she aided the work according to her power by her thanksgivings and intercessions. But never had there been a revelation as to the extent of the Kingdom of our Lord equal to this in magnificence, and her heart stretched itself joyfully and thankfully in union with His own to welcome and embrace these new flocks of His redeemed.
Never was there such a contemplation of the Passion as that which now passed in the heart and mind of the Blessed Mother, fresh from her own experience of and participation in His Cross, a contemplation lit up by her intelligence of the ineffable triumph which had so soon followed on His Passion. The Passion has been the food of thousands of saintly hearts in every generation since that day, and will be the food of the successors in every generation till the end of time. But all these contemplations together have not been and will not be as perfect and rich in their fruits to the soul, as the contemplation of Mary. Foolish, indeed, it would be to attempt to fathom these depths. But of some things we may be sure. -Whatever our Lady may have understood of the whole wonderful work of God, and the mightiness of the victory gained by our Lord, or of the beauty of His virtues in the Passion, or of the extreme intensity of His sufferings, she must have come forth from that meditation not only with her heart pierced anew with the sword which had been foretold to her, but with her heart also on fire, blazing with the flame of the most intense charity. The fire of the Sacred Heart must have been imparted to her in a manner and in a degree altogether without parallel. She must have under stood also, from the words on the Cross, that this intense love of our Lord in the Passion found its most fit and natural vent in the utmost compassion and mercifulness, mercifulness to the enemies who crucified Him, the friend who confessed Him, and to herself and the beloved disciple who stood beside Him. And thus she would be consumed with a thirst like His own for the redemption of souls, and for the exercise of mercy and compassion. Her part was to be the Mother, the Mother who does not consider the deserts of her children, but their needs, the Mother who does not desire to see justice done to them, but to see justice done to the intense mercifulness of our Lord, by the application, in the largest possible measure, of the healing and restoring powers of the grace which He had won. Thus Mary learnt at the foot of the Cross that great lesson which has governed her action in the Kingdom of her Son ever since, and will guide it to the end, that she is to be, above all other offices and titles, the Mother of Mercy, the Mother whose duty it is to plead for mercy upon mercy, to represent to our Lord the single purpose of His love, and exert herself with all her might over His Heart in the perpetual work of obtaining mercy from His compassion. Her heart had been most deeply wounded and had suffered as no heart ever could suffer except His own. It was large before beyond imagination, but the Passion and the Compassion had made it indefinitely larger and more tender. The intensity of her suffering generated in her this intensity of compassion, and of desire to see the streams of mercy flow forth in measureless volumes over the whole world which had treated Him so ill.
We are not told, we can only guess what were the communings of that Blessed Mother during the hours of Holy Saturday with the children of our Lord, as they came to her one after another, drawn by the secret might of her incomparable charity, and closeness to our Lord. Peter would come, and the rest of the Apostles, and the holy women, and the happy disciples Nicodemus and Joseph, and others also whose names even we have never heard. They would come in their various states of remorse or grief, of doubt or hope, of utter prostration or of recovered peace. But they would all find in her the same intense compassion and sympathy, the same encouragement, the same promise of pardon and restoration. When the sun set on that Sabbath day, there would be a short time, before it was quite dark, which the holy women might turn to account, if they were so minded, for their preparations for the embalming which they hoped to perform on the following morning. It seems that on that evening Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the sepulchre, and others perhaps also. Why should our Lady check their preparations, when they would be so pleasing to our Lord, and when the presence of these holy embalmers, who were to find nothing to embalm, was necessary, in the designs of Providence, that they might be the first informants to the Apostles that our Lord was no longer in the grave ? There were to be several parties of them, as we shall see, and they were to have a most important office in the mystery of the Resurrection, though their spices and ointments were not to be used for that Sacred Body.
And so the night fell, and all was once more at rest. A night of intense peace for the followers of our Lord, spent like the former night by our Lady in prayer and contemplation. Magdalene was to be at the sepulchre first of all, while it was yet dark, before the dawn had come, and yet before that the stone was to be rolled away. And before the stone "was rolled away, our Lord was to have risen through the stone, as He had passed at the Nativity from His Mother's womb, leaving it intact. He was to be earlier than Magdalene, and with whom was He to be but His Mother? Here then we pause, while she is rapt in her prayer, tranquilly awaiting the moment of joy which was to recompense her for all her sorrows, and our Lord's glorious Soul is on its way with a band of blessed spirits, the flower of His redeemed, to enter once more into the Body resting in the sepulchre, and then to satisfy His Heart by presenting Himself to His Mother.
1 St. John xvi. 32.