The Earth Trembled and Was Shaken

Reflection on the Basilica Hymn for Holy Saturday

For more reflections on the Basilica Hymns of each season, purchase Perpetual Jubilee: Meditations on the Chaldean Liturgical Year  on

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.