Retreat on Holy Saturday Morning:
Immediate Preparation for Receiving the Sacraments


by Joyce Stolberg


To RCIA Leaders and Catechists:


Our team has used this meditation for our Holy Saturday morning retreat for the past four years, and we have found it to be a wonderful preparation for the Easter Vigil. The Elect will be very excited on Holy Saturday evening, and we can well assume that they will not absorb all the teachings that the liturgy is designed to offer them. This lengthy meditation presents your elect with the Paschal journey through salvation history in a relaxed environment, while at the same time coaching them to respond loudly and clearly to the questions asked immediately prior to their baptism. Of course these readings are presented at the Easter Vigil, but what is repeated sticks in the memory.


We usually follow this meditation with a question and answer session, no holes barred. It was this session, attended by our (now emeritus) Bishop Hanifin in the year 2000, which inspired him to ask for "some type of manual" that would incorporate sound, well-researched answers to the frequently asked questions. That is the request that inspired me to begin writing God Calls You by Name. We generally continue by dealing with logistics and some practical things, such as double-checking to make sure that the purple and white robes are ready; we may conduct a dry practice for receiving Holy Communion.


Director or Leader


This retreat day begins with a morning of riotously clashing emotions. Holy Saturday dawns with intense sadness, as we linger at the tomb of our deceased Savior; nevertheless no one can suppress a joyful, excited, celebratory atmosphere. We have peeked at the end of the story, and we anticipate the outcome! Today is a day of preparation for Baptism when new life bursts forth from the local baptismal fountain and for Confirmation and First Eucharist.




From Matins for Holy Saturday

The Lord's Descent into the Underworld

Something strange is happening – there is a great silence on earth today, a great silence and stillness. The whole earth keeps silence because the King is asleep. The earth trembled and is still because God has fallen asleep in the flesh and he has raised up all who have slept ever since the world began. God has died in the flesh and hell trembles with fear.

He has gone to search for our first parent, as for a lost sheep. Greatly desiring to visit those who live in darkness and in the shadow of death, he has gone to free from sorrow the captives Adam and Eve, he who is both God and the son of Eve. The Lord approached them bearing the cross, the weapon that had won him the victory. At the sight of him Adam, the first man he had created, struck his breast in terror and cried out to everyone: “My Lord be with you all.” Christ answered him: “And with your spirit.” He took him by the hand and raised him up, saying: “Awake, O sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.”

I am your God, who for your sake have become your son. Out of love for you and for your descendants I now by my own authority command all who are held in bondage to come forth, all who are in darkness to be enlightened, all who are sleeping to arise. I order you, O sleeper, to awake. I did not create you to be held a prisoner in hell. Rise from the dead, for I am the life of the dead. Rise up, work of my hands, you who were created in my image. Rise, let us leave this place, for you are in me and I am in you; together we form only one person and we cannot be separated. For your sake I, your God, became your son; I, the Lord, took the form of a slave; I, whose home is above the heavens, descended to the earth and beneath the earth. For your sake, for the sake of man, I became like a man without help, free among the dead. For the sake of you, who left a garden, I was betrayed to the Jews in a garden, and I was crucified in a garden.

See on my face the spittle I received in order to restore to you the life I once breathed into you. See there the marks of the blows I received in order to refashion your warped nature in my image. On my back see the marks of the scourging I endured to remove the burden of sin that weighs upon your back. See my hands, nailed firmly to a tree, for you who once wickedly stretched out your hand to a tree.

I slept on the cross and a sword pierced my side for you who slept in paradise and brought forth Eve from your side. My side has healed the pain in yours. My sleep will rouse you from your sleep in hell. The sword that pierced me has sheathed the sword that was turned against you.

Rise, let us leave this place. The enemy led you out of the earthly paradise. I will not restore you to that paradise, but I will enthrone you in heaven. I forbade you the tree that was only a symbol of life, but see, I who am life itself am now one with you. I appointed cherubim to guard you as slaves are guarded, but now I make them worship you as God. The throne formed by cherubim awaits you, its bearers swift and eager. The bridal chamber is adorned, the banquet is ready, the eternal dwelling places are prepared, the treasure houses of all good things lie open. The kingdom of heaven has been prepared for you from all eternity.


Concluding Prayer

Almighty and ever-living God,

your only-begotten Son descended into the underworld,

from which he rose into glory.

In your kindness, grant that your faithful people,

who in their baptism shared his burial,

may advance to eternal life by sharing in his resurrection.

He lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,

God forever and ever.





Leaders and Readers




Read the scriptures listed below: they are proclaimed at the Paschal Vigil. Conform the Gospel to the current lectionary cycle. Allow time for reflection, nourished by meditative thoughts, between readings. Sing psalms or hymns, or play recorded music. This meditation will place each participant’s individual journey within the context of the millennial trek of salvation. It bridges the emotional chasm between lingering over the death of Jesus and anticipating the resurrection. It also provides a sound preparation for Baptism and Confirmation. Elements of the Apostle’s Creed and the baptismal liturgy are incorporated. Add pauses between the readings and meditations.


Important: Here, elicit a strong "I do" to each response. The first response may likely be weak. Hold your hand to your ear (as if you couldn't hear) and ask the question again. You are now coaching your elect to make this response loudly and clearly so that the whole worshipping community will hear them when the pastor or bishop asks the all-important questions.


The word, “Baptize” actually derives from a word meaning “plunge.” You have been looking at the Catholic Church, and preparing for some time now. Search your heart while pondering the following questions. If you can answer a deep down, "Yes" or "I do" to the following questions, you ready to “take the plunge”.


Do you reject sin to live in the freedom of God's children?


If so, answer loudly and clearly.


Elect: I do.


Do you reject the glamour of evil and refuse to be mastered by sin?


Elect: I do.




These readings are all from the Easter Vigil. Team members and sponsors are usually chosen to read them.


Genesis 1:1-2:2

The one all-powerful God created heaven and earth out of nothing yet waits for a “Yes” from you. Have you set aside all other “gods” in your life to worship this ONE God? Are you ready to worship with your Catholic brothers and sisters every Sunday?

Do you believe in God, the Father almighty,

creator of heaven and earth?  

If so, answer loudly and clearly.

Elect: I do.


Genesis 22:1-18


Focus your thoughts, and imagine the following scenario for a moment. You are at work or in school, when suddenly a gang of terrorists stampedes into the building and takes 50 people hostage. You all are quickly blindfolded, tied down and rendered helpless. Your captors start making demands, and promise to kill one hostage every hour until these demands are met. Yet the demands are morally, ethically and physically impossible to meet. One hour goes by. One hostage is pulled up from the floor. You hear pleading. Bang! Dead silence! A second hour goes by. Bang! The third hour is approaching. How do you feel? Terrified? Who’s next?

Suddenly the school principal or top CEO of the company walks in, holding his own son by the hand. He addresses your captors, “Would you let all these hostages go if I give you my own son, my only son, so that you may do whatever you want with him?” The terrorists accept the offer. You are all free to walk out of the building. Then it rings one more time. Bang! It did not go well for the son of that leader. How much did the school principal (CEO) love you? Read John 3:16.

Jesus Christ is the second person of the Blessed Trinity, the Son of God who became a total and complete human being without losing his divine nature. Hence he became a perfect mediator between God and humankind, able to redeem human beings by bridging the chasm created by sin. St. John phrased it most powerfully in his gospel. (John 3:16) (Pause)

God spared the life of the son of Abraham, and blessed, beyond imagination, Abraham’s willingness to offer up his son in sacrifice. However, God did not spare his own son, Jesus, but delivered him up to death to make satisfaction for our sins. The sacrifice of the cross is the sacrifice of the new covenant between God and humankind. (Pause)

This sacrifice was made once for all on the cross, but it is commemorated in the Mass, a sacrifice and a ritual meal. At Easter, I will have the wonderful privilege of receiving Jesus as a guest under the roof of my humanity for the first time. I hardly feel “worthy” to receive my Maker and Savior into my humble being, yet Jesus himself desires my heart for his dwelling place. (Pause)

Do you believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,

who was born of the Virgin Mary,

was crucified, died, and was buried,

rose from the dead,

and is now seated at the right hand of the Father?

Elect: I do.

Exodus 14:15-15:1


God saved the Israelites from the Egyptians through signs and wonders. Can you believe in his power and goodness? Do you believe in God, the Father almighty, who rescued a people from slavery and made them a great nation?

Do you reject Satan, father of sin and prince of darkness?

Elect: I do.

Isaiah 54:5-14

The Lord loves Israel as a husband loves his wife. The Lord is “crazy” about you and will never leave you! Do you believe in the tender love of kind and gentle Father?

Do you reject the glamour of evil

and refuse to be mastered by sin?

Elect: I do.

Do you reject sin to live

in the freedom of God's children?

Elect: I do.

Isaiah 55:1-11

God filled the Israelites with good things, and invited them to a rich banquet. Do you believe that, in the sacrifice of the Mass, the bread and wine actually BECOME the Body and Blood of Christ?

Do you believe that Jesus gave himself to us in the banquet of the Eucharist, and remains with us always under the appearances of bread and wine?

Do you eagerly await the moment when you will be invited to the table to partake of the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ for the first time?

Spend a moment in silence, anticipating your first reception of Jesus in the Eucharist.

Baruch 3:9-15, 32-4:4

The Lord gave wisdom to the exiles of Israel. The Lord will sanctify you and fill you with wisdom and grace through the Holy Spirit. Do you believe that you are justified through the suffering and death of Jesus Christ? Do you believe in the Holy Spirit, the third Person of the Blessed Trinity? Do you anticipate being sealed with the Gift of the Holy Spirit, and being filled with the gifts of wisdom, understanding, knowledge, counsel, fortitude, piety, and fear, or awe, of the Lord?

Do you believe in the Holy Spirit,

the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints?

Elect: I do.

Ezekiel 36:16-17A, 18-28

The Lord forgave the exiled Israelites, time after time. The Lord will pour clean water upon you and give you a new heart. You will be absolved from your sins and no longer live in slavery to them, regardless of how grave they may have been. The Lord desires nothing more than to forgive you and cast your sins away.

Do you believe in the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body,

and the life everlasting?

Elect: I do.


Romans 6:3-11

Your old self will be crucified with Christ. You will be buried with him through baptism into his death. Do you believe that Jesus Christ died: that his soul separated from his body and he entered the realm of the dead, where all the all the heroes of Old Testament times awaited him? Do you believe that he was laid in a tomb?

Do you believe that Jesus Christ rose from the dead on the third day, that he ascended into heaven, and assumed his rightful place at the Father’s right hand? Do you believe that he will judge everyone at the moment of death and at the end of time? Do you believe that you yourself will rise with Christ on the last day? Does your faith make you ready to become fully incorporated into the Holy Catholic Church and a member of the Communion of Saints?

Director or Leader

When you enter into the waters of Baptism wholeheartedly you will receive a clean slate, free of sin and free of any punishment due to sin.

(Here address your elect by their first names.) If your faith makes you ready to ask for the Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, and Holy Eucharist, stand for a prayer of blessing.

Director or Leader

Dear friends, let us ask God to be merciful to our sisters and brothers who are asking for Baptism. God has called them and brought them to this moment. May God grant them light and strength to follow Christ with resolute hearts and to profess the Faith of the Church. May God give them the new life of the Holy Spirit.

Our response is: Risen Lord, hear our prayer.

That we, the Church, will be renewed by those claimed by Christ in baptism this night and boldly proclaim the good news of Christ’s resurrection, we pray…

That leaders of nations will care for the garden that we call home—this planet created by our loving God, we pray…

For innocent victims of war and oppression: may violence be banished and righteousness with prosperity be restored, we pray…

That those who will be baptized here and throughout the world, especially (names of your elect) will forever be a sign of the light of Christ, a light that dispels the darkness of sin, we pray…

That those received into communion with the Church and confirmed this night, especially (names of your elect) will be filled with the gifts of the Holy Spirit, we pray…

For the sick, suffering, grieving and for those that have died: may they know the joy of the risen Lord, we pray…

May we allremain faithful to our Lord Jesus Christ

forever and ever. Amen

Leader or Reader

This is the message we are all waiting to hear!

Read Year C:
Luke 24:1-12

The women went to anoint the body of Jesus, but were told by angels that he had risen. You will be united with Jesus in the resurrection, and you will live forever.


The Nicene Creed is recited at Mass, but interestingly, the Apostles’ Creed was refined for use in baptismal liturgies. (Catholic Encyclopedia) It carries the truths of the Faith in more direct, concrete language, easily grasped and recited. The ideal time for presenting a copy of the Creed is the week after the first Scrutiny (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, Study Edition). It should be pondered during Lent. It may be recited at the conclusion of this meditation. This meditation reviews our study of doctrine and also previews the responses to be made at Baptism and Profession of Faith. The questions ARE the Apostles' Creed.