HAMTRAMCK — Holy Saturday is something of a “liturgical downtime” in the Catholic Church. A somber time of reflection sandwiched between the sorrowful Good Friday service and the glorious celebration of Christ’s resurrection during the Easter Vigil.

While the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass isn’t offered, there are still many traditions observed by Catholics around the world and in southeast Michigan.

These celebrations all have their own histories and significance as a way to mark the time when Christ “descended into hell” before his glorious resurrection on Easter Sunday.

Keeping watch over the tomb

Just as the high priests requested of Pontius Pilate to place guards around the tomb of Jesus, firefighters from the Hamtramck Fire Department have kept watch near the makeshift tomb at St. Florian Parish in Hamtramck on Holy Saturday for years.

Scouts stand guard along with the firefighters at the tomb of Jesus at St. Florian Parish in Hamtramck.

For 15 years, St. Florian Parish, named after the patron saint of firefighters, has invited the department to station honor guards next to an altar of repose at the Hamtramck church, said Hamtramck Fire Department Capt. Matthew Wyszczelski.

“Around here, the Polish churches have long-standing devotions of going into the church to guard the tomb of Jesus,” Capt. Wyszczelski told Detroit Catholic. “For a number of years, Fr. Miroslaw (Frankowski, S.Chr, pastor of St. Florian) has asked us if we would do it, and we’re honored to do it every year.”

The firefighters were stationed at the tomb from noon to 3 p.m., and the parish also held a blessing of the Easter baskets every hour on the hour during the guarding of the creche.

The annual tradition further ties the Hamtramck Fire Department with St. Florian Parish.

“The Hamtramck Fire Department has a long-standing tradition with St. Florian,” Capt. Wyszczelski explained. “The annual firefighter march to Mass is every Saturday around May 4, the feast of St. Florian. It kicks off the parish’s Strawberry Festival. It really shows the relationship the department has with the parish and the community.”

Blessing of the Easter baskets

Speaking of Easter baskets, many Polish, Ukrainian and Czech parishes in Metro Detroit are hosting a traditional blessing every hour on the hour.

Quinton and his father, Jeff, wait to have their Easter basket blessed at St. Florian Parish in Hamtramck on Holy Saturday afternoon.
Easter bread, salt and fruit fill a basket waiting to be blessed at St. Florian Parish in Hamtramck.
At St. Florian Parish in Hamtramck, as with many Polish and eastern European-heritage churches, the blessing of the Easter baskets is a popular and well-attended Holy Saturday tradition.

Clergy at Our Lady of Czestochowa Parish in Sterling Heights celebrated a blessing of the baskets from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Parishioners were invited to bring their Easter baskets and food for their Easter dinners to the parish to be blessed with holy water.

The tradition of taking food to be prepared for Easter dinner dates back to Poland and other eastern European countries, a recreation of three female disciples bringing prepared spices and perfumes to the tomb of Jesus before discovering the tomb was empty, explained the parish staff at Our Lady of Czestochowa.

Parishioners and visitors alike are encouraged to bring their Easter baskets and dinner items to the church for a blessing.

Blessing of the funeral directors

As Catholics commemorate the time Jesus’ body lay in the tomb, the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament brings together the men and women who care for the dead for a blessing of the funeral directors.

A woman lights a candle on Holy Saturday in memory of a loved one. Each year on Holy Saturday, Archbishop Vigneron offers a special blessing for Catholic funeral directors as a reminder of their solemn ministry to the dead and to those who are grieving.

“Because of Joseph of Arimathea, the man who laid Jesus in the tomb, we have a blessing of the funeral directors,” said Fr. J.J. Mech, rector of the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament in Detroit. “Funeral directors are called not only to minster to the bodies, but to the people left behind. So we have a blessing in the Eucharistic chapel for the directors.”

Fr. Mech said the annual blessing and social gathering is a chance for the funeral directors to receive words of encouragement from Detroit Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron on the importance of their ministry in caring for the dead on the day when the Church marks Christ’s time in the grave.

“After a blessing in the chapel, the archbishop speaks to them, reminding them of their role in their ministry to be missionaries, people of mercy and compassion for those dealing with the loss of a loved one,” Fr. Mech said.