In our just sorrow for the death of Our Lord and our grievous sins that caused it, we naturally focus on the mystery of Our Lord lying, dead, in the tomb. The painting of the last post, by Hans Holbein the Younger, is a fruitful source of meditation. But there is so much more to this mystery: Christ’s triumphant descent into hell. From the Liturgical Year:
“The Son of God has subjected himself to everything, (save sin,) that our human nature has to suffer or undergo: it is by his Resurrection that he is to triumph, it is by his Ascension alone that he is to open the gates of heaven: hence, his Soul, having been separated from his Body by Death, was to descend into the depths of the earth, and become a companion with the holy exiles there. He had said of himself: The Son of Man shall be in the heart of the earth three days and three nights. (Matthew 12:40) What must have been the joy of these countless Saints! and how majestic must not have been the entrance of our Emmanuel into their abode ! No sooner did our Jesus breathe his last upon the Cross, than the Limbo of the Saints was illumined with heavenly splendour. The Soul of the Redeemer, united to the Divinity of the Word, descended thither, and changed it, from a place of banishment, into a very Paradise. Thus did he fulfil the promise he had made to the Good Thief: This day shalt thou he with me in Paradise.
The happy hour, so long expected by these Saints, is come! What tongue could tell their joy, their admiration, and their love, as they beheld the Soul of Jesus, who thus comes among them, to share and close their exile! He looks complacently on this countless number of his Elect, — this fruit of four thousand years of his grace, this portion of his Church purchased by his Blood, and to which the merits of his Blood were applied by the mercy of his Eternal Father, even before it was shed on Calvary! Let us who hope, on our departure from this world, to ascend to Him, who has gone to prepare a place for us in Heaven, (John 14:2) let us joyfully congratulate these our holy ancestors. Let us also adore the condescension of our Emmanuel, who deigns to spend these three days in the heart of the earth, that so he might sanctify every condition of our Nature, and take upon himself even what was but a transient state of our existence.
But, the Son of God would have this his visit to the regions beneath our earth to be a manifestation of his sovereign power. His Soul does not, it is true, descend into the Hell of Satan, but he makes his power be felt there. The Prince of this world is now forced to bend his knee and humble himself. (Philippians 2:10) In this Jesus, whom he has instigated the Jews to crucify, he now recognizes the Son of God. Man is saved, Death is conquered. Sin is effaced. Henceforth, it is not to the Bosom of Abraham, but to Heaven itself, that the souls of the Just made perfect shall ascend, there to reign, together with the faithful Angels, with Christ their Divine Head. The reign of Idolatry is to be at an end: the altars, whereon men have offered incense to Satan, are to be destroyed. The house of the strong one is to be entered by his Divine Adversary, and his goods are to be rifled. (Matthew 12:29) The Hand-writing of our condemnation is snatched from the Serpent. (Colossians 2:14) The Cross, which he had so exultingly prepared for the Just One, has been his overthrow, or, as St. Antony so forcibly expresses it, the bait thrown out to the Leviathan, which he took, and, taking it, was conquered.
The Soul of our Jesus makes its presence felt also by the just who dwell in the abode of expiation. It mercifully alleviates their sufferings, and shortens their Purgatory. Many of them are delivered altogether, and numbered with the Saints in Limbo, where they spend the Forty Days, between this and the Ascension, in the happy expectation of ascending to Heaven with their Deliverer. It is not contrary to the principles of Faith, to suppose, as several learned Theologians have taught, that the visit of the Man-God to Limbo was a source of blessing and consolation to the abode of unregenerated Children, and that they then received a promise, that the time would come when they should be re-united to their bodies, and, after the Day of Judgment, be placed in a happier land than that in which Divine Justice now holds them captives.
We adore thee, O holy Soul of our Redeemer! for thy having deigned to pass these hours with thy Saints, our fathers, in the heart of the earth. We extol thy goodness and love shown towards these thy Elect, whom thou hast made to be thine own Brethren. We give thee thanks for that thou didst humble our enemy: oh, give us grace to conquer him! But now, dearest Jesus! it is time for thee to rise from thy Tomb, and re-unite thy Soul to thy Body! Heaven and Earth await thy Resurrection! The Church, thy Spouse, has already sung the Alleluia of her glad expectation! Rise, then, from thy Grave, O Jesus, our Life! Triumph over Death, and reign our King forever!”
Meanwhile, on earth, the Church of Christ is down to one. The one person who never wavered in her faith in the Resurrection is Mary. This is why Saturdays are dedicated to her by the Church. Others loved Him, others lamented His sorrows and death, others missed Him.
But she remained, the Tower of David.
Turris Davidica, ora pro nobis!
What does this mean:
“It is not contrary to the principles of Faith, to suppose, as several learned Theologians have taught, that the visit of the Man-God to Limbo was a source of blessing and consolation to the abode of unregenerated Children, and that they then received a promise, that the time would come when they should be re-united to their bodies, and, after the Day of Judgment, be placed in a happier land than that in which Divine Justice now holds them captives.”
Is he saying that unbaptized children, who died before reaching the age of reason, will enter into heaven after the general resurrection and last judgement, after having spent the intervening time since their death in Limbo?
I don’t read it that way, though it is a beautiful thought to a father of at least three miscarried children. God bless you