April 15, 2017: HOLY SATURDAY (Part II)
April 15, 2017: HOLY SATURDAY
Rank: Double of the I Class
Part II - The descent into Limbo.
“He descended into hell.”
[Fasting & COMPLETE Abstinence]
In the centre of the earth, there are four immense regions, into which no one living can enter: it is only by divine revelation that we know of their existence. The farthest from us is the Hell of the damned, the frightful abode where Satan and his angels and the reprobate are suffering eternal torments. It is here that the Prince of darkness is ever forming his plots against God and his creatures. Nearer to us, is the Limbo wherein are detained the souls of the children, who departed this world before being regenerated. The opinion which has met most favour from the Church, is that these souls suffer no torment; and that although they can never enjoy the beatific vision, yet are they enjoying a natural happiness, and one that is proportionate to their desires. Above the abode of these children, is the place of expiation, where souls, that have departed this life in the state of grace, cleanse themselves from any stains of lesser sins, or satisfy for the debt of temporal punishment still due to divine justice. And lastly, still nearer to us is the Limbo where are kept from heaven the saints who dies under the Old Law. Here are our First Parents, Abel, Noe, Abraham, Moses, David, and the Prophets; the just Gentiles, such as that great Saint of Arabia, Job; and those holy personages who were closely connected with our Lord, such as Joachim and Anne, the parents of his Blessed Mother, - Joseph, her Spouse and his own foster-father, - and John, his Precursor, together with his holy parents, Zachary and Elizabeth.
Until such time as the gate of heaven shall have been opened by the Blood of the Redeemer, none of the Just can ascend thither. How holy soever they might have been during this life, they must descend into Limbo after death. We meet with innumerable passages of the Old Testament, where mention is made of hell, (that is, that portion of the regions in the centre of the earth, which we call Limbo,) as being the abode of even the holiest of God’s Servants: it is only in the New Testament that Heaven is spoken of as being the abode of men. The Limbo of the Just is not of torment, beyond that of expectation and captivity. The souls that dwell there are confirmed in grace, and are sure of enjoying, at some future period, and infinite happiness; they resignedly bear this long banishment, which is a consequence of Adam’s Sin; and, as they saw the time drawing nigh for their deliverance, their joy was beyond all we can imagine.
The Son of God has subjected himself to every thing, (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 (St. Matth, xii. 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 splendor. The Soul of our Redeemer, united to the Divinity if 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 be with me in Paradise.
The happy hour, so long expected by these Saints, is come! What tongue could tell 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 (St. John, xiv. 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 (Philipp. ii. 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 (St. Matth, xii. 29). The Hand-writing of our condemnation is snatched from the Serpent (Coloss, ii. 14). The Cross, which he had exultingly prepared for the Just One, has been his overthrow, or, as St. Anthony 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.
Taken from: The Liturgical Year - Passiontide and Holy Week, Dublin, Edition 1870
Glory be to Christ Jesus, now and forevermore!