descent

Where is Christ after he dies on Friday afternoon and before he rises on Easter Sunday? Both Scripture and Tradition answer this question. Consider the following from a Second Century Sermon and also a mediation from the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

An Ancient Sermon:

Today a great silence reigns on earth, a great silence and a great stillness. A great 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. . . He has gone to search for Adam, our first father, 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 Adam in his bonds and Eve, captive with him – He who is both their God and the son of Eve. . . “I am your God, who for your sake have become your son. . . I order you, O sleeper, to awake. I did not create you to be a prisoner in hell. Rise from the dead, for I am the life of the dead.” [From an Ancient Holy Saturday Homily ca 2nd Century]

Nothing could be more beautiful than that line addressed to Adam and Eve: I am your God, who, for your sake, became your Son.”

Scripture also testifies to Christ’s descent to the dead and what he did: For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison….For this is why the gospel was preached even to those who are dead, that though judged in the flesh the way people are, they might live in the spirit the way God does. (1 Peter 3:18; 1 Peter 4:6).

Consider also this from the Catechism on Christ’s descent to the dead, which I summarize and excerpt from CCC # 631-635

[The] first meaning given in the apostolic preaching to Christ’s descent into hell [is] that Jesus, like all men, experienced death and in his soul joined the others in the realm of the dead.

But he descended there as Savior, proclaiming the Good News to the spirits imprisoned there [1 Peter 3:18-19; 1 Peter 4:6; Heb. 13:20]. Scripture calls [this] abode of the dead, to which the dead Christ went down, “hell” – Sheol in Hebrew, or Hades in Greek – because those who are there are deprived of the vision of God [1 Peter 3:18-19].

Such [was] the case for all the dead, whether evil or righteous, while they awaited the Redeemer: It is precisely these holy souls, who awaited their Savior …whom Christ the Lord delivered when he descended into hell.”[cf Psalms 89:49; 1 Sam. 28:19; Ezek 32:17ff; Luke 16:22-26]

Jesus did not descend into hell to deliver the damned, nor to destroy the hell of damnation, but to free the just who had gone before him.

[So] the gospel was preached even to the dead. The descent into hell brings the Gospel message of salvation to complete fulfillment. This is the last phase of Jesus’ messianic mission, a phase which is condensed in time but vast in its real significance: the spread of Christ’s redemptive work to all men of all times and all places, for all who are saved have been made sharers in the redemption.

Christ went down into the depths of death so that “the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live.”[1 Peter 4:6] Jesus, “the Author of life”, by dying, destroyed “him who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and [delivered] all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong bondage” [John 5:25; Mt 12:40; Rom 10:7; Eph 4:9].

Henceforth the risen Christ holds “the keys of Death and Hades”, so that “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth.”[Heb 2:14-15; Acts 3:15]

Here is a link to my recorded sermon on this topic: Where is Jesus Now

19 Responses

  1. luzviminda R penaranda says:

    I thanked God for i am a new person again. All my wishes came true especially on Spiritual wishes. I love you Lord Jesus and let me share your love to others, because that is what You want. Make me more Obedient to your Will…guide me and teach me what to do. Happy Easter to all.<3<3<3

  2. Bender says:

    A good summary of the mystery of the descent to the “realm of the dead.”

    But “Where is Christ after he dies on Friday afternoon and before he rises on Easter Sunday?” is a bit of a trick question.

    For Jesus, there is no “before” or “after” — He, the “Alpha and Omega” is always “now.” It is only from man’s temporal perspective, not God’s eternal perspective, that we can ask “where is Christ after we saw Him die on Friday, and before we see Him risen on Sunday?”

    But that is what is so fascinating about eternity, about the Cross and Resurrection not being a single point in time, but existing in perpetuity — just as they extend “forward into the future” to our present day, so too does salvation by the Cross extend “backward into the past” to liberate the righteous people that lived and died before Jesus was even born, from Adam to Abraham to Jacob to Moses to Joseph . . . and to Mary the Immaculate, who was given eternal life even before her worldly life ended.

    • Howard says:

      In His divinity, the Son is always in the eternal now, but it’s still fair to talk about the experience of time by His human soul, not to mention the obvious fact that there was a “before” and “after” to everyone else — the Apostles, the righteous dead, etc.

  3. Alfred Finch says:

    Msgr Pope:

    Thanks for illuminating this….many others need to know that Christ is more than the Resurrection, He has and will continue to battle the spirits of darkness as long as we ask! Glory to God!

  4. Will says:

    The Way That Was Shut Has Been Opened…He went down to the people of the past… Only the True King can open the door, can open the way to Beatific Vision… Paradise… Amen…

  5. Carl Eppig says:

    One thing that has puzzled me for a long time, is if after He died he freed all the rightous from wherever they were and brought them to heaven; how did Moses and Elijah appear with Him at the Transfiguration a few weeks before?

  6. Howard says:

    That’s an easy one. Here’s a harder one: Where did Jesus go during those times between the Resurrection and Ascension when He is not known to have been appearing to the Apostles (or anybody else)? Here are some possibilities.

    a. He went to the Earthly Paradise. We don’t know where that is, but it is where Elijah and Enoch are, since they have not yet died.

    b. He went to solitary places of the earth to pray, as He so often did during His earlier career.

    c. He went somewhere else, probably in the Holy Land, where He was unreckognized. (Sorry, Mormons; I don’t buy your answer here.)

    • Bender says:

      That is what I was getting at above.

      “Do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years and a thousand years like one day.” — 2 Peter 3:8

      Where did He go? Those human days between apparances were instantaneous to Him. He is always in the now. On the Cross now, being born now, creating the universe now, reigning in the New Jerusalem now. Forever on the Cross, forever leaving the tomb, forever in the womb of Mary. So, in that sense, He “went” from outside the tomb to the Upper Room to the road to Emmaus to the shore of the Sea of Tiberias to mount of the Ascension all within a moment of each other.

      • Howard says:

        I think you are mis-applying a characteristic of Jesus’s divinity to a question about his human body and soul. In a similar way, you could have said, “God is omnipresent, so Jesus was everywhere.” That is in some sense true, but not in all senses.

  7. Doug says:

    Again, God’s word answers questions, identifies questions arising from non-scriptural beliefs, and gives comfort to those perplexed by “the traditions of men”. (Mt 15)
    “And the Lord God formed man of the slime of the earth: and breathed into his face the breath of life, and man BECAME a living soul.” Gen 2:7, Douay. So the man Jesus (not Almighty God, or he could not have died) did not HAVE a soul, he WAS a soul. Compare Ezekiel 18:4: “Behold all souls are mine: as the soul of the father, so also the soul of the son is mine: the soul that sins, the same shall die.” Where does a dead soul go? Where Adam went: “In the sweat of your face shall you eat bread till you return to the earth out of which you were taken: for dust you are, and into dust you shall return.” Gen 2:19, Douay Jesus himself said he would be “in the heart of the earth three days and three nights” Mt 12:40, Douay
    Question: If Jesus did not die as a man, how could he have been resurrected?
    Having died, he was resurrected by Jehovah after Jonah’s ‘three days’. He appeared on earth several times, in several guises, over the next forty-some days. “For I delivered unto you first of all, which I also received: how that Christ died for our sins, according to the scriptures: And that he was buried: and that he rose again the third day, according to the scriptures” 1 Cor 15:3 ff.

    What then? Recall the proverbial phrase, which is from the Bible: “The wages of sin is death.” But Jesus “did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth.” 2 Pet 2:22, Douay So, as we might say, ‘Jehovah owed him one'; indeed, Jehovah did owe him a life. and our Lord elected to use it in our behalf. “But Christ, being come an high priest of the good things to come, by a greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hand, that is, not of this creation: Neither by the blood of goats or of calves, but by his own blood, entered once into the Holies, having obtained eternal redemption.” But for such important research- life and death, we might say- I recommend a certain erudite Jewish legal scholar, especially his briefs in Hebrews 9 & 10 and 1 Cor 15, in the Douay if required. More useful will be a modern and accurate translation like the Jerusalem Bible or the New World Translation.

    • Howard says:

      Doug, you seem to be suggesting a discrepency where none occurs.

      In death the soul is separated from the body. Jesus died on the cross, and His body was placed in a tomb, which seems in this case to be a sort of man-made cave. Since His body is now an inherent part of Him, it would be appropriate to say that He was “in the heart of the earth three days and three nights”, counting the days as they were counted at that time. During all that time, His divinity was not separated from His body.

      A separate question is what His *soul* was doing.

      For that, we need not look to the “traditions of men”; we have Sacred Tradition that comes down from the same time and the same source as Sacred Scripture. After all, did Jesus say, “Whoever READS you READS me,” or, “Whoever HEARS you HEARS me”? Sola scriptura is in fact one of those traditions of men, and unsurprisingly, it is false.

      However, we also have evidence from Scriptures. This is why the passage Msgr. Pope quotes from the Catechism is (like the Catechism as a whole) heavily footnoted with references to Scripture.

      • Bender says:

        In death the soul is separated from the body.
        __________________

        And, again, this touches upon the mystery of eternity. Human persons are not disembodied spirits, like the angels, but both body and spirit. It is both body and spirit together which make up the person. You cannot have one without the other and still be a human person.

        For the soul to be “separated from the body” would be to eliminate the person. To suggest that after physical death, the soul goes up and hangs out in heaven for a while, waiting for the resurrection, is to make the individual a non-person. Hence the mystery of eternity vis-a-vis temporality, the mystery of what “happens” after death, what “happens” between “now” and “the end of the world,” when the resurrection of the body will occur.

        But as we see with the Bodily Assumption of Mary, she is already in the New Jerusalem. There was no separation of her spirit from her body — body and soul remained together in going “up” to heaven. Right away she began enjoying a glorified resurrected body. And she points the way for the rest of the faithful.

        • Howard says:

          Well, no, separating the soul from the body does not make a non-person, but dead person.

          The fact is that the Saints are not embodied, but nor are they in some state of dormancy. If they were, there would be no point in petitioning them to pray for us, as you will hear at the vigil Mass tonight. Also, Saints do sometimes make apparitions — not just Jesus or the Blessed Virgin.

          As for whether or not the Blessed Virgin tasted death at her dormition, there is no definitive teaching. The Western Church tends to assume that she did, and the Eastern Churches that she did not, but that her “falling asleep” was something else. She had no need to die, because she was preserved from all stain of sin, but I suspect that she willingly followed the example of her Son. That’s just my opinion, though.

      • Doug says:

        ‘In the beginning’ the soul is defined: Gen 2:7. If this is true then “separated”, “divinity not separated”, “sacred tradition”, “sola scriptura” not at all relevant. They are traditions of men.
        “His body is now an inherent part of Him” ??? When wasn’t it?

  8. Nick says:

    The silence of God on Holy Saturday is as a reminder of the darkness on Good Friday. Where God seems powerless, He is actually hard at work; speechless, He is actually proclaiming the Gospel; dead, He is actually proferring Himself to the deceased.

  9. Nick says:

    Also, I subscribed to your channel Msgr :)

  10. Howard says:

    “The Sacred Page” has a related post that is worth reading. http://www.thesacredpage.com/2012/04/he-descended-into-hell-did-jesus-really.html

  11. Father Ryan Erlenbush says:

    It is also good to recall that Jesus remained personally (i.e. hypostatically) united to his Body which lay dead in the tomb.

    In this respect Jesus’ Corpse is very different from others … since, although his Soul was not united to his Body, yet he was personally united to the dead Body, so that we can even speak to the Sacred Corpse in the words of St. Alphonsus (from the Stations of the Cross) – “Oh my buried Jesus…”

    Where was Jesus on the first Holy Saturday? According to his humanity, he was both in the Limbo of the Fathers and in the tomb.

    “During Christ’s period in the tomb, his divine person continued to assume both his soul and his body.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 630)
    http://newtheologicalmovement.blogspot.com/2011/04/for-three-days-god-was-dead-body-and.html

  12. Barbara says:

    Every Holy Saturday I look forward to this Ancient Homily in the Office of Readings in the Liturgy of the Hours.

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