|The Harrowing of Hell, Chora Museum|
- 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."
~Ancient Homily for Holy Saturday, as quoted in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 635.
More from the Catechism:
633 Scripture calls the 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. Such is the case for all the dead, whether evil or righteous, while they await the Redeemer: which does not mean that their lot is identical, as Jesus shows through the parable of the poor man Lazarus who was received into "Abraham's bosom": "It is precisely these holy souls, who awaited their Savior in Abraham's bosom, whom Christ the Lord delivered when he descended into hell." 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.
634 "The gospel was preached even to the dead."The descent into hell brings the Gospel message of salvation to complete fulfilment. 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.
635 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."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." 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."