Black Saturday: Jesus’ Descent into Hell

harrowing of hell

We usually associate Black Saturday as the day when God did nothing because God is dead. And so in the church, there is no Eucharist. Today is mostly a day of silence, sitting, and waiting. That’s how it is the morning after the burial.

But far from doing nothing, God is doing a very important mission.

Holy Saturday is when Christ descended into hell. In hell, Jesus was busy rescuing people from death and sharing with them the victory of his resurrection. We always recite in the creed every Sunday mass that after Jesus died on the cross “he descended into hell”. The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains this:

By the expression “He descended into hell”, the Apostles’ Creed confesses that Jesus did really die and through his death for us conquered death and the devil “who has the power of death” (Heb 2:14) [#636]. In his human soul united to his divine person, the dead Christ went down to the realm of the dead. He opened heaven’s gates for the just who had gone before him [#637].

Even in death, Jesus was at work. Death did not stop the mission of Jesus’ redemption. On the contrary, death unleash the final act of Jesus’ redemption–Jesus destroying death not just for himself but for all humanity.

Jesus’ mission in hell is wonderfully depicted in an icon more popular in the Eastern Orthodox tradition. This is the icon of Harrowing of Hell.[1] Although this icon is not popular in the Western tradition today, the message of this icon was commonly proclaimed in the ancient and medieval period of Western Christianity by many church fathers like Tertullian, St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas and many others. Harrowing is an old English word which means harvesting. Thus, we can also call this icon as the harvesting of souls in hell.

In the icon, we see Jesus standing on the broken gate of hell. Hell is the dark pit at the bottom of the icon. In some icons, we can even see angels binding Satan in hell. Then we see Jesus pulling two figures up out of hell. This is Adam and Eve, imprisoned in hell since their deaths; imprisoned, along with all humanity, due to sin. Eve is generally depicted in a red robe. On both sides of the icon are figures from the Old Testament like Abel, King David, Moses, prophets and many others waiting for Jesus to rescue them from hell. We can also see broken locks and keys used by Jesus to unlock the tombs of those souls living in hell.

The message of the icon is also beautifully expressed in an ancient homily, of unknown authorship, usually entitled The Lord’s Descent into the Underworld that is the second reading at Office of Readings on Holy Saturday .

I am your God, who for your sake have become your son. Out of love for you and for your descendants I now by my own authority command all who are held in bondage to come forth, all who are in darkness to be enlightened, all who are sleeping to arise. I order you, O sleeper, to awake. I did not create you to be held a prisoner in hell. Rise from the dead, for I am the life of the dead. Rise up, work of my hands, you who were created in my image. Rise, let us leave this place, for you are in me and I am in you; together we form only one person and we cannot be separated.

As we prepare for the great commemoration of the Lord’s resurrection at Easter Vigil tonight, let us continue to prepare ourselves to rise up with Jesus in victory.

Here’s a video explanation of the Icon of Christ’s Resurrection


 

[1]Joel J. Miller, “The harrowing of hell and the victory of Christ,” Patheos, March 30, 2013. Accessed 25/03.2018 at http://www.patheos.com/blogs/joeljmiller/2013/03/the-victory-of-christ-and-the-harrowing-of-hell/

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Official Liturgy for Visiting our Faithful Departed in the Cemetery

This November 1 and 2, many families, relatives and friends of our faithful departed will visit their graves in the cemetery. It is our firm belief as Christians to pray for our dearly departed not just to visit their graves and offer flower for them. Here’s the official prayer and liturgy of the church for visiting a cemetery. The family, relatives and friends can gather around the grave. Each one may lit a candle.  A member of the family or a lay minister can lead the prayer. Appropriate hymns can be sung at the beginning and end of the prayer. After the prayer, all present may bless the grave with Holy Water.

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Click this link to download a copy of this prayer/liturgy.

 

 

All Saints and All Souls Day: Contemplating the Meaning of Death

grave

November begins with the twin feast days of All Saints and All Souls. We pay tribute to the lives of the many saints in heaven and we remember our dearly departed loved ones.  By contemplating about death and the saints we can learn more about the true meaning and purpose of our lives.

While many of us head to the cemetery all day and all night on November 1 – 2, we actually fear and abhor death.  Every year during these days close to the twin feast days of All Saints and All Souls, many horror movies are being shown on TV’s and cinemas, about ghosts of dead people, or dead people coming out of their graves, and other gory images of the dead. The fear and bastardization of death is also very much promoted in the celebration of halloween which has become more and more popular in the country, thanks to Western media and commercial establishments cashing in on halloween products. The commercial appropriation and secular co-optation of halloween from its original Christian meaning portrays children wearing costumes of vampires, monsters, ghosts, skeletons, witches, and devils playing trick or treat.  Halloween, also known as Allhalloween, All Hallows’ Eve, or All Saints’ Eve is originally dedicated to remembering the dead, including saints (hallows),  martyrs, and all the faithful departed.

Perhaps the most innate reason why we fear death is because it confronts us about our own mortality.  We abhor the idea that our life will end tomorrow, next week, next year or several years from now especially if we are at the height of our career, if we are enjoying the success of our endeavors or if we have plenty of dreams yet unfulfilled.  We hate the thought that our once beautiful bodies will someday turn to dust.

With the vast technology and advances in science, life has immensely improved on earth.  Because of this, many see life here on earth as the ultimate and only reality.  Compared to previous generations, there are lesser people today who believe in eternity.  With death life has ended, nothing more.

mass-grave

On the other hand, death confronts us with the question of  what lies beyond death.  There is somehow the conviction from the deepest core of our being, that death is not the end.  The closest thing we may have experienced this is at the death of our loved ones.  We refuse to believe that when our loved ones die, they are gone forever.  We continue to feel their presence even in spirit or whatever, albeit constantly close to us and continue to hope that someday we will be reunited once again.

This is precisely the meaning of this twin celebration of All Saints Day and All Souls Day.  Through these celebrations, we bravely proclaim that our life is eternal and “with death life is not ended only changed” (Preface to the Mass for the dead).   Death is the passing over to immortality.  As St. Francis said:  “It is in dying that we are born to eternal life.”

Death is not the end but the bridge to eternity.  This carries plenty of practical implications on how we ought to live our lives here and now.  Our Lord Jesus Christ has constantly reminded us about these especially in the Gospel readings for this month: We need to be wise, we need to plan ahead, we need to be ready, prepared, vigilant always.  In other words we need to make the most out of our lives at all times by doing a good turn daily in loving service of God and neighbor. We need to live everyday as if it is the last day of our life. As the song goes:

Minsan lamang ako daraan sa daigdig na ito (Only once will I pass through this world).
Kaya anuman ang mabuting maa’ring gawin ko ngayon (So whatever good I can do now) .
O anumang kabutihan ang maari kong ipadama? (O whatever kindness I may express).
Itulot ninyong magawa ko ngayon ang mga bagay na ‘to (Allow me to do these now).

As we battle through life making the most out of the gifts that God has given us, our faithful departed is constantly on our side.  This is what the belief of the Church as a communion of saints tells us. By this, we mean that the saints in heaven, the faithful departed in purgatory and we Christians still living on earth form the Church. All are saints because as followers of Jesus Christ, we are called to be holy, to be saints. We are a communion because in the Church, there is unity and sharing. By our unity, we stand in loving relationship with the saints in heaven, the faithful departed in purgatory and those still here on earth. Because of this unity among Christ’s followers, there is sharing of goods and graces. The saints in heaven pray for those in purgatory and those on earth. And we who are on earth ask the intercession of the saints in heaven and also pray for the faithful departed in purgatory.

Mary, Our Mother of Perpetual Help, continue to bring us to your Son Jesus who is our constant guide and our hope in our journey towards eternal life!