The Easter Mystery: Christ Descended Into Hell

The Church has entered the fifty days of Easter. By His death Jesus Christ has opened the gates of heaven. The Apostles’ Creed refers to Jesus’ Descent into hell: Descensus Christi ad Inferos. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that after His crucifixion and death Jesus went to the realm of the dead and delivered the message of the Gospel. (no. 634) He went to “free the just who had gone before Him.” (no. 633) Allow me to reflect briefly on this great truth.

In a beautiful homily, which is part of the Office of Readings for Holy Saturday, an ancient writer represents the time between Good Friday and Easter Sunday when Jesus, having accomplished His saving work, goes to search for Adam and Eve to bring them home.

“Something strange is happening – there is a great silence on earth today, a great silence and stillness. The whole earth keeps 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. God has died in the flesh and hell trembles with fear.”

“He has gone to search for our first parent, 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 the captives Adam and Eve, he who is both God and the son of Eve. The Lord approached them bearing the cross, the weapon that had won him the victory. At the sight of him Adam, the first man he had created, struck his breast in terror and cried out to everyone: “My Lord be with you all”. Christ answered him: “And with your spirit”. He took him by the hand and raised him up, saying: “Awake, O sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ will give you light”.”

This Easter I received a card with a poem that offers another meditation on the event. It is called “Limbo,” and is attributed to Sister Mary Ada. I pray that the joy and hope of the Risen Jesus will continue to bring you peace these Easter days.

Limbo, by Sister Mary Ada:

The ancient greyness shifted suddenly and thinned like mist upon the moors before a wind.

An old, old prophet lifted a shining face and said:

“He will be coming soon. The Son of God is dead; He died this afternoon.”

A murmurous excitement stirred all souls. They wondered if they dreamed

save one old man who seemed not even to have heard.

And Moses, standing, hushed them all to ask if any had a welcome song prepared.

If not, would David take the task?

And if they cared could not the three young children sing the Benedicite,

the canticle of praise they made when God kept them from perishing in the fiery blaze?

A breath of spring surprised them, stilling Moses’ words.

No one could speak, remembering the first fresh flowers, the little singing birds.

Still others thought of fields new ploughed or apple trees all blossom-boughed.

Or some, the way a dried bed fills with water laughing down green hills.

The fisherfolk dreamed of the foam on bright blue seas.

The one old man who had not stirred remembered home.

And there He was, splendid as the morning sun and fair as only God is fair.

And they, confused with joy, knelt to adore

Seeing that He wore five crimson stars He never had before.

No canticle at all was sung. None toned a psalm, or raised a greeting song,

A silent man alone of all that throng found tongue — not any other.

Close to His heart when the embrace was done, old Joseph said,

“How is Your Mother, How is Your Mother, Son?”


  1. March 26, 2016 at 7:44 am #

    My pastor told me about this poem yesterday. He can’t even get to the last line without crying. Thank you, Bishop, for sharing it, along with the magnificent excerpt from the patristic homily.

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November 26, 2020
The Diocese of Kansas City ~ St. Joseph