From Volume VI: Passiontide and Holy Week
Abbot Guéranger

The description of the magnificent ceremonies of Baptism, generally presented to us during the beginning of the Paschal season, might make us forget the sepulcher wherein reposes the Body of our crucified Jesus. Let us return thither in thought, for the hour of His Resurrection has not yet come. Let us devote a few moments to meditating on the mystery of the three days, during which the Soul of our Redeemer was separated from His Body.

We went, this morning, to visit the tomb, where lies our buried Jesus; we adored that sacred Body, which Magdalene and her companions are preparing to honor, by anointing it early on the morrow. Now let us offer the tribute of our profound adoration to the Soul of our Divine Master. It is not in the tomb, where His Body is: let us follow it to the place where it lives during these hours of separation.

In the center of the earth there are four immense regions, into which no one living can ever enter: it 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 children, who departed this world before being regenerated. The opinion which has met most favor 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 died 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 center 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 one 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, an infinite happiness; they resignedly bear this long banishment, which is a consequence of Adam's sin; and, as they see the time drawing nigh for their deliverance, their joy is 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." [1] What must have been the joy of these countless Saints! And how majestic must 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 the Redeemer, united to the Divinity of 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, has come! What tongue could tell their joy, their admiration, and their love, as they behold 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, [2] 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 felt there. The prince of this world is now forced to bend his knee and humble himself. [3] 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. [4] The handwriting of our condemnation is snatched from the serpent. [5] The Cross, which he had so exultingly prepared for the Just One, has been his overthrow; or, as St. Anthony so forcibly expresses it, it is 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 reunited 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.

Concluding Prayer

We adore Thee, O holy Soul of our Redeemer, for having deigned to pass these hours with Thy Saints, our fathers, in the heart of the earth. We extol Thy goodness and love shown towards these Thy elect, whom Thou hast made to be Thine own brethren. We give Thee thanks for that Thou didst humble our enemy: oh, give us grace to conquer him! But now, dearest Jesus, it is time for Thee to rise from Thy tomb, and reunite Thy Soul to Thy Body. Heaven and earth await Thy Resurrection; the Church, Thy bride, has already sung the Alleluia of her glad expectation: rise, then, from Thy grave, O Jesus, our Life! Triumph over death, and reign our King for ever!

1. St. Matt. xii. 40.
2. St. John xiv. 2.
3. Phil. ii. 10.
4. Matt. xii. 29.
5. Col. ii. 14.