23 April 2011

Holy Saturday

Holy Saturday tends to be overlooked between the triumph and grief of Good Friday and the triumph and exultation of Easter, but this emptiest day of the year was understood by our medieval ancestors to be the time referred to in the Creed: "He descended into hell".  Here He released the souls of the righteous, from Adam to the recently arrived Good Thief.

And Saint Austin saith: Anon as Jesu Christ had rendered the spirit, the soul that was united to his Godhead was quick and living in the deepness of hell descended.  And when he was at deepest of the darkness, like as a robber shining and terrible to the tyrants of hell, they beheld him and began to demand and enquire: "Who is he that is so strong, so terrible, so clear and so shining? The world, which is to us subject, sent to us never such one dead, ne he sent to us never such gifts into hell. Who is he then that is so constant that is entered into the furthest end of our parts, and he doubteth not only of our torments, but yet he hath unbound them of their bonds whom we held and kept? ..."

After these cruel words of them of hell, at the commandment of our Lord all the locks, all the bars and shuttings been broken, and to-frushed.  And lo! the people of saints that come kneeling tofore him in crying with piteous voice, saying: "Our Redeemer! Thou art come for to redeem the world, we have abided thee every day; thou art descended into hell for us, and leave us not, but that we be with thee when thou shalt return to thy brethren.  Lord sweet God, show that thou hast despoiled hell, and bind the author of death with his bonds, render to the world now gladness, and quench the pains; and for thy pity unbind the caitiffs from servitude whiles thou art here, and assoil the sinners when thou descendest into hell, them of thy party." This said Saint Austin.

The apocryphal Gospel of Nicodemus goes into more detail.  After the patriarchs and prophets remind each other of their words concerning the Son of God, Jesus arrives at the gates of Hell:
Duccio di Buoninsegna. The Descent Into Hell. c1308
And, behold, suddenly Hades trembled, and the gates of death and the bolts were shattered, and the iron bars were broken and fell to the ground, and everything was laid open. And Satan remained in the midst, and stood confounded and downcast, bound with fetters on his feet. And, behold, the Lord Jesus Christ, coming in the brightness of light from on high, compassionate, great, and lowly, carrying a chain in His hand, bound Satan by the neck; and again tying his hands behind him, dashed him on his back into Tartarus, and placed His holy foot on his throat, saying: Through all ages you have done many evils; you have not in any wise rested. Today I deliver you to everlasting fire. And Hades being suddenly summoned, He commanded him, and said: Take this most wicked and impious one, and have him in your keeping even to that day in which I shall command you. And he, as soon as he received him, was plunged under the feet of the Lord along with him into the depth of the abyss.

Then the Lord Jesus, the Saviour of all, affectionate and most mild, saluting Adam kindly, said to him: Peace be to you, Adam, with your children, through immeasurable ages of ages! Amen. Then father Adam, falling forward at the feet of the Lord, and being raised erect, kissed His hands, and shed many tears, saying, testifying to all: Behold the hands which fashioned me! And he said to the Lord: You have come, O King of glory, delivering men, and bringing them into Your everlasting kingdom. Then also our mother Eve in like manner fell forward at the feet of our Lord, and was raised erect, and kissed His hands, and poured forth tears in abundance, and said, testifying to all: Behold the hands which made me!

Then all the saints, adoring Him, cried out, saying: Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! The Lord God has shone upon us— amen— through all ages. Alleluia for ever and ever! Praise, honour, power, glory! Because You have come from on high to visit us. Singing Alleluia continually, and rejoicing together concerning His glory, they ran together under the hands of the Lord. Then the Saviour, inquiring thoroughly about all, seized Hades, immediately threw some down into Tartarus, and led some with Him to the upper world.


The Lord Mayor with the Sheriffs of London used to go through the streets today, collecting charity for the people in the city prisons.  Consider continuing this tradition with a donation to a prison ministry.
The Easter vigil is tonight.  Two years ago, my sponsor (brave woman!) stood up before God and the Church and vouched for me.

Thanks, Molly.