Holy Saturday is a day of anticipation. We reflect on Christ’s death but wait in expectation for what will come on Easter Sunday. However, we also think about what happened to Jesus between His death and His resurrection.
In his book Celebrating a Holy Catholic Easter: A Guide to the Customs and Devotions of Lent and the Season of Christ’s Resurrection, Fr. William Saunders explains that it’s traditionally held that, in the time between Jesus’s death on Friday and His resurrection on Sunday, Jesus descended into the Land of the Dead, or Sheol.
Why did Jesus go there?
We believe that Jesus descended into Sheol after His death to free the faithful who had died before He came into the world. When Adam and Eve sinned at the Fall, the gates of Heaven were closed. The faithful who died before the time of Jesus couldn’t enter Heaven. Jesus’s sacrifice reopened the gates of Heaven, so those in the Land of the Dead needed to be freed to enter eternal salvation.
Fr. Saunders explains how Jesus’s descent into Sheol fits into the story of salvation:
Our Lord offered the perfect sacrifice for all sin by dying on the cross, the redemptive act that touches all people of every time—past, present, and future…His soul, separated from his body, joined the holy souls awaiting the Savior in that Land of the Dead. His descent among them brought to completion the proclamation of the Gospel and liberated those holy souls.
Those in the Land of the Dead waited thousands of years for Jesus to free them, but they never lost hope. When we are living in times of trouble and uncertainty, we also remember that God never forgets His promises to us and will never leave us lost and abandoned.
For more devotionals and reflections to contemplate during Holy Week and Eastertide, check out Fr. William Saunders’s Celebrating a Holy Catholic Easter, sold here.