Christ in Limbo, by Fra Angelico (Blessed John of Fiesole, OP) 1442. Basilica di San Marco, Florence, Italy.
In our Creed we profess that, when Jesus died, his spirit descended into the realm of the dead to preach to them the Good News of our salvation. Scripture tells us: "...he went and preached unto the spirits in prison..." (1 Peter 3:19). Recall that when Adam and Eve sinned against God, the gates of paradise were shut to them and their descendants. Justice demands that we first pay for our sin before the gates could once again be opened. Therefore, souls could not return to God. In this, we were slaves to sin and to Satan.
We could not satisfy the reparation demanded by our sins, so God sent His only begotten son to ransom us. We were indebted to God, and still God made a way to satisfy the debt we owed Him. Thus, before dying, Jesus said, "It is accomplished." The saving work which God had prepared for thousands of years had been accomplished.
Jesus' spirit went down to the realm of the dead, to the depths, to preach the Good News to them. The gates of heaven have been opened, and by the flowing of His precious blood, we have obtained forgiveness of sins. The souls have waited for a very long time: "Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord!" The glorious day of liberation from the bondage of Satan and sin had come. By the offering of the spotless Lamb of God, what justice demanded had been satisfied.
The CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH, no. 633, states:
"Scripture calls the abode of the dead, to which the dead Christ went down, 'hell' - Sheol in Hebrew or Hades in Greek - because those who are there are deprived of the vision of God. Such is the case for all the dead, whether evil or righteous, while they await the Redeemer: which does not mean that their lot is identical, as Jesus shows through the parable of the poor man Lazarus who was received into 'Abraham's bosom': 'It is precisely these holy souls, who awaited their Savior in Abraham's bosom, whom Christ the Lord delivered when he descended into hell.' Jesus did not descend into hell to deliver the damned, nor to destroy the hell of damnation, but to free the just who had gone before him."
Young Thomasian Professionals Lay Dominican Group
Santísimo Rosario Parish, University of Santo Tomás
España Boulevard, Manila 1015 Philippines