TO LIBERATE THE JUST
Having explained these things, the pastor should next proceed to teach that Christ the Lord descended into hell, in order that, having despoiled the demons, “He Descended into Hell.” so He might liberate from prison those holy Fathers and the other just souls, and might bring them into Heaven with Himself. This He accomplished in an admirable and most glorious manner; for His august presence at once shed a celestial lustre upon the captives and filled them with inconceivable joy and delight. He also imparted to them that supreme happiness which consists in the vision of God, thus verifying His promise to the thief on the cross: This day thou shalt be with me in paradise. (Luke 23:43).
This deliverance of the just was long before predicted by Osee in these words: O death, I will be thy death; O hell, I will be thy bite (Osee 13:14); and also by the Prophet Zachary: Thou also by the blood of thy testament hast sent forth thy prisoners out of the pit, wherein is no water (Zach. 9:11); and lastly, the same is expressed by the Apostle in these words: Despoiling the principalities and powers, he hath exposed them confidently in open show, triumphing over them in himself. (Col. 2:15).
But the better to understand the efficacy of this mystery we should frequently call to mind that not only the just who were born after the coming of Our Lord, but also those who preceded Him from the days of Adam, or who shall be born until the end of time, obtain their salvation through the benefit of His Passion. Wherefore before His death and Resurrection Heaven was closed against every child of Adam. The souls of the just, on their departure from this life, were either borne to the bosom of Abraham; or, as is still the case with those who have something to be washed away or satisfied for, were purified in the fire of Purgatory.
TO PROCLAIM HIS POWER
Another reason why Christ the Lord descended into hell is that there, as well as in Heaven and on earth, He might proclaim His power and authority, and that every knee should bow, of those that are in Heaven, on earth, and under the earth. (Phil. 2:10).
And here, who is not filled with admiration and astonishment when he contemplates the infinite love of God for man! Not satisfied with having undergone for our sake a most cruel death, He penetrates the inmost recesses of the earth to transport into bliss the souls whom He so dearly loved and whose liberation from thence He had achieved.
This article is taken from a chapter in The Catechism of the Council of Trent by Pope Pius X, which is available from TAN Books.