Holy Saturday – The Lord’s descent into Hell

Holy Saturday – The Lord’s descent into Hell

by Jo Doyle                 Ireland                                      30.03.2024

Inspired by an Ancient Homily in the Office of Readings.

Something strange is happening.  There is a great silence on earth today.
Christ was mortally wounded and died, and the earth shuddered.
These are some words that are helpful in this Holy Saturday descent.
Wounding, crisis, call, promise, transformation.
This reading explains the journey of these words.   What is the call of such a great wounding?
Is there a meaning to our suffering?

In Greek the word ‘Wound’ means to pierce.  Often we ignore, minimize or spiritualize our piercing and in that, we don’t recognize our call, not just to change but to participate in our transformation.  We are asked on this day to enter our own piercing to receive something new.
Crisis is most often the only thing that will impel us to radical transformation.

We can try to stay neutral to our piercing or attend to the wound.

There has been so much activity on Holy Thursday and Good Friday that we don’t know what Holy Saturday in our lives is for.  We pick daffodils, clean windows, prepare the leg of lamb to celebrate the Sunday Resurrection, yet we have not transformed, we may only have changed.  Maybe we changed our jobs, houses, cars, countries, but this Saturday space is different.

We are invited to descend with him to join his wounding and piercing and in that darkness or crisis we are asked to wake up.

The Descent

Often we are wounded by a traumatic event.  Not all traumatic events are evil, but some are.  If you look at the book of Genesis where we are told not to touch the tree of good and evil.  Its power is too much for us mere mortals.  However, if the tree of evil steps out and touches us, what happens to our spirit and soul.  We can be overwhelmed and only need to look to our Evening News to see the results.

Our wound opens and our pain ignites into bitterness and hatred, often we can be engorged in our own suffering and have notions of revenge.  We can become so consumed with pain asking ‘Why?’   There is often no answer to why something happened, and we can become overpowered by darkness leading to addiction, depression, hopelessness or suicide.  Another way is to follow the wound, travel into the Eye of God’s grief to experience the gaze of love.  This descent into hell is experienced as the absence of love.  It is a felt sense of being alone with grief, isolation, detachment and a felt sense of abandonment.  In that desolate Holy Saturday place, Christ descended and waits to gaze on us, to pierce us with his Love and let us know from that moment on, that in our darkest moments we are not alone.

The Call

It may seem like an annihilation, but the promise of the wound is not annihilation but consummation with Christ.  This is the promise of the Holy Saturday reading, our life’s journey into God.  We are not just being taught that we are not alone but now we know it.  God is with me is the gift of mystical union.  What do I learn?  The mystery of forgiveness, love, new purpose and the question,
‘Can anything good come from journeying the ‘Way of the wound?’

Remember, Resurrection happened in darkness, and nobody recognized Him when he rose from the dead.


Jo Wardhaugh Doyle is farming in Kildare with her husband Matt.  She has worked in Uganda, Ethiopia and Kenya, but more recently has worked with Sr Rita Kelly MMM doing the REAP programme in the Irish Missionary Union (IMU).