|Behold your God|
On Holy Saturday we recall that period in which Christ’s body was laid to rest in the tomb, while his soul descended into the hell of the fathers to proclaim the Gospel to those who had died with faith in the Messiah who was to come. The body laid in the tomb was a dead body. The soul of Christ, his human soul, had been given up on the Cross – And Jesus again crying with a loud voice, yielded up the ghost (Matthew 27:50).
Christ had truly died and, for those days while his body lay in the tomb, God was dead. Not, of course, that God was dead in his divinity – just as Christ did not suffer in his divinity, but only in his humanity, likewise he died only in his humanity – but it is true that a divine person died. God was dead in the person of the Son; the Father, however, did not die (just as the Father did not suffer).
Recognizing the truth that the Eternal Word truly died – that is, his human soul was separated from his human body – by the communication of idioms, we can say that God died (as we can and must say that God became man). Can we go further and say that God was a dead body, and that a corpse was God?
Whether the Godhead was separated from the flesh when Christ died?
St. Thomas Aquinas considers this point in question fifty, article two of the third part of the Summa Theologica. There, he tells us that the Godhead was not separated from Jesus’ body at the moment of death. Indeed, even in death, the flesh of Christ is personally and hypostatically united with the Word of God.
The sed contra seems to be the most compelling portion of the article: “On the contrary, As stated above (16, 4,5), the attributes of human nature are predicated of the Son of God only by reason of the union. But what belongs to the body of Christ after death is predicated of the Son of God--namely, being buried: as is evident from the Creed, in which it is said that the Son of God was conceived and born of a Virgin, suffered, died, and was buried. Therefore Christ's Godhead was not separated from the flesh when He died.” If we can truly say that the Lord Jesus Christ was buried, then we must admit that his person was not separated from his body in death. For, in the case of other men, it is only their body (not their person) which is buried; but we state that the person of the Word was buried through the burial of Christ’s corpse.
In the body of the article, St. Thomas proves this through a consideration of the hypostatic union as a grace – and, since grace can only be lost through sin, it is clear that this union was never dissolved: “I answer that, What is bestowed through God's grace is never withdrawn except through fault. Hence it is written (Romans 11:29): The gifts and the calling of God are without repentance. But the grace of union whereby the Godhead was united to the flesh in Christ's Person, is greater than the grace of adoption whereby others are sanctified: also it is more enduring of itself, because this grace is ordained for personal union, whereas the grace of adoption is referred to a certain affective union. And yet we see that the grace of adoption is never lost without fault. Therefore, since there was no sin in Christ, it was impossible for the union of the Godhead with the flesh to be dissolved. Consequently, as before death Christ's flesh was united personally and hypostatically with the Word of God, it remained so after His death, so that the hypostasis of the Word of God was not different from that of Christ's flesh after death, as Damascene says (De Fide Orth. iii).”
Therefore, God was a dead body
Just as we must claim that God was made man in Christ Jesus, so too we must assert that (for those three days) God was a dead body. As the person of the Word remained hypostatically united to the corpse even after death, it is certain that this dead flesh was God.
Pray to Christ’s dead body, for this corpse was God
It is only after we accept that this corpse was truly God that we can then pray to the dead body of Jesus. Hence, only when we understand this doctrine, are we able to enter properly into the mystery commemorated on Holy Saturday and in the fourteenth Station of the Cross.
On this point, consider the following prayer from the Way of the Cross by St. Alphonsus Liguori (notice that the Doctor of Morals addresses the corpse itself, calling the dead body “Jesus;” affirming the essential unity of person which was not destroyed even in death):
“Oh, my buried Jesus, I kiss the stone that encloses Thee. But Thou didst rise again the third day. I beseech Thee, by Thy resurrection, make me rise glorious with Thee at the last day, to be always united with Thee in heaven, to praise Thee and love Thee forever. I love Thee, and I repent of ever having offended Thee. Never permit me to offend Thee again. Grant that I may love Thee always; and then do with me what Thou wilt.”