Liturgy Corner

Carmel Parish Bulletin articles from the Liturgy Committee

He Descended Into Hell

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Carmel Bulletin, 10 May 2015

At Masses during the Lent and Easter seasons, we pray the Apostles’ Creed instead of the usual Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed.  This is recommended in the Missal as it is the ancient baptismal creed of the Roman Church, and these seasons are very much focused on baptism; through the initiation of adults and the renewal of our own baptismal commitment.

When the English translation of the Missal was revised, the line “he descended to the dead” in the Apostles’ Creed changed to “he descended into hell”.  It can still seem strange to us to say it.

On reflection, I would suggest that many of us found this difficult (at least at first) because of the image that first comes to mind when we think of “hell”.  Pictures of some scary, fiery place, home to “the devil” and eternal damnation prevail in within popular culture.

Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives, looking towards the Dome of the Rock

In Jerusalem, many graves are located close to the outside of the wall of the old city, in anticipation in Jewish tradition of the coming of the Messiah who will raise the dead from their graves.

Yet the word “hell” (Sheol in Hebrew, or Hades in Greek) has traditionally held a broader meaning, referring also to the place where just people who died awaited their Redeemer and thus their entry into heaven (see the Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 633).  According to Jewish tradition, this is yet to happen.  We believe, however, that Christ the Redeemer entered into this realm of the dead, proclaiming the Good News and leading them to their eternal reward through his death and resurrection.

St Paul speaks of this in the excerpt that we will hear as the Second Reading next Sunday (the Solemnity of the Ascension):

It was said that he would:

When he ascended to the height, he captured prisoners, he gave gifts to men.

When it says, ‘he ascended’, what can it mean if not that he descended right down to the lower regions of the earth?  (Ephesians 4:8-9)

Read more about the Creeds in the Catechism of the Catholic Church

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