Liturgy Corner

Carmel Parish Bulletin articles from the Liturgy Committee


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He Descended Into Hell

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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9/10/11 – Standing Up (and bowing… and genuflecting) for What You Believe In

Recently we have been looking at the postures and gestures that we engage in during Mass.  Each is intended to help us direct our minds and hearts more intently towards what we are celebrating.

Last week, we looked at some of the gestures and postures that are used during the first part of the Liturgy of the Word, primarily the scripture readings.

After the homily, we stand for the Profession of Faith and the Prayer of the Faithful.  This is another time during the Mass where we stand as an assembly because we are actively engaged in the role of praying.

Given that we are often told to “stand up for what we believe in”, it seems to make sense that we stand when we profess our faith.  Outside of the Church, standing is a posture used for important occasions related to our beliefs and values, such as the national anthem or a minute’s silence on Anzac Day.  To sit for such things (unless we are unable to stand, of course) is considered inappropriate and disrespectful.  Standing can be interpreted as a sign of commitment, resolve and pride – all feelings that should exist within us when we profess our faith through the creed.

The creed has within it another gesture to acknowledge an important element of our faith.  Again, this is a gesture that has always been included in the missal, but has fallen into disuse.  During the Profession of Faith, when we recall the incarnation and Jesus becoming man, we bow.  Like other times when we bow, this is a sign of reverence, and is included in the rubrics of the missal for both the Niceno-Constantinopolitan and Apostle’s Creeds.  Furthermore, when we celebrate this aspect of our faith at Christmas time, the missal asks us to genuflect instead; thus requiring of us an even more profound sign of reverence on such an important occasion.

Finally, much of what I’ve written in Liturgy Links this year has been related to the introduction of the new English translation of the Roman Missal, which has gradually taken place since January.  This week, our parish finally received its copy of the new edition of the Missal, meaning we can now celebrate the Mass in its entirety according to the new translation.  You will notice differences to the Collect (Opening Prayer), Prayer over the Offerings and Prayer After Communion from now on.  Use of the new translation is mandatory in Australia from All Saints Day.


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29/5/11 – What Happens at Mass, Part X: The Creed

The introduction of the new translation of the Roman Missal is not just a chance to learn new words, but will hopefully be an opportunity to come to a deeper understanding of the Mass.

The Profession of Faith is one way we respond to what we have heard in the scripture readings during Mass.  The translation of the Nicene-Constantinople Creed has been revised, as has the translation of the Apostles’ Creed.

One of the noticeable elements of the new translation of the Nicene-Constantinople Creed is that the existing text “We believe…” is replaced with “I believe…”  Although it is a seemingly small change, it will no doubt take some getting used to.  Some people will wonder why this change occurred, and may agree or disagree with it.

As we’ve already discussed, the new translation of the Missal is characterised by a closer, word-for-word translation of the Latin text into English.  The Latin word Credo, which begins the creed, translates into English as “I believe”.  There is more to consider here, however, than simply translation.

As we discussed last week, the creed did not become a commonly used prayer during the Mass for about 600 years after it was developed.  It was originally intended as a personal or individual profession of faith.  Parents are asked to renew their baptismal promises when they want their child to be baptised.  Confirmation candidates are asked to profess their faith, as are adults when they approach Christian Initiation.  Each of us is invited to renew our baptismal promises at Easter time.  In each case, we respond not with “We do”, but “I do”, for each of us is called to give personal testimony and witness to our faith.

While we have been used to saying “We believe…” each Sunday, the upcoming change back to “I believe…” does not try to deny the communal nature of the Eucharistic celebration.  The use of the words “I believe…” will hopefully challenge each of us to personally consider our subscription to the faith of the Church and its consequences.  Our communal praying of the creed will hopefully serve as a sign to each of us that we stand in solidarity with everybody who belongs to this community of faith.


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23/5/11 – What Happens at Mass, Part IX – The Liturgy of the Word

The introduction of the new translation of the Roman Missal is not just a chance to learn new words, but will hopefully be an opportunity to come to a deeper understanding of the Mass.

In the Liturgy of the Word, God speaks to us.  Through the proclamation of the scriptures at Mass, Christ is made present amongst us.  After the Second Vatican Council, one of the obvious reforms to the Mass was the increased use of scripture.  After we listen to God’s word in the readings and have it broken open for us in the homily, we respond by professing our faith and praying for the needs of the Church and the world.

For most of the Liturgy of the Word, there is very little that will be affected by the new translation of the Missal.  The one part that will be obviously different, however, is the Profession of Faith.  The Nicene-Constantinople Creed is retained, although the words will change.

This creed takes its name from the Church councils where it was formulated and ratified.  At the time, it was never intended to serve as a liturgical text.  The creed, which came out of the First Councils of Nicaea and Constantinople in the fourth century, was a direct response to the divisions being caused in the Church by the theories of Arius, who argued that Christ was created by God, rather than being God.

After declaring that God the Father and the Son are consubstantial (“of the same substance”) at Nicaea in 325 AD, the credal statements on the Holy Spirit, the Church, baptism, resurrection of the dead and everlasting life were developed at the Council of Constantinople in 381 AD.  This then completed the elements of the creed as we know it today.

It was not until the end of the millennium that the creed started to be used as a prayer during the Mass itself.  Eventually in 1014 it was adopted by Pope Benedict VIII.  It now forms part of our response to God’s word on Sundays and solemnities.