Skip to comments.The Apostles' Creed in Public and Private Worship
Posted on 06/03/2006 6:01:39 AM PDT by NYer
He descended to the dead versus He descended into hell. This may be one controversy that has escaped your attention. If so, you are fortunate, because the two phrases are causing a lot of unnecessary contention.
Fr. William Saunders, writing for the Arlington Catholic Herald in an article reprinted on Catholic Exchange (see below) said, one should not tamper with the wording of the Creed. In some circles there is a call for those who have thus tampered to be subject to discipline under Canon Law. It is true that unauthorized changes to the liturgy are a violation of Canon Law and certainly the existence of rampant liturgical abuses has heightened sensitivity to the accuracy of words. But lets see who is doing the changing here and find out what are the official words of the prayer, the Apostles' Creed. How Are We Being Understood? No Creed Police
If we look in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, which was officially promulgated in 1988 for use in the United States, the portion of the Apostles Creed in question is written as: He descended to the dead. This is the official ritual which is used in the Easter Vigil liturgy and any rites of initiation. Therefore when a pastor brings someone into the Church, he must follow this formula for public worship. The RCIA candidates are given a copy of the Apostles Creed with this official wording. We who are in unity with the Church, obedient to our bishops, should always use this formula when we gather together to pray the Apostles Creed at such events as the childrens liturgy of the Word. The pastor is not trying to play games or change the words to be a self-expressing priest, but instead he is following the official language of the Church as he obediently must or else he would be subject discipline under Canon Law for making an unauthorized change in the words of the liturgy.
So there has been an official change in the words, but as Father Saunders's article said, Despite the difference in wording, there is no difference in meaning. There is no difference in what we mean when we say the Creed either way, however, there may be a big difference in how our hearers interpret the words. The word hell has a very specific meaning for the people of today. It is popularly believed to be a place or state of eternal damnation, where the souls of the damned are perfectly and permanently separated from the beatific vision (the vision of God). It is a place or state of no hope. This is why the Church decided, for catechetical purposes, that it would be better to say the place of the dead during public worship. The place of the dead was the place for the souls of the just before the gates of heaven were opened for them. All the great figures of the Old Testament had to await the Savior, and that place was a place of the dead not the damned.
The Catechism explains:
Scripture calls the abode of the dead, to which the dead Christ went down, "hell" Sheol in Hebrew or Hades in Greek because those who are there are deprived of the vision of God. Such is the case for all the dead, whether evil or righteous, while they await the Redeemer: which does not mean that their lot is identical, as Jesus shows through the parable of the poor man Lazarus who was received into "Abraham's bosom": "It is precisely these holy souls, who awaited their Savior in Abraham's bosom, whom Christ the Lord delivered when He descended into hell." Jesus did not descend into hell to deliver the damned, nor to destroy the hell of damnation, but to free the just who had gone before Him. (no. 633)The word Sheol in Hebrew or the word Hades in Greek was translated into the word hell. Once hell took on the particular meaning of a place for those damned who are eternally excluded from the beatific vision, it became an obstacle to clear Church teaching about just where Jesus descended to. People are confused, reasoning that since the damned are damned and cannot be saved, why should Jesus have gone to hell? My CCD students ask this question often and it is a good question, but why should the Church spend so much time and energy teaching what is meant by this phrase rather than adjusting the phrase so it can better serve the Church community?
The fact is that the English language is an evolving language and occasional changes in the text of prayers, liturgy and Scripture will be needed to keep the language vernacular. Take for example St. Pauls words in 1 Corinthians 10:25. Both the King James Version and the Douay-Rheims, almost contemporaneous, use the same wording: Whatsoever is sold in the shambles, eat, asking no question for conscience sake. What is a shambles to you? Almost any modern speaker of English understands shambles to mean a mess. Your bedroom is a shambles, a mother says to her teenager. She surely doesnt mean what St. Paul meant, as the Revised Standard Catholic Edition put it: Eat whatever is found in the meat market without raising any question on the ground of conscience. The factors that drove this change were the evolution of the English language and the desire of the translators to keep the words of Scripture understandable to readers.
So does that mean that if you regularly say the Apostles' Creed and use He descended into hell when, for instance, you pray the rosary, you are wrong? Emphatically no. After all, as we saw above, that is the wording used in the Catechism. Either phrase is perfectly fine for you to use, but it is a question of what words we use for public worship versus what words we may use for private prayer. If you are at home praying your rosary or the Divine Mercy Chaplet you are more than welcome to use the words: He descended into hell, as long as you understand the proper meaning of the phrase and you are not doing it to be obstinate in some vain desire to be more correct than the Church herself. (In that case you would need confession for the sin of pride.)
On occasion, when the Church sees a need to change words for clarity or because of poor translations, pastors and priests are misunderstood and labeled as bad guys when in fact they are just creating uniform proper public worship as directed by the Church. We must have unity in our public worship or we will have people using all kinds of self-expressing phrases and in the long run the worship would be damaged. Although certain phrases may be nice and endearing to people, they would detract from the catechetical purpose of the creed or change the theological meaning of a prayer.
With the bishops voting on the new translation for the holy liturgy in June we should be open and understanding about any changes that may be made. I find it insulting when priests claim they cant change the words of the liturgy because the people have been saying it that way for 30 years or more. Just because we have said it a particular way for a long time doesnt mean we have been doing it the best way and it is the Church, our Holy Mother taking care of the needs of her children, that discerns the need for change. Lets respect her actions and support her priests during these next few years when some wordings most probably will change. If we keep informed and gently point out to one another the whats and whys of the changes, we will be a much more joyful Church, rather than one so quick to condemn because we dont understand. There are no Creed police that will break down your door and drag you off for praying as you have always prayed, however our pastors are many times gossiped about and slandered for using the official language of the Church because we dont know. Why not simply ask: Father why do we pray the words He descended to the dead now when I was taught He descended to hell? Simple questions can stop much of the misunderstanding we have within our parishes. It may even be that at some point the Church decides that He descended into hell is preferable and is the phrase that should be used in the liturgy. As an obedient Catholic, I am ready and willing to teach accordingly as the Church decides. Wont you join me in this attitude?
How Are We Being Understood?
No Creed Police
"What is clear, however, is that hell is the total absence of God and divine love and mercy, a burning pain far worse than fire."
Interesting and surprising. This is very different from what Orthodoxy teaches. For us, God's love is like a fire, for good or for ill. +Isaac the Syrian, a saint espeically revered by Eastern Christians (which is why Fr.'s comment about the absence of God's love surprises me), wrote in his Homily 84:
"I say that those who are suffering in hell, are suffering in being scourged by love. ... It is totally false to think that the sinners in hell are deprived of God's love. Love is a child of the knowledge of truth, and is unquestionably given commonly to all. But love's power acts in two ways: it torments sinners, while at the same time it delights those who have lived in accord with it."
And +Basil the Great, in his Homily 13 sec.2 Exhortation to Holy Baptism, says that the sword of fire was placed at the gate of Paradise to guard the approach to the tree of life; it was terrible and burning toward infidels, but kindly and accessible toward the faithful, bringing to them the light of day.
In any event, NYer, what the priest is writing about is the situation of the damned after the Final Judgment, after the end of time, not the situation spoken of in the Apostles' Creed or the Roman Catechism.
That's an interesting concept. As you may know, the old Roman Canon (Anaphora), after the Consecration, has a prayer in commemoration of the dead. The Latin text reads:
Memento etiam, Domine, famulorum famularumque tuarum N. et N. qui nos praecesserunt cum signo fidei, et dormiunt in somno pacis. Ipsis, Domine, et omnibus in Christo quiescentibus, locum refrigerii, lucis et pacis, ut indulgeas, deprecamur. Per eumdem Christum Dominum nostrum. Amen.
"Remember also, Lord, Your servants and handmaids (name) and (name) who have gone before us with the sign of faith and rest in the sleep of peace. To these, Lord, and to all who rest in Christ, we beg You to grant of Your goodness a place of coolness (the key word is refrigerii - think "refrigerate" - it's often translated as "comfort"), light, and peace. Through Christ our Lord. Amen."
"As you may know, the old Roman Canon (Anaphora), after the Consecration, has a prayer in commemoration of the dead. The Latin text reads:
Memento etiam, Domine, famulorum famularumque tuarum N. et N. qui nos praecesserunt cum signo fidei, et dormiunt in somno pacis. Ipsis, Domine, et omnibus in Christo quiescentibus, locum refrigerii, lucis et pacis, ut indulgeas, deprecamur. Per eumdem Christum Dominum nostrum. Amen."
Indeed I do remember that anaphora. Here is part of our version of the same prayer which is said at funerals and memorial services:
"O God of spirits and of all flesh, Who has trampled down Death and overthrown the Devil, and given life unto Your world, give, we beseech You, eternal rest to the soul of Your departed servant, in a place of refreshment, in a place of verdure, in a place of repose, from whence all pain, sorrow, and sighing, have fled away."
That's not the best translation, but the Greek word for refreshment used in the prayer means a cool sort of refreshment. The only thing I can think of as a analogy in English is like the effect of a cool, wet, juicy cucumber. I think the East and the West are on the same page on this one.
Yeah, I noticed one translation used "refreshment" while another used "coolness." Both are valid. In fact, this has carried over into Spanish, according to my friend who is fluent in the language. "Frescura" can mean both "coolness" and "freshness."
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