Descended into hell?

Question: Please explain why we are going to pray in the new version of the Apostles’ Creed at Mass that Jesus after his death “descended into hell’? In the old version we said that he “descended to the dead.” What would Jesus be doing in hell? 

Steve De Jong, British Columbia, Canada

Answer: Throughout the history of Christianity we have understood hell as the place of the damned. However, before the time of Christ, hell meant both the abode of the damned and the place in which the righteous waited until they were redeemed by Christ’s own death and resurrection. The scriptures call the abode of the dead, into which Christ entered after his death, “hell” — Sheol in Hebrew or Hades in Greek for the reason that those who were there were deprived of the vision of God. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: “Such is the case for all the dead, whether evil or righteous, while they await the redeemer” (No. 633). It continues: “It is precisely these holy souls, who awaited their Savior in Abraham’s bosom, whom Jesus 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” (Ibid.). Thus, the version of the Apostles’ Creed we find in the new translation of the Mass is more in line with the scriptures. But, we have to be sure that we understand “hell” in that Creed as I have just explained it.

The gates of heaven were opened not by Christ’s death alone, but by his death, resurrection and ascension. Heaven cannot exist without Christ; for heaven means the dwelling place of the resurrected Christ.

An Ancient Homily for Holy Saturday (printed in the Catechism in no. 635) speaks of Holy Saturday as the day in which Christ went into hell and sought out all the righteous, declaring salvation to them; among those sought out are Adam and Eve, to whom Christ was both God and son. 

Marriage outside Church

Question: I was taught that when Catholics married outside the Church they were not properly married in the eyes of the Church. Yet recently I read somewhere that the Church presumes the validity of the marriage of any two people who are free to marry at the time of their wedding. I thought that marriages outside the Church were always invalid. Please explain.

— Name and address withheld

Answer: Only Catholics are obliged to get married in the Church with Catholic rites. Catholics who enter into marriage outside the Church (unless they have a dispensation to do so) enter an invalid marriage.

However, non-Catholics of all persuasions who enter marriage through their own religious or civil ceremonies (unless at least one was married previously) enter a valid marriage. If such a marriage breaks up and one of the couple wishes to marry a Catholic, then the non-Catholic party must seek an annulment within Catholic procedures from the first marriage.

Some Catholics are under the impression that only Catholics have valid marriages. Such a viewpoint would declare most marriages in the history of the world invalid. This is not, of course, the Catholic view. All non-Catholic marriages in which the couples are free to marry (that is, having no previously valid marriages) are valid.

Msgr. M. Francis Mannion is a priest and theologian of the Diocese of Salt Lake City. Send your questions to Pastoral Answers, Our Sunday Visitor, 200 Noll Plaza, Huntington, IN 46750 or to mfmannion@osv.com. Letters must be signed, but anonymity may be requested.