I was praying the rosary with my children and my son asked me what it means when “he descended into hell.” I hesitated because I really didn’t know how to explain it to him. “Hell” in that context was like purgatory? Somehow I know I’m not getting it right…
'…descended into hell’
It is not the hell of the damned. But rather, in this context it is just the place of the dead.
Before Christ, people who died went to hades, or the place of the dead, and were divided, those inclined to good resided in a state known as Abrahams comfort. Those inclined to bad were separated from the good by an impassable chasm.
Christ descended into hell, or hades, and preached to those souls who were waiting for Him ‘since the days of Noah’, namely, those souls in Abrahams comfort. After His death, when heaven was opened, they entered.
Purgatory, for us, begins now, and brings to completion after death the perfection necessary to enter heaven. You could view purgatory after death as being like virtual time in which we have the opportunity to cooperate, as we continuously have the opportunity to cooperate in our salvation in our lives here in this world, in real time.
This is my view of events at least, and I await any correction.
Sounds like a spot-on explanation. It may help to remember that some translations of the Apostles’ Creed simply say ‘He descended to the dead’, not ‘to hell’.
Jesus described this state himself in the story of Lazarus the beggar and the rich man - Lazarus, who was righteous, went to ‘Father Abraham’ rather than to God’s heaven (since no-one could enter heaven before Jesus’ death and resurrection opened it to us). The righteous waited in a temporary state, rather like limbo, until Christ’s mission was accomplished.
Luke 16:22-23 and 1 Peter 3:19.
Catechism of the Catholic Church:
**Christ Descended into Hell **
CCC 632 The frequent New Testament affirmations that Jesus was “raised from the dead” presuppose that the crucified one sojourned in the realm of the dead prior to his resurrection. This was the first meaning given in the apostolic preaching to Christ’s descent into hell: that Jesus, like all men, experienced death and in his soul joined the others in the realm of the dead. But he descended there as Savior, proclaiming the Good News to the spirits imprisoned there.
CCC 633 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.
CCC 634 “The gospel was preached even to the dead.” The descent into hell brings the Gospel message of salvation to complete fulfilment. This is the last phase of Jesus’ messianic mission, a phase which is condensed in time but vast in its real significance: the spread of Christ’s redemptive work to all men of all times and all places, for all who are saved have been made sharers in the redemption.
CCC 635 Christ went down into the depths of death so that “the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live.” Jesus, “the Author of life”, by dying destroyed "him who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and [delivered] all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong bondage."Henceforth the risen Christ holds “the keys of Death and Hades”, so that “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth.”
Has one noted variations in prayer?
This has bothered me too, so I just say what is also said as often,
“He descended to the **dead.” **and I admit I had not investigated this fully.
Yet, I have from the “Divine Mercy Message and Devotion” pamphlet (page 34)(published by the Association of Marian Helpers) that this statement is in fact, “text from official approved translation. See Holy Saturday Liturgy in the Roman Missal”
Now, there is another common variant in this prayer. Do not people sometimes say “He was conceived by the Holy Spirit” whereas again, this book reads “He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit.” It throws me off pace in the Rosaries at the Church every time too! but it seems proper.
I will thus give the full version from the Holy Saturday Liturgy in the Roman Missal and I type it as given, per all capital letters, etc.
"I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of Heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord. He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit, and born of the Virgin Mary. he suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended to the dead. On the third day He rose again. He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen."
Just avoid the confusing parts!
True. I think the term “dead” helps avoid confusion. I THINK the original (Greek??) term for Dead/Hell in the Apostles creed was “Hades” which in the Old Testament was the abode of the dead souls but not hellfire.
And the “power of the Holy Spirit” also helps avoid confusion.