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Christ's descent into hell

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The answer has to do with the ambiguity, in early Christian times, of the Hebrew word "sheol." That word could refer to the eternal abode of the devil and the damned, but it could also denote the place where the righteous awaited redemption.

Father Kenneth
Doyle

Q. I get The Catholic Virginian and have enjoyed reading your column over the years. But I do have a question that has always bothered me, even though I have made more than 30 retreats at a Jesuit retreat center and have taught CCD (religious education). In the Apostles' Creed, why does it say that Jesus descended into hell and rose on the third day? How could Jesus go to hell? He had no sins -- he was God. (Glen Allen, Virginia)

A. During the celebration of the Mass, the Apostles' Creed may be used as an option in place of the more traditional Nicene Creed, and that prayer does say that Jesus, following his death, "descended into hell."

When I received your email, it occurred to me that I had answered a similar question once before; but when I checked my files, I discovered that that particular column had run in the year 2013. And since I've been asked the same thing a number of times since then, it seems the question is still on people's minds and might deserve another response.

The answer has to do with the ambiguity, in early Christian times, of the Hebrew word "sheol." That word could refer to the eternal abode of the devil and the damned, but it could also denote the place where the righteous awaited redemption. Until Jesus had completed his death and resurrection, the just could not yet know the joys of being in God's presence.

So, the first act of Christ after his death on Calvary was to go and rescue the just who had already died and bring them with him into the glory of the Father. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church states: "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).

Q. My boyfriend and I are madly in love and have decided to get married. He is American (from New Hampshire), and I am from the South American country of Ecuador. We met four years ago, and our relationship has survived distance as well as differences in language and culture. Additionally, I am a Catholic and he is a Jew. We would like to have a wedding ceremony reflecting our two faiths. What is the process for having that recognized by the Church?

We would like to have both a rabbi and a priest give us their blessings at the marriage. We have in mind a wedding about a year from now in Florida. I can't, though, go right now to Florida to make these arrangements, since I am still in the middle of the visa process. What can we do to have this happen? (Ecuador)

A. I have been involved in a number of interfaith wedding ceremonies such as you describe -- all with the blessing of the Catholic Church. It's a little bit complicated for you and your fiancé because of the geographic distances, but it can certainly happen, and this is what I think you should do.

First, you should telephone the Catholic diocese in the area of Florida, where you would like to be married. (The Florida dioceses are Miami, St. Augustine, St. Petersburg, Orlando, Pensacola-Tallahassee, Palm Beach and Venice.) When you call, ask for the marriage tribunal office, explain your situation and seek their advice. Ask them to put you in touch with a priest they think might be willing to accommodate you.

Then speak with that priest and, if he's willing to be involved, ask him to suggest a local rabbi who might participate. Then call that rabbi and seek his or her assistance. At some point, you and your fiancé will need to fill out some paperwork with the church seeking the required permissions, as well as obtain a civil marriage license.

One question you'll have to decide if whether you want the priest or the rabbi to be the one to receive your vows during the ceremony; it can work either way, but there's a technical difference in the sort of permission/dispensation you need to obtain. You have a year to work on this so it can certainly come together, but it would be best to start soon. Meanwhile, I will pray for the two of you and for God's blessings on your marriage.

- Father Kenneth Doyle is a columnist for Catholic News Service



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