In the Apostles’ Creed, the Church professes that Jesus “was crucified, died, and was buried; he descended into hell; on the third day he rose again from the dead.” The meaning of the word “hell” in this sentence means something very different than our common understanding today. Today, if someone “goes to hell” it means that they have chosen to be eternally separated from God. This is a state of “definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed” (CCC 1033). Hell is the opposite of heaven where God and the souls of the just now dwell. In the Scriptures, the word “hell” is used to translate Sheol (from Hebrew) and Hades (from Greek).
In the Apostles’ Creed, the hell that it is referring to is a place that is now empty, which we can call a realm of the dead. With Adam’s sin, the gates of heaven were closed, and only when Jesus died on the cross were they reopened. Before Christ’s death on the cross, souls could not get into heaven, so they went to a sort of holding place, waiting for someone to redeem them. When Jesus died, his human soul also went to the realm of the dead, like countless dead before him. However, he did not go there to stay but to lead all the holy souls to heaven. Imagine Jesus entering a room filled with millions of people, who are waiting for someone to lead them to heaven. When Jesus enters, he is recognized as the Savior by the holy ones, and the devil finally realizes that he has been duped. Up until that point, the devil probably did not know that Jesus’ death would lead to the gates of heaven being reopened. Jesus then led a great army of holy people into heaven, including Adam, Eve, Abraham, Moses, and John the Baptist, and all the holy people we read about in the Old Testament.
The sin of Adam caused the gates of paradise to be closed, while the death of the new Adam (Jesus) caused the gates of paradise to be reopened. There is a tradition in art of depicting this great meeting between Jesus and Adam, commonly called the “harrowing of hell.” An ancient homily puts these words in the mouth of Jesus: “I am your God, who for your sake have become your son. I order you, O sleeper, to awake. I did not create you to be a prisoner in hell. Rise from the dead, for I am the life of the dead” (CCC 635).
Christ’s work of salvation was possible because he was a divine person with two natures (human and divine). He became subject to the laws of our nature so that he would be able to experience human death and pay a price that no other human being could. However, because he was God, he had the power to destroy the hold that death had on the human race since Adam’s sin. Jesus acted as a sort of “secret agent” entering Hell with his human nature, then using his divine power to open the gates of heaven and lead all the holy souls there. I realize that comparing Jesus to a secret agent falls far short of the great mystery of his Incarnation, as all analogies do. However, I hope it serves to illustrate what happened when Jesus descended to the realm of the dead before his glorious resurrection.
Sharon Sexson Expand
Questions involving the resurrection interest many Catholics, myself included. This is a good thing, because “belief in the resurrection of the dead has been an essential element of the Christian faith from its beginnings” (CCC 991). Your initial understanding is correct. When we die, we face Jesus in judgment and our souls go to heaven, hell, or purgatory (in preparation for heaven). However, our bodies experience decomposition on this earth, which means that our bodies and souls are divided from the point of death until our own resurrection.
The Last Day is also known as the Second Coming of Christ, or the Parousia, which is a Greek word. On the Last Day, Jesus will return in glory, and the bodies of the dead will be raised, “those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of judgment” (John 5:29). At this point, our bodies and souls will be reunited, either in heaven or in hell. Before the final resurrection, our souls already experience the goodness of God in heaven. Our bodies will be glorified like Jesus’ was after his Resurrection: able to walk through walls, not subject to destruction, etc.
On the Last Day, there will be another judgment after the resurrection of the dead, called the general judgment or final judgment. In this judgment, “We shall know the ultimate meaning of the whole work of creation and of the entire economy of salvation and understand the marvelous ways by which his Providence led everything towards its final end. The Last Judgment will reveal that God’s justice triumphs over all the injustices committed by his creatures and that God’s love is stronger than death” (CCC 1040). In a person’s individual or particular judgment, God judges the person based on his or her decision to love God or not love God. In the final judgment, the consequences of people’s actions will be manifest to the whole world. Mother Teresa’s actions of love are still reverberating around the world, while some people’s historical actions are still causing negative consequences to this day. These will all be made known on the Last Day.
At the Last Day, we will experience the fullness of Christ’s resurrection as members of his Body. However, we as Christians have already begun to experience Christ’s Resurrection through our experience of the Sacraments. St. Paul said, “And you were buried with him in Baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead. If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God” (Colossians 2:12, 3:1). In the Creed, we pray together every Sunday, “I look forward to the resurrection of the dead.” This does not refer to Jesus’ body, but to our bodies which will be raised up on the Last Day.
Rev. John Mary Irenaeus St Cyr, a native of Lyons, France, came to America in 1831 following his seminary studies and was ordained by Bishop Joseph Rosati in St Louis, MO. In 1833, Bishop Rosati sent Rev St Cyr to attend to the needs of Catholics in Chicago. He wrote a letter to Bishop Rosati after a return journey to Chicago from St Louis, dated June 11, 1834. In his letter he mentions that he attended to the Catholics of Sugar Creek, South Fork and Springfield for their Easter duties. He was transferred to Quincy in 1837, where he continued to administer to the Catholics of Springfield. He humbly encouraged that the new Episcopal See be in Springfield due to its central location to minister to all the Catholics of Illinois. He retired in 1839 and died a few short years later.
In the fall of 1838, Rev George A Hamilton took over the ministry of the Catholics in the Sangamon Valley, including Springfield. He struggled to raise funds and manage the money appropriately, but eventually the first church in Springfield was built, St John the Baptist. Along with the assistance of Rev. Phillip Conlon, St John Church was built in 1848, on Adams Street between 8th and 9th Streets. According to the sacramental records the first baptism at St John the Baptist was August 6, 1842, with Rev. Joseph B. Raho, C.M. officiating.
This evidences that St John the Baptist was the first Catholic church built in 1848, but sacraments were performed and recorded as early as 1842. At this time, the new Episcopal See was erected in Chicago. This church remained until 1857, when the disputes between the German and Irish Catholics of the parish could no longer be resolved. The parish split with the Irish Catholics establishing the Church of the Immaculate Conception and the German Catholics erecting the parish of Ss. Peter & Paul. St John the Baptist was abandoned completely in favor of these two new parishes.
The history of St. Aloysius, North Arm, began in 1817. At the time, pioneers ventured from Bardstown, K.Y., and ended their journey at the north arm of Coal Creek in what is now eastern Edgar County. The group, led by Aloysius Brown, settled in 1817. Services were held in the Brown home until a log structure was built for the purpose of gathering to worship and celebrate Mass.
A cemetery was also established behind the Church. As the Church community continued to grow, they built a second church in 1837. The area thrived until the late 1840’s when it was decided to place intersecting railroad tracks in Paris. The resulting demographic shift led the Bishop of the Springfield Diocese to create a parish in Paris. Father Thomas Ryan moved from St. Aloysius to St. Mary’s Church in Paris in 1858.
This suggests that the faith community began gathering as early as 1817, but a church was not built until 1837. A resident priest was not assigned until 1844.
Alongside this story, is that of St. Boniface, Quincy. The first Catholics arrived and settled Quincy in 1821. Mass was celebrated in the home of Adam Schmitt and in 1834, the Catholics of Quincy petitioned for a resident priest.
Rev. St Cyr was ordered to take up residence in Quincy by Bishop Rosati of St Louis in 1837. Rev. St Cyr moved to Fulton County while Rev. August Brickwedde became the first resident priest in Quincy. The first church of St. Boniface was completed in 1840, but a new church would be built ten years later as the community continued to thrive and grow.
This suggests that the faith community began to gather as early as 1821, but a church was not built until 1838. The first resident priest was assigned in 1837.
Also, in the extreme eastern section of Illinois was the town of Teutopolis and the parish of St Francis of Assisi. A group of German Catholic prospectors from Cincinnati, OH moved west and established the settlement in 1833. The first resident priest was Rev. Joseph Masquelet, who had a log cabin built to serve the community and the first Mass was celebrated in 1839 with the first Baptism performed on November 26, 1839. This church was dedicated to and called St. Peter, which would change to St. Francis of Assisi in 1860 with the influence of the Franciscans arrival in 1858.
Rev. Joseph Kuenster arrived in 1845 from Belleville and records that he was the first pastor of the Teutopolis church (primus pastor Ecclesiae Teutopoliensis) in the marriage register of the church. He oversaw the construction of the church and seminary of the Franciscans.
This suggests that the faith community began to gather as early as 1833, but a church was not built until 1839. The first resident priest was assigned in 1845.
The ability to “read souls” is an ability God has given to various saints throughout history. Essentially, when a saint “reads” someone’s soul, they are given a supernatural knowledge about another person’s soul, usually for the good of the person whose soul is being “read.” I put the word “read” in quotation marks because it is not an exact term, and we do not really have an exact term for this spiritual reality. This is not a New Age spiritual practice but is something that I would describe as a charism of the Holy Spirit. Charisms are gifts from God which are for the building up of the Church.
On one occasion, St. Faustina was given a special insight into the soul of her spiritual director, Fr. Michael Sopocko. In her journal, she wrote, “I came to know his anguished soul. This crucified soul resembles the Savior. Where he expects, with good reason, to find consolation, he finds the cross. He lives among many friends, but has no one but Jesus. This is how God strips the soul He especially loves.” In this case, God saw some good which would come from St. Faustina seeing into the soul of Fr. Michael. Fr. Michael was experiencing a closeness with Jesus by a trial of loneliness which united him with the cross. I’m sure St. Faustina was inspired to pray for her spiritual director to be strengthened. Since this line was included in her published diary, it also may have inspired other Christians to seek closeness with Jesus through the cross.
Some saintly priests have been known to read the souls of penitents in the Confessional. Sometimes dishonest people would come to St. Padre Pio for confession just because he was famous, and they wanted to see what the hype was about. In these cases, Padre Pio would deny absolution and tell people to leave. He once said, “Through Jesus, I see and hear all – I see your soul just as you see yourself in a mirror.”
It should be noted that the devil can sometimes perform an imitation of reading souls. One sign of a demonic presence is that a person has supernatural knowledge which they have no other way of knowing about. Sometimes during an exorcism, a possessed person will try to scare a priest by listing sins that the priest has committed. Because of this, priests and other laity who are involved in deliverance ministry receive frequent Confession and Communion. To be clear, demonic possession is rare and I only use this example because it is interesting. We can use some simple discernment to discover if the reading of someone’s soul is from God or the devil. Does this person pray, attend Mass, receive Reconciliation and the other sacraments? Or is this person involved with an occultic group which seeks contact with evil spirits?
Sometimes a priest may ask just the right question in Confession, and I have heard people say before that they felt like the priest was reading their soul in that moment. (To be clear, I was not this priest!) This may or may not be a charismatic gift of the Holy Spirit. It is possible that the priest had a good spiritual sense and his experience guided him in asking a question or making a comment. However, I never want to limit the power of the Holy Spirit, and it is definitely possible that the priest had an insight into their soul at that moment.
A gift like reading souls is somewhat rare in the life of the Church. God gives it to a saint occasionally to call Christians to holiness. The next time you go to Confession, imagine that the priest is going to read your soul. Would this change the way you go to Confession? In reality, it is God himself who forgives our sins in Confession, and he always sees the state of our soul. The more honest we are in Confession and the spiritual life, the more quickly we will grow in holiness.
A person who only attends Mass on big feast days such as Christmas or Easter, or even on Sundays only, may be surprised at the simplicity of the Church’s daily Masses. There are two reasons that we might say some prayers at certain Masses but not at others. The first reason is that there are multiple options that the priest is allowed to use whenever he celebrates Mass. The second reason is due to the principle of progressive solemnity.
There are several parts of Mass that may not always look or sound the exact same because the priest chooses to use a variety of options. The priest is not allowed to change just any part of the Mass. Individual priests did not invent the Mass, and when priests change things based on their personal theological opinions or the desire to be novel, it is a betrayal of their office. At ordination, priests promise to celebrate the liturgy and sacraments faithfully, which means being faithful to the rubrics handed down by the Church. However, it is also true that there are many options for parts of the Mass which can be used at the discretion of the priest. A noticeable option at the beginning Mass is the penitential act. The two most commonly used options are the prayer called the Confiteor (which means “I confess”) and the tropes. The tropes are a triple invocation calling upon Jesus for his mercy, such as saying, “You were sent to heal the contrite of heart; Lord, have mercy.” Both of these options invite us to repentance and call to mind our sinfulness, and the priest can use either at his discretion.
Another option the priest has at every Mass is which Eucharist prayer he chooses to pray. You would probably recognize the three most common options. Eucharistic Prayer I is the most ancient and traditional, and it is often used for feast days and Sundays. (It is also the longest Eucharistic Prayer, which is the honest reason it is not used very often!) Eucharistic Prayer II is the shortest and simplest and is often chosen for daily Masses. Eucharist Prayer III is of medium length and is often chosen on Sundays. There are actually seven other options besides these three, and the priest celebrant can choose to use them at his discretion. On weekdays, the homily and intercessions are optional, so you may see them omitted occasionally.
The second reason we say certain prayers for some Masses is because of the principle of progressive solemnity. This principle is the idea that the more solemn, or important, a certain day is, the more we celebrate it. Sunday is Resurrection Day and is the most important day of the week, so we celebrate it by praying the Gloria and Creed every Sunday. Other feast days such as Christmas, Easter, Immaculate Conception, Assumption, etc. are also celebrated by praying the Gloria and Creed. In addition, it is best to have hymns or antiphons sung on special days in the Church’s calendar. There are four “levels” of solemnity in the Church, and from lowest to highest they are ferial days, memorials, feasts, and solemnities. Which level a certain day falls under dictates which prayers are said on that day.
The external experience of a Mass on Easter Sunday will be very different than one on a weekday during ordinary time. However, Mass is always Mass, and the sacrifice of Jesus is equally present at every Mass. The different prayers and hymns of the Mass help us to open our hearts to receive God’s love and give glory to him!
There is a short, practical answer to this question and a longer, theological answer. I’ll start with the short one. In 2011, a new English translation of the Mass was published for the United States with the intention of having a more literal translation from the original Latin. Since 1970, the English-speaking world had been saying, “And also with you” in response to the priest’s greeting “The Lord be with you.” This was a translation of the Latin phrase, “et cum spiritu tuo.” Even without any training in Latin, one can see that the word “spirit” is clearly present! The phrase, “and also with you” was simply not a literal translation of the text.
Translation is not an easy task. Most parts of the Mass were celebrated in Latin until 1970, when the liturgical reform allowed for Mass to be celebrated in the local language, at least in parts. There was and still is debate as to whether our translation should be more literal or should have less formal language and still try to capture the sense of the text. Today, the Church is leaning more literal whereas in the past, many translations were looser and less formal. “And also with you” is an example of the loose, informal translation.
Now on to the more theological question. What does the phrase, “And with your spirit” actually mean? In researching for this answer, I have read several articles and the answer is not as clear-cut as I hoped it would be! However, this does not mean that the dialogue is any less valuable or should be changed simply because its meaning is mysterious. It seems to have been in use in Christian liturgy since the 200’s, or even earlier, and St. Paul used this type of phrasing in several of his letters. At the conclusion of 2 Timothy, Paul said, “The Lord be with your spirit.” Today, it is a response that is given only to ordained clergy in the context of the liturgy. It is part of a sacred dialogue that transcends our everyday conversations. Because of its use in the liturgy, the word “spirit” seems to be referring to the spirit that the priest received at his ordination. Especially in the liturgy, the priestly presence of Christ is present in the celebrant in a unique way, which was shared with the twelve apostles and has been handed down to priests ever since.
St. John Chrysostom (347-407) explained this phrase in a homily on Pentecost Sunday: “If the Holy Spirit were not in our Bishop when he gave the peace to all shortly before ascending to his holy sanctuary, you would not have replied to him all together, “And with your spirit.” This is why you reply with this expression … reminding yourselves by this reply that he who is here does nothing of his own power, nor are the offered gifts the work of human nature, but is it the grace of the Spirit present and hovering over all things which prepared that mystic sacrifice.”
In an article by Louie Verrecchio, he described the importance of this greeting which reminds us that it is Christ himself who celebrates the Eucharist: “We’re acknowledging that the priest who stands before us is not just another member of the congregation. He’s not even just the “presider.” Rather, the priest who stands before us does so as one uniquely configured to Christ, present in this place to serve in Persona Christi – in the Person of Christ – and most certainly not by his own resources.”
For a fuller explanation, I would recommend looking up the two articles which I have cited in footnotes one and two. The formal language of the liturgy is a way for us to step out of daily life and prepare for an encounter with God. It is also a reminder for priests that the Mass is not a performance, and our personalities should not set the tone for Mass, but rather reverence and the honor due to Jesus should characterize the words we speak and gestures we perform. I am grateful for your question, as I learned a lot in my research for this answer.
It is true that in recent years, especially since Vatican II, the Church has taken a broader view of hope for the salvation of people who die without baptism or knowledge of God. This does not come from a change in belief about baptism or the necessity of Jesus for salvation. As St. Peter said, “There is no salvation through anyone else, nor is there any other name under heaven given to the human race by which we are to be saved” (Acts 4:12). Rather, this broader view has come from a better understanding of God’s grace working with free will, along with a more realistic understanding of the Church’s proclamation of the Gospel.
The only ordinary means for someone to go to heaven is to believe in the Gospel of Jesus Christ and receive the sacrament of Baptism. However, even from the earliest days of the Church, theologians began to talk about other types of baptism, such as baptism by blood and baptism by desire. As you mentioned, many men and women of old have lain down their lives for Christ. Some of these died as catechumens, or people who were preparing for baptism. Baptism by blood is not the same as actually being baptized. However, the Church never doubted that these people had gone to heaven as martyrs. The same is true of those who die from sickness or an accident while they are catechumens, in which case we hope they had experienced the baptism of desire. It is important to remember that these other two types of “baptism” are not actually the sacrament of baptism. Their souls never received the “character” or mark of baptism which we received at our baptism. What these examples prove is that from the earliest days of the Church, Christians have known God to give the grace of salvation even without being baptized. Technically, what is needed for salvation is not baptism in itself, but rather the effect of baptism, i.e. the forgiveness of sin and infusion of grace into the soul.
The examples I just gave are pretty easy to understand. If a person is honestly seeking the sacrament of baptism, it would not be reasonable for God to deny that grace. However, what about a person who has never heard of Christ, or is not actively seeking baptism when he dies? The Church’s view of the possibility of salvation of these people has become more positive over time. A key text from the Second Vatican Council says, “Those also can attain to salvation who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or His Church, yet sincerely seek God and, moved by grace, strive by their deeds to do His will as it is known to them through the dictates of conscience” (#16). Note that the Council does not say, “As long as you are a good person, you will definitely go to heaven.” The requirements that the Council lays out are fairly specific and could be considered an implicit faith in Christ, and it would be assumed that if the Gospel were proclaimed to them, these people would seek baptism.
Any grace that comes to people, either with or without the seven sacraments, comes through Christ and his Church. There are no exceptions to this. Nobody is saved without Christ and at least an implicit faith in him. God’s grace works mysteriously even in the hearts of unbelievers. Sadly, the Church’s ability to be a witness to the Gospel has been tarnished by her many sins throughout history. In the Middle Ages, some theologians thought that Christ’s mandate to proclaim the Gospel to all nations had been completed. The discovery of the New World made the Church rethink this claim. How could God send entire continents of people to hell for thousands of years if, through no fault of their own, they never even had the chance to hear the name of Jesus? Or what about babies who die before birth? The Church fervently hopes for their salvation, and especially in the offering of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, we pray for those who die without sacramental baptism.
The Church still affirms the saying, “Outside the Church there is no salvation” (CCC 846). This statement needs to be understood correctly, in the context of what I have previously explained. There was a Jesuit priest in the 1940’s named Fr. Leonard Feeney who began to interpret this statement to mean that only baptized Catholics could go to heaven, with no exceptions even for baptism by blood. He was excommunicated for several reasons, but the main reason was that he became a heretic by taking it upon himself to interpret both Scripture and the teachings of the Church privately.
Today, many people still suffer and die for the faith. I once heard that there were more Christian martyrs in the 20th century than in any other century since Christ. Our trust in God’s mercy even for the unbaptized cannot discourage us from the great need to evangelize and perform sacramental baptisms for those who accept faith in Christ. If a priest or a bishop ever says that being baptized has no advantage or does not matter for salvation, he is wrong.
This past week, we celebrated the Solemnity of St. Peter and St. Paul. Jesus entrusted St. Peter and the first Apostles with being the authentic interpreters and teachers of both Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition. Our bishops in union with the Pope carry this same authority today. If a teaching of the Church seems to contradict the scriptures or previous Church teaching, it is always good to do research and ask questions, as you have done! Thank you very much for sending us your question, and I hope my response was helpful.