Questions addressed about The Creed
In his Catholic News Service column “Question Corner,” Father Kenneth Doyle has answered questions about The Creed. Here is a sampling.
- I recall some time ago a change in the language of the creed we say at Sunday Mass to make it more inclusive. The new phrases were things like “For us and for our salvation” and “was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became one of us.” Our parish no longer uses this newer language and has gone back to “for us men” and “became man.” When was it decided to revert to the older language?
- The phrases that you quote — “for us and for our salvation” and “became one of us” — are “homemade versions” of the language of The Nicene Creed and have never enjoyed any official status. … The actual text — as approved for use at Mass and as it appears in the Catechism of the Catholic Church — is: “For us men and for our salvation He came down from heaven, and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man.” … The Latin word from which the English is translated — “homines” — is generic; it means “person” or “human being.” … I often choose to use instead the Apostles’ Creed, which is a permissible liturgical alternative and whose language cannot be misunderstood as exclusive.
- What does it mean when we say in the Apostles’ Creed that Jesus “descended into hell?” That statement is not used in The Nicene Creed, which we often say at Mass.
- Since the third edition of the Roman Missal was put into use in the United States, parishes have had the option at Sunday Mass of using the Nicene Creed or the Apostles’ Creed. … [T]he common understanding of Catholics has been that the word “hell” denotes the permanent abode of the devil and the damned, a place of eternal punishment from which there is no escape. … Until Jesus had completed His death and resurrection, the just could not yet know the joy of being in God’s presence. When the Apostles’ Creed says that Jesus “descended into hell,” it means that He went to rescue the just who had already died and take them to heaven.
- I am confused about a statement in both The Apostles’ Creed and The Nicene Creed. It says that Jesus “rose again” from the dead. When did He rise the first time?
- Jesus did not rise from the dead a second time. The most common meaning of the word “again” is “once more,” which prompts your question. But another valid and oft-used meaning is “anew,” and so we hear things like, “The runner fell rounding first base, but he got up again and made his way to second.” So Jesus rose from the dead only once, on Easter. He lived once, He died once and now He lives again.
- In the Nicene Creed, we recite that Christ “will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead.” But many of us assume that we are judged individually (and hopefully off to heaven) at the moment of our death. So which is it — are we judged by God as soon as we die or is it later, at Christ’s return?
- Both are true. The Catholic Church has always believed in a twofold judgment by God: a particular judgment at the moment of death and a general judgment at the end of time. So when we die, each individual is judged as either worthy of eternal life in heaven (there may be a temporary stop in purgatory for purification from the remnants of sin) or deserving of eternal punishment in hell. In the words of the Catechism of the Catholic Church: “Each man receives his eternal retribution in his immortal soul at the very moment of his death, in a particular judgment that refers his life to Christ”. That particular judgment will be private. But then at the end of the world, when Jesus returns in glory, there will be a public “general” judgment at which each one’s particular judgment will be confirmed and revealed to all. Again, in the words of the catechism: “The Last Judgment will reveal even to its furthest consequences the good each person has done or failed to do during his earthly life.”
—Originally published in the Spring 2022 issue of Vermont Catholic magazine.