After making the sign of the cross, we hold the cross or crucifix in our hand and recite The Apostles’ Creed. The word “Creed” is derived from the word “Credo” which means “I believe” in Latin. This prayer is a very ancient summary of Christian beliefs that faithfully hands on what the Apostles taught in a simple form that is able to be memorized. It is known to exist in this same formula in early Christian writings from within about a hundred years of the lifetimes of the Apostles. Several of the points, or articles of the Creed will be meditated on as mysteries of the rosary. “I believe in God, the Father almighty, Creator of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried; he descended into hell; on the third day he rose again from the dead; he ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty; from there he will come 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 life everlasting. Amen.”
Most Christian believers accept the points of the creed as completely biblical, if the Apostles creed is not part of your faith tradition however, these are some likely questions:
1. What is meant by, “he descended into hell?”
2. What does it mean to believe in “the holy catholic church? “
3. What is meant by the “communion of saints?”
Question 1. Explanation of “he descended into hell”
The definition of death for us human beings is the separation of the soul from the body. But until Jesus accomplish the sacrifice on the cross to save our souls from sin and eternal death, heaven was closed to the human race. Where did souls of the dead go who lived and died before Jesus rose from the dead and ascended into heaven? And where did the soul of Jesus go while his body was in the tomb? 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 was the case for all the dead, whether evil or righteous, while they awaited the Redeemer: which does not mean that their lot was identical, as Jesus shows through the parable of the poor man Lazarus who was received into “Abraham’s bosom” (Cf. Ps 89:49; 1 Sam 28:19; Ezek 32:17-32; Lk 16:22-26.) “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 from the prison. By the expression “He descended into hell”, the Apostles’ Creed confesses that Jesus did really die and through his death for us conquered death and the devil “who has the power of death” (Heb 2:14). In his human soul united to his divine person, the dead Christ went down to the realm of the dead. He opened heaven’s gates for the just who had gone before him. “The gospel was preached even to the dead. (1Pet 4:6).
Question 2. What is meant by, I believe in the holy catholic Church?
The word “catholic” means “universal”. There is a universal bond uniting all who profess faith in Jesus Christ. That union with each other is more complete among those who are Baptized into Christ. Those who share the same creed, Sacraments, and liturgy (forms of worship) grow ever more fully united to one another. The Gospels and the rest of the New Testament Scriptures indicate that Jesus established on earth a Church (assembly) of believers (Mt. 16:18) and entrusted it to his Apostles. It is a defined, lived reality in the Acts of the Apostles and is seen in the letters of St Paul and the other N.T. Epistles. By the year 90 A.D., we see in early Christian writings that it was called “catholic” in order to distinguish it from other religious movements not founded by the Apostles. So Christians who profess a belief in the bond of believers in Christ and with one another can say that they believe in the holy catholic Church. (Holy because Christ is the head of the body the church (Colossians 1:18)). Billy Graham for example accepts the Creed with this understanding.
So if you believe that the church is, as scripture says, the body of Christ, (1 Corinthians 12:27) you can say that you believe in the holy catholic Church. Roman Catholics additionally mean that they accept the claim of its governance by of the successors of the Apostles. In other words they are accepting the authority of Bishop of Rome, whom they hold to be the successor of St. Peter. That’s not being asked of you in order to pray the Rosary! It would only be necessary in order to receive the Sacraments. I hope this helps!
Question 3. The meaning of “communion of saints”
Every Christian believes, as Scripture says, that when we are baptized we become members of the body of Christ. ( 1 Cor 12:13) And because all of us are members of his mystical body, we all are connected to one another as Saint Paul explains (1Cor 12:12-27).
An essential part of this understanding of our union though, is to recall that no one gets kicked out of the Church, the body of Christ, when they pass from this life to the next! The Church exists in heaven! The members are in more perfect union with our Lord and with each other there because there is no sin or imperfection possible there (nothing unclean will enter there Rev. 21:27) . Here we see as in a mirror darkly, but there face to face (1Cor 13:12) The definition of a saint is someone who is in union with God. We are saints in the making. Every human person in heaven is a saint. When you and I get there, (please God!) we will be perfected saints! St. Paul calls the saints in heaven a cloud of witnesses. (Heb 12:1) So he obviously believes that they are privy to what is happening on earth. God alone is All Seeing, All knowing, but he allows those united with him to share in that knowledge. As we also hear in Scripture “The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” (James 5:16) if you would be willing to ask for prayers from a sinner like me, imagine the effectiveness of the prayers of the saints in heaven! They behold God face to face and they have been perfected by Christ.
This is why we ask them to pray for us, and how we know they can hear us asking for their prayers. They have more love than we do, more care for the salvation and wellbeing of other members of the body of Christ.
The Church recognizes the Virgin Mary as the greatest of the saints in heaven. How do we know that? While on earth the Angel Gabriel called her “full of Grace”! (Lk 1:28) Remember that Jesus said of John the Baptist “
So we don’t worship Mary at all, we simply imitate Scripture by praising her, and Jesus told us that, just as he taught us to call his Eternal Father “our Father” he also told us that his mother is our mother, “son, behold your mother!” (Jn 19:25-27)
This is why we ask them to pray for us, and how we know they can hear us asking for their prayers. They have more love than we do, more care for the salvation and well being of other members of the body of Christ. The Church recognizes the Virgin Mary as the greatest of the saints in heaven. How do we know that? While on earth the Angel Gabriel called her “full of Grace”! (Lk 1:28). Remember that Jesus said of John the Baptist “No man born of woman is greater than John” (Lk 7:28) John’s mother Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and said “Blessed are you among women!” “how is it that the mother of my Lord comes to me?” (Lk 1:42) “Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!” (Lk 1:45). And scripture says that Mary was filled with the Holy Spirit when she proclaimed “From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me” (Lk 1:48). No other human being is singled out in Scripture for that kind of praise. So we don’t worship Mary at all, we simply imitate Scripture by praising her, and Jesus told us that, just as he taught us to call his Eternal Father “our Father” he also told us that his mother is our mother, “son, behold your mother!” (Jn 19:25-27) -Fr. Keller