What does the church teach/believe regarding the souls of those who passed away before Jesus’ time on earth, death, and resurrection?
— Scott in Springfield
Jesus suffered, died, descended among the dead and rose again. He opened the gates of heaven to all who had died and followed his voice.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church (no. 633) provides the following guidance: As Jesus stated in the parable of Lazarus and the rich man that Lazarus was in the bosom of Abraham (Lk 16:19-26), so the just were in a spiritual holding known as “hell” awaiting the redemption that would be brought through Christ’s death and resurrection. As noted in that parable, there was a chasm (Lk:16-26) between those in torment and the just in the bosom of Abraham.
We profess in the Apostles Creed that “Jesus descended into ‘hell’ and on the third day rose again.” No. 633 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church states that “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 were there were deprived of the vision of God.” (480)
“It is precisely these holy souls, who awaited their Savior in Abraham’s bosom, whom Christ the Lord delivered when he descended into hell.” (482) Jesus descended among the dead “to free the just who had gone before him.” (483)
It is to be noted that Hell was the abode of the dead and Gehenna (Mt 5:22-30, 10:28;18:9; Mk 9:43-47, Lk 12:5) was the unquenchable fire or punishment for the damned. “Jesus did not descend there to deliver the damned, nor to destroy the hell of damnation, but to free the just who had gone before him.” (483)
Father R. Dean Probst is pastor of St. Thomas the Apostle in Newton and St. Mary of the Assumption in Sainte Marie.