I will praise you, Lord, for you have rescued me
Today, the psalmist gives thanks for deliverance from his enemies and for God raising him up from the pit. Though he realizes there will be a time of darkness, nightfall and weeping, the psalmist also believes there will be a time of light, dawn and rejoicing – that the Lord will turn the psalmist’s mourning into dancing. And so, he praises and thanks God forever.
[From Saint Joseph Edition of The New American Bible]
The “pit” is a reference to the underworld (“nether world”), the world of the dead. Ancient Jews believed this place was called Sheol. In Greek, the word used was Hades. It was not what we understand as hell, a place of suffering, but a place of gloom, darkness and silence. A place where the dead, both good and bad, simply waited.
The people in Sheol were believed to be “shades,” “pale reflections of the men and women they had once been.” Existence in Sheol is characterized by “forgetfulness and inactivity,” a place without worship or memory of God. There is a recurring theme of rescue of the people from Sheol in the Old Testament Scriptures.
We believe this realm of the dead is where Jesus went after his death and burial, but before his resurrection (and this is why we say in the Apostles Creed, “he descended into hell”).
“Jesus, like all men, experienced death and in his soul joined the others in the realm of the dead. But he descended there as Savior, proclaiming the Good News to the spirits imprisoned there.” The righteous souls are the “holy souls, who awaited their Savior in Abraham’s bosom, whom Christ the Lord delivered when he descended into hell.”
Catechism of the Catholic Church, 631-637.
Confraternity of Christian Doctrine. Saint Joseph Edition of The New American Bible. personal size ed. New Jersey: Catholic Book Publishing Corp., 2011.
Hahn, Scott, ed. Catholic Bible Dictionary. New York: Doubleday, 2009.
Powell, Mark Allan, ed. The HarperCollins Bible Dictionary. 3rd ed. New York: HarperOne, 2011.