The Creed: New words expressing ancient truths

| Father John Paul Erickson | August 2, 2011 | 1 Comment

The following is the next in a series of articles regarding the new Roman missal, which will be used in the United States beginning Nov. 27, the first Sunday of Advent.

On most Sundays and solemnities, the church asks the faithful to recite the Creed during Holy Mass. The Creed, or “Credo” in Latin, is a succinct list of what it is that we as Catholic Christians believe and profess to be revealed by God.

The Nicene Creed, which is what we most often recite at Mass, was composed very early in the church’s history and serves as a kind of measuring stick for right belief.

We can all become tempted to create an image of God and Christianity that matches our own interests, biases and tastes. The Creed functions as a check against such tendencies. Infinitely more than a collection of mere human traditions or the legends of the past, the Creed represents the startling and saving claims of faith for which thousands of martyrs have shed their blood.

For the Christian, there is most certainly such a thing as objective truths, and such truths are explicitly found in the Creed recited during the Sacred Liturgy.

Like much of the Mass, the Creed has been retranslated and will be noticeably different when it is recited or sung on Nov. 27. Hearing these new words expressing ancient truths should cause us all to pause and reflect upon just what it is that we as Christians believe. If we are to worship well, we must know who it is we worship. The Creed reveals this — the true and living God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

From ‘We’ to ‘I’

The first edit that will be noticed in the new translation is the change from “We believe” to “I believe.”  “Credo,” the first words of this ancient text in Latin, is in fact the first person singular of the verb “to believe.”

Understandably, when the text was translated into English for liturgical use shortly after the Second Vatican Council, the translators tried to convey the fact that the claims found within the Creed are binding for the whole church and do not just express the individual beliefs of Christians. Hence, we currently proclaim what we believe. What is more, the use of the first person plural is in fact found in the original Greek text.

But the change to the singular “I believe,” in accordance with the Latin, brings with it an invaluable opportunity to once again make the words of the Creed our own, words that are not only meant to guide and shape our understanding of the faith, but also to guide our individual lives and relationships.

To recite the Creed is to accept a certain kind of life — one that is sacrificial. Indeed, to recite the Creed is to make a choice to live as a Christian, and such a choice must be made by the individual.

On Easter Sunday, prior to the sprinkling rite, the assembled faithful are asked to reject Satan and to renew their baptismal promises: “Do you believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth?” “Do you believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son. . . ?” Do you believe in the Holy Spirit. . . ?”

The appropriate response to these questions is not “we do,” but rather “I do.” While we must always fight against the tendency to make our faith a mere private matter, we must also personally accept the demands and consequences that our faith makes upon our singular, individual life. The retranslation of the opening word of the Creed reminds us of this.

More than can be measured

Another change that will be noticed on Nov. 27 is a re-formulation of the phrase “. . . maker of heaven and earth, of all that is seen and unseen.” On Nov. 27 we will hear instead “. . . maker of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible.”

As Christians, we believe that there is much more to the world than that which can be measured, weighed, or placed under a microscope. A whole reality is around us that we cannot perceive nor control. Angelic beings are part of such a reality.

Angelic beings are not simply “unseen.” They are in fact invisible, unable to be seen barring an extraordinary phenomenon willed by God.

The retranslation of the Latin phrase “visibilium omnium et invisibilium” into the more literal “all things visible and invisible” is an important reminder of the complexity of the created order, an order willed by a God who is genius in his creativity.

In the next issue of The Catholic Spirit we will continue to examine the substantial changes that have been made to the English translation of the Nicene Creed.

But let us always remember that the basic tenets of the faith, as found in the Creed, are not changing, nor will they ever change. God has revealed himself as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, once and for all. Let us proclaim with full voice to this saving truth — “I believe!”

Father John Paul Erickson is director of the archdiocesan Office of Worship.

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Category: New Roman Missal