Liturgy Matters — On the Profession of Faith

By Dr. Judy Bullock

Dr. Judy Bullock
Dr. Judy Bullock

The Profession of Faith or Creed is included in the Mass on Sundays in the church year, as well as, solemnities, the highest ranking feast days, and on some other special liturgies.

What is the origin of the Creed? What forms of the Creed may be used at Mass?

There are two forms of the Creed which may be used at Mass: the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed. In addition to these two, the earliest creedal formula, a set of questions given to the candidate before baptism, is the form used when the sacrament of baptism is celebrated during the Mass. This form also may be used for the liturgies on Easter Sunday.

The Apostles’ Creed

The Apostles’ Creed is thought to be a collaborative composition of the apostles, although there is little evidence to support the legend. The first use of this text in the present form can be authenticated in the sixth century as part of the celebration of the Rite of Baptism. Today this text of the creed, expressing our faith simply with an economy of words, is offered as an option for use at Mass. Most likely due to its honored provenance and the brevity of the text, the Apostles’ Creed is also the form included in the rosary.

The Nicene Creed

The form of the creed most popularly proclaimed during the Mass is the Nicene Creed. This creed developed over a span of 150 years, beginning with the Council of Nicea (325), to the Council of Constantinople (381), with the final form approved at the Council of Chaldedon (451).

The Nicene Creed is much more expansive than the Apostles’ Creed, unfolding the tenets of our faith with a theologically rich content. In some instances, prompted by the need to respond to the Arian heresy which denied the divinity of Christ, the mysteries of the faith were elucidated in much greater detail. The sections of the Nicene Creed fall into three categories linked to the Holy Trinity: belief in God the Creator; belief in Christ the Lord; and belief in the merits of salvation, the Spirit acting in the church.

The new translation that we use today employs terms uncommon in our everyday vocabulary, such as “incarnate” and “consubstantial,” since substitutes cannot capture the meaning of these mysteries.

Why the change from “We believe” to “I believe” in the new missal?

The first translations of the Roman Missal into English, following the Second Vatican Council, used the plural form “We believe” in the Nicene Creed.  Although not an exact translation of the Latin “Credo,” the plural form respected the communal nature of the liturgy, the Body of Christ celebrating with Christ our Head. The proclamation of the Creed was proclaimed by all the worshipping community thus prompting “We believe.”

Forty years later, with the call for a new translation, a more poetic, expansive, more closely aligned translation of the Latin original text was undertaken.

Three factors influenced the change in the Nicene Creed to “I believe:” First, an accurate translation of “Credo” is “I believe.” Second, the individual pronoun in the Nicene Creed aligns it with the other creedal formulas, i.e. Apostles Creed and Baptismal Promises. Third, even though we profess our creed together, it is only the individual who can attest to his/her own beliefs.

Whether we profess the Nicene Creed or the Apostles’ Creed, there is a strong communal dimension to this proclamation.  We give witness to one another, voicing the Creed together, expressing our commitment to these tenets of our faith and our willingness to support others in the journey of faith.

Dr. Judy Bullock is the director of the Archdiocese of Louisville’s Office of Worship.

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One reply on “Liturgy Matters — On the Profession of Faith”
  1. says: Beverly McAuliffe

    Excellent explanation of the creed, Judy, and especially why the pronoun “we” was changed (back) to “I”. Thanks for sharing this with us!

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