By Father Joseph Scardella
Sun contributing writer
We know that the words of the Creed are more than words. They are more than a statement of faith. For members of the Church they are a way of living. The Creed is our Church’s most cherished prayer. It is a powerful sight to see the Elect standing in the midst of the community in the light of the Easter Candle, making their first public profession of faith before their baptism. Their Renunciation of Sin and Profession of Faith at the Easter Vigil is one of the most simple parts of the baptismal rite but one of the most rich since we have seen the seed of faith that has been planted in the heart of another person come to full flower! The revised text of the Nicene Creed which we recite at Sunday Mass helps to define more clearly what it is that we are praying at the Mass.
Let us look at the revised text. The bold print are the words that have changed in the prayer.
I believe in one God,
the Father almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all things visible and invisible.
I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ,
the Only Begotten Son of God,
born of the Father before all ages.
God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father; through him all things were made. For us men and for our salvation he came down from heaven and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered death and was buried,
and rose again on the third day
in accordance with the Scriptures.
He ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory
to judge the living and the dead
and his kingdom will have no end.
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord,
the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son, who with the Father and the Son is adored and glorified, who has spoken through the prophets.
I believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church
I confess one Baptism for the forgiveness of sins and I look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. Amen.
You will notice right away that the Creed begins with “I believe” rather than “We believe.” The Creed is the profession of faith of the whole Church, but each one of us proclaims it to profess our personal faith together with others.
“Of all things visible and invisible” — The choice of these words over “seen and unseen” make this statement a bit more precise. Many things can be “seen and unseen” and are all part of the material world. I can be seen in my home or at work or unseen if I am absent. Using the words “visible and invisible” speaks not only of the material world but also of the whole of the material and spiritual creation, the realm of saints and angels, that part of creation that is not visible to us humans.
“Only Begotten” — This title of Jesus is repeated from the Gloria. It was the desire of the translators that we be consistent in our use of titles of Jesus throughout the liturgy. It not only clarifies who Jesus is, as Only Begotten Son, but also brings a continuity to our prayer in repeating phrases so that there is more unity in our spoken prayer.
“Born of the Father before all ages” replaced “eternally begotten of the Father” and gives us a fuller understanding of the Trinity. Jesus was present with the Father “before all ages,” that is, before the beginning of creation. These words echo the theology and words of the Prologue of the gospel of Saint John, “In the beginning was the Word, the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
“Consubstantial” — This word is a mouthful. It replaces the expression “one in Being” and it better describes the relationship between God the Father and God the Son. Using the words “one in being” denotes that the Father and the Son share “something”; whereas “consubstantial” means that they, the Father and Son, are of the same “something,” they are the same substance. This clearly notes that there is no difference “in being” of the Father and the Son. This is a very important theological issue. In the early centuries of the Christian Church, people were divided over this understanding which gave rise to many of the early heresies centered on the person of Jesus.
“And by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary” — Again, this change may sound unnecessary but theologically makes a big difference. In the present Creed we pray that “he [Jesus] was born of the Virgin Mary and became man.” If you look at this statement, it tells us that Jesus became man, took on our humanity, when he was born. Truly, we believe more than that. We believe that the moment of her conception, Jesus became flesh in Mary’s womb. His humanity began at his conception, not at his birth. This is the whole rationale behind our pro-life stance as Catholic Christians. What we have been praying is not wrong, but this more clearly defines what it is that we believe.
“He suffered death and was buried, and rose again on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.” — In the present transition we pray, “he suffered, died and was buried. On the third day he rose again.” The use of this sentence structure divides the Paschal Mystery of Christ’s death and resurrection into separate events. The new translation states that the saving act of Jesus for our salvation was one complete act: “He suffered death, was buried and rose again.”
From “in fulfillment” to “in accordance” with the Scripture. — Jesus’ act of salvation did more than just fulfill the Old Testament prophecies. It fulfilled them and happened according to his own teachings and predictions of his death and resurrection in the New Testament gospels.
“I confess one Baptism.” Presently we pray that we “acknowledge” one baptism. You know from your own experience that you can “acknowledge” something without “believing” in it. Praying that we “confess” one baptism shows that this is a matter of faith.
“I look forward to the resurrection” resounds with confidence that, as a faithful people, the life of resurrection is something that we long for and pray to be fulfilled in us. Being confident in our life with God after this earthly life is something that we should boldly proclaim. This statement helps us in this endeavor.
Father Joseph Scardella is the Diocesan Director of the Office of Liturgy and pastor of St. Mary’s Church in Baldwinsville.