Missal Moments I: “I believe…”

Rather than attempting a comprehensive guide to the changes in the forthcoming revised English edition of the Roman Missal, which others are doing more than adequately, it seems better to deal with the more controversial or striking changes. Perhaps by understanding these well, we will be equipped to approach the other changes with more peace of mind.

In a recent meeting a question was asked about the new version of the Nicene Creed; not about the use of “consubstantial” but instead the reversion back to “I believe” rather than “we believe”. Why, it was reasonably asked, do we have to lose the positive aspects of such an explicit sharing of the profession of faith.

It is not enough, in this case, to argue that “I believe” is an exact and faithful translation of the first word in the Latin version of the Creed, credo. The question remains as to whether the use of “we believe” an actual improvement, recognizing explicitly that the community shares the one faith. Are we perhaps withdrawing into a more individualized participation at Mass, much as supposedly occurred in the Mass before the Council?

Two points may help our understanding of this change, or rather, correction. One is a logical one, and the other is liturgical.

Logically speaking, the only person who can profess what I, as an individual, believe is me. Obviously I would hope and indeed expect that my neighbour at Mass shares entirely the faith that I profess. However, I do not know this for certain; I cannot read another’s soul. On that level, this is what the profession of faith, the Creed, addresses. Each individual is confessing to the entire congregation, and so to the whole Church, that he holds the faith entirely as set forth in the Creed approved by the universal Church. Each individual is, in effect, baring her soul to the brethren to reveal one of the deepest and truest modes of our unity with each other and with all the Church. It is this plurality of “I”s that enables the “we” of the Church gathered in worship. The only time that one can profess the faith of another is at the Baptism of an infant, when the godparents make the profession of faith on behalf of the child. Yet even that has something of a provisional air about it, but not with regard to the sacrament itself; rather it assumes that at a later stage the child will profess the faith on her own behalf, in his own voice.

By comparison, note that when we say the Confiteor in the penitential rite, each of us says “I confess to almighty God…”. Even in the current Missal this was left in the singular, and for the same reason noted above. No one else can confess my sins for me; only I can bare my soul in sorrow to the Lord, and only I can acknowledge my sinfulness before God and his people. In the revised Missal, the Creed will now be consistent again with the Confiteor.

Liturgically speaking, we need to remember exactly what the Creed is. It might help if we use its other title, the Profession of Faith. The Creed, while a theological product of two Church councils, was in practice a liturgical device. As Fr Alan Griffiths vividly reminded the community at Douai recently, the profession of faith was made, from the very earliest times, at Baptism. “Do you believe in the Father…?” “I believe” *splash!*; “Do you believe in his only son, Jesus Christ…?” “I believe” *splash!*; “Do you believe in the Holy Spirit…?” “I believe” *splash!*. So the creed, as the accepted and approved means of professing adherence to the faith, was integral to Baptism, and by this profession a catechumen revealed to the Church’s ministers and people that he was ready to be reborn by water and the Holy Spirit.

So, we should look at the Creed not as an act of communal witness to the faith, but rather as an individual’s re-affirmation of the faith professed at his or her own Baptism. In the early Church this was the point at which the catechumens would have left the Mass: not being ready to profess the faith for Baptism, they were not yet ready to be admitted to share fully in the Sacrifice.

Thus, the Creed/Profession of Faith is the means by which each individual re-asserts his Baptismal faith, and so each individual affirms to the congregation that she is both willing and able to share in the Sacrificial Body at the Lord’s table. This is something only “I” can do.

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