Over the next several weeks, Father Steve, our deacons, and I will be preaching about the upcoming changes to the Mass. As you know, we will begin using a new translation of the Roman Missal beginning the first Sunday of Advent this year, which is November 27. We’ve already begun teaching and using the newly-translated musical parts of the Mass, but we can’t begin using the new prayers until November 27. We can, however, teach them, which is what we’re doing now. Over the past several months, Deacon Al and I have been writing about the changes to the Missal in our bulletin columns.
Today, Father Steve and I are both preaching about the Creed, which we proclaim as an assembly every Sunday and Solemnity. The Creed is one of the symbols of our unity as a people. It’s appropriate that before we come to the Altar together to receive Holy Communion, the most important manifestation of our unity, we take time to proclaim as one body what we believe to be the Truth. And so, following the exhortations from Holy Scripture, we rise and proclaim our belief in one God, Father Son and Holy Spirit, and our belief in the Church and all that She professes to be true.
Now, like many of the prayers that have become so familiar to us, I think we can find ourselves reciting the Creed without really thinking about it. How often have we gotten to the end of the prayer, only to think that we don’t remember praying much of it as we went along? I know that’s happened to me. This is too bad, because the Creed didn’t just fall out of the sky: it was crafted over many years with many modifications and tweaks to get the language right. Many arguments happened over the wording in ancient days, and some even gave their lives to defend the faith as professed in the Creed. To this day, there are a few words in the Creed, with regard to the Holy Spirit, that remain a point of contention between us and the Orthodox Churches of the East.
The full name of the Creed that we pray is the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed. This is in reference to the belief that the Creed was crafted, or at least accepted by the Church Council of Nicaea in the year 325 and the Council of Constantinople in the year 381. At these Councils, the Council Fathers attempted to finalize the wording of the Creed, which had been argued about for many years, in order to put the controversies to rest.
So maybe it’s important enough for us to take a little more care in the way that we pray the Creed. And rather than beat ourselves up over the way we may have prayed it in the past, maybe we can make a resolution as this new translation comes to us, to pray it more carefully, as carefully as we are able. Toward that end, I’d like to take a little time today to look at the new translation of the Creed and point out what’s new and explain that a little bit. So if you take out your Gather books, and open up to the front where we have the new Order of Mass inserted, I would ask you to turn to page ____. Let’s look at the Creed there together. I want to point out four new things in the creed.
The first is right at the beginning. Instead of saying, “of all that is seen and unseen,” we will be praying “of all things visible and invisible.” So the issue here is that there is a difference between something being unseen and invisible. Let me explain it to you this way: you probably cannot see your house from here, so it is unseen. But I think you’d agree that your house is certainly not invisible! On the other hand, there certainly are some things that are invisible. When I discussed this with the third graders last year, they came up with a list, including things like air, which is invisible, but certainly present. What we are saying is that God created all things: seen, unseen, visible and invisible.
The second issue is a bit tougher, because it’s a word we don’t use in other contexts. And that comes about a quarter of the way down with the word “consubstantial.” The words “consubstantial with the Father” replace the words “one in being with the Father.” This wording is more in keeping with the Latin text of the Creed, and a more accurate translation. “Consubstantial” is a translation of the Latin consubstantialem, which is a translation of the Greek word homoousion. Think of homoousion as similar to homogenous, because that is the root word. Basically it means “of the same substance.” So what we’re saying is that the Father and the Son are of the same substance of each other. That’s similar to “one in being,” but I think it goes a little deeper. There is a sense in which all of us are “one in being” with each other, but we certainly are not of the same substance of each other, certainly not one and the same as each other. But the Father and the Son are that closely related; they are not Father and Son in the same way as humans are, they are actually of the same substance!
The next difference is about five lines down. It says that Jesus “was incarnate of the Virgin Mary.” This replaces the words saying that “he was born of the Virgin Mary…” “Incarnate” means a little something deeper than just “born.” It means taking flesh, being embodied in a human form. Of course, this is what happens to our souls when we are born, but for Jesus, something deeper happened. He wasn’t just born in a human way, he lowered himself, and became one of us. It happened in a supernatural form of conception which was accomplished through the grace of the Holy Spirit. His incarnation was so much more than a human birth.
The last difference involves a word which might seem to be used in an odd sense, or in a sense we’re not used to. That comes almost all the way down to the end, about four lines up. It says, “I confess one baptism…” instead of “We acknowledge one baptism…” Now when we say the word “confess,” it usually means we are about to tell the priest our sins, doesn’t it? But the original sense of the word “confess” was something along the lines of “to give witness to.” The profession of faith used to be called a confession of faith. And when we “confess” in the Sacrament of Penance, we are giving witness to the goodness and mercy of God and in light of that, reflecting on how we have fallen short. So the confession has more to do with who God is than what we have done. So when we “confess one baptism,” we are giving witness to the fact that one baptism is enough: it binds us to Christ who in his mercy calls us to redemption and eternal life.
So that’s what’s new in the new translation of the Creed. One of the more obvious changes, though is that instead of saying “we believe,” we will be saying, “I believe.” In this way, I think we can see that we are not speaking for the others around us, but with all of us speaking together, we can hear what “we believe” and can truly become one body, one spirit in Christ.