Why the Creed Doesn't Mention the Eucharist

Author: Father Edward McNamara


Why the Creed Doesn't Mention the Eucharist

ROME, 27 JUNE 2006 (ZENIT)

Answered by Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.

Q: Could you tell me why, in our profession of faith and creed, we don't profess our belief in the Real Presence of the body and blood of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist? — D.K., Norwalk, Connecticut

A: The reasons are above all historical but also involve the purpose of the liturgy itself.

From a historical perspective the creed as we know it was first sketched out at the Councils of Nicaea (325) and Constantinople (381) although in its developed form it first appears in the acts of the Council of Chalcedon (451).

This creed was probably based on a baptismal profession of faith and encapsulated what were perceived as the essential tenets of the faith.

Above all it was a response to Arian and other heresies and defended the doctrine of the Trinity and Christ's true humanity and divinity. It was never intended to be an exhaustive exposition of every aspect of the faith.

Since it was necessary to defend the very foundations of the faith, such questions as the nature of the Eucharist were simply not on the theological horizon and would not be for several centuries more.

Also, during this early period, the fullness of Eucharistic doctrine was often explained only after baptism — thus only after the new Christian had publicly recited the creed.

The practice of reciting the creed at Mass is attributed to Patriarch Timothy of Constantinople (511-517), and the initiative was copied in other churches under Byzantine influence, including that part of Spain which was under the empire at that time.

About 568, the Byzantine emperor Justinian ordered the creed recited at every Mass within his dominions. Twenty years later (589) the Visigoth king of Spain Reccared renounced the Arian heresy in favor of Catholicism and ordered the creed said at every Mass.

About two centuries later we find the practice of reciting the creed in France and the custom spread slowly to other parts of Northern Europe.

Finally, when in 1114, Emperor Henry II came to Rome for his coronation as Holy Roman Emperor, he was surprised that they did not recite the creed. He was told that since Rome had never erred in matters of faith there was no need for the Romans to proclaim it at Mass. However, it was included in deference to the emperor and has pretty much remained ever since, albeit not at every Mass but only on Sundays and on certain feasts.

Eastern and Western Christians use the same creed except that the Latin version adds the expression "filioque" (and the Son) to the article regarding the procession of the Holy Spirit, a difference that has given rise to endless and highly complex theological discussions.

In spite of this difference, there is a common understanding among all Christians that the creed should be left as it is and that neither the creed, nor indeed the Mass itself, is a suitable place to give technical expression to every tenet of the faith.

On another level, however, the entire Mass is itself a profession of faith. It is the living faith celebrated and heralded in a great and sublime act of worship that is converted into a faith that imbues every aspect of daily activity.

Even though there is no explicit mention of the real presence in the creed, Catholics proclaim their Eucharistic faith through almost every word and gesture at Mass and especially by their Amen at the end of the Eucharistic Prayer and when receiving Communion.

In a similar fashion they liturgically express their faith in other dogmas not contained in the creed. Going to Mass for the feasts of the Immaculate Conception and Assumption also proclaims our faith in these doctrines.

Going to confession or receiving the sacrament of the sick affirms our faith in the sacramental system itself and our belief that Christ has granted the Church power to forgive sins.

In short, every act of liturgical worship is, by its very nature, also a proclamation of faith. ZE06062729

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Follow-up: The Creed [7-11-2006]

After our column on the Profession of Faith (June 27) some readers asked if it was permitted to omit the creed on Sundays and solemnities.

According to the General Instruction of the Roman Missal:

"67. The purpose of the Symbolum or Profession of Faith, or Creed, is that the whole gathered people may respond to the word of God proclaimed in the readings taken from Sacred Scripture and explained in the homily and that they may also call to mind and confess the great mysteries of the faith by reciting the rule of faith in a formula approved for liturgical use, before these mysteries are celebrated in the Eucharist.

"68. The Creed is to be sung or said by the priest together with the people on Sundays and Solemnities. It may be said also at particular celebrations of a more solemn character.

"If it is sung, it is begun by the priest or, if this is appropriate, by a cantor or by the choir. It is sung, however, either by all together or by the people alternating with the choir.

"If not sung, it is to be recited by all together or by two parts of the assembly responding one to the other."

There is thus no provision for omitting the creed when prescribed and no priest has the authority to do so.

There are times, however, when the liturgical books indicate that the creed may be omitted such as a Mass in which baptism, ordination or religious profession are celebrated.

Other readers asked if other texts may be omitted or added, such as saying "for us" instead of "for us men."

"Redemptionis Sacramentum," No. 69, states: "In Holy Mass as well as in other celebrations of the Sacred Liturgy, no Creed or Profession of Faith is to be introduced which is not found in the duly approved liturgical books."

Thus, nobody should presume to second-guess the Church regarding the proper formulas to be used at Mass even though the Church may always improve a given translation. Apart from the lack of confidence and obedience expressed by such omissions, there is also the danger of inculcating erroneous ideas in the faithful.

As one New York reader cogently points out: "'Us' is a relative term. It can mean us present in the church; us, members of the parish, diocese, country; us Catholics; us the elected — use your imagination. It could be interpreted as representing the Jansenist heresy."

Even apparently innocuous changes can have far-reaching consequences and it falls upon priests, and especially bishops, to be firm and vigilant in safeguarding the faith.

Several readers asked what creed is prescribed.

In general the Nicene Creed should be used. The new Roman Missal also gives the option of occasionally substituting the [Symbol of the Apostles for the Nicene Creed], especially during seasons such as Lent and Easter.

Some countries have received permission to always use the Apostles' Creed. Several bishops have since lamented this choice as it deprives the faithful of one of the Church's treasures; they have recommended a return to the use of both texts.

On Easter Sunday the creed is usually replaced with the renewal of baptismal promises.

This article has been selected from the ZENIT Daily Dispatch
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