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‘I Believe’ or ‘We Believe’ in the Nicene Creed?

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‘I Believe’ or ‘We Believe’?

Q: On Sundays and holy days of obligation, we recite the Nicene Creed. We begin by saying, “We believe in one God….” Although this is the first person plural, this prayer’s Latin text reads “Credo” (“I believe,” first person singular). Who made this change and by what authority?

A: What we commonly call the Creed is technically called a Profession of Faith. That is the heading used in the Sacramentary, the liturgical book used by the priest for prayers at Mass.

You are correct that the Latin text indicates the first person singular. Whose faith, however, is being professed at Mass—that of an individual, isolated believer or that of many believers sharing a common faith?

Historically, the Profession of Faith was written for an adult about to receive the Sacrament of Baptism. From memory, he or she recited this prayer to show an acceptance of what the Church believes. Only an individual person could pray that Profession of Faith.

The fifth and latest edition of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) explains that the Profession of Faith at Mass “serves as a way for all the people gathered together to respond to the word of God proclaimed in the readings taken from Sacred Scripture and explained in the homily. By reciting the rule [Profession] of faith in a formula approved for liturgical use, the people call to mind and confess the great mysteries of the faith before they begin to celebrate these mysteries in the Eucharist” (#67).

There are several creedal statements in the New Testament (for example, “Jesus Christ is Lord,” Philippians 2:11). More detailed Professions of Faith were developed—sometimes as a single statement and other times as a positive response to questions about belief in God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. At the Easter Vigil and on Easter Sunday, the liturgy uses the question-and-answer format.

Creeds have evolved. There was, for example, the famous insertion of the term “of one substance with the Father” (homoousios) to describe what the Church believes about Jesus’ divinity. This was done at the Council of Nicaea (325 A.D.) in order to distance the Church from the teaching of the priest Arius. The bishops modified an existing Profession of Faith, written in Greek, which beginspisteuomen (we believe).

The Council of Constantinople (381 A.D.) added another section to reflect the Church’s belief in the divinity of the Holy Spirit.

At Mass today we use the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Profession of Faith. When this text was translated into Latin, pisteuomen (we believe) was rendered asCredo (I believe).

In the 11th century, praying the Profession of Faith during Mass, once a regional custom, became a universal practice in the West. The Creed was introduced into the Mass at this point because Baptisms were celebrated then. The Creed completes the Liturgy of the Word and prepares those present for the Liturgy of the Eucharist.

What began as an individual Profession of Faith eventually became a common Profession of Faith—hence the GIRM expression quoted above: “in a formula approved for liturgical use.” The current translation was made by the International Committee on English in the Liturgy (ICEL) and was approved in 1970 by the Congregation for Divine Worship.

Memorial, Feast, Solemnity

Q: Masses are celebrated as solemnities, feasts or memorials. What do these various designations mean and how do they affect the celebration of a Mass?

A: The ranking of liturgical celebrations guarantees that the most important events in the Church’s life will not be skipped. For example, if your parish church was dedicated on March 27, in most years the parish could have a special Mass on that date. But since Christians in the West will be observing that as the date of Easter this year, that solemnity outranks all other liturgical celebrations.

In April 2005, a priest might choose not to celebrate the memorial Mass for St. Stanislaus, bishop and martyr (April 11), but he could not substitute another Mass for the feast of St. Mark (April 25).

Different parts of the world and different ethnic groups can observe different memorials, but the universal Church observes the same solemnities and feasts.

On solemnities, there are three readings, plus the Gloria and the Profession of Faith. On feasts, there are two readings, but only the Gloria. Memorials generally have two readings with no Gloria or Profession of Faith.

Must a Pope Change His Name?

Q: This has always intrigued me: How does a new pope choose his name? Is this even required? Are there formal policies for the choice of a name?

A: This is not required. According to J.N.D. Kelly’s The Oxford Dictionary of the Popes (Oxford University Press), the first man to change his name on being elected pope was John II in 533. He did that because his name was originally Mercury and he thought it inappropriate for a pope to bear the name of a pagan god. Because the new pope admired John I, who was pope from 523 until 526, he chose that name.

In 955 when Octavian was elected pope, he chose the name John XII—only the second pope to change his name.

John Paul I (1978) explained his name choice as an honor to John XXIII and Paul VI, the popes who presided over Vatican II. John Paul II had the same motivation two months later.

Although there are no formal rules about name choices, no one has chosen the name Peter on being elected pope.

Is It the Same Feast?

Q: What’s the difference between the Annunciation and the Immaculate Conception? We heard the same Gospel at each one. Are they really different feasts?

A: The Annunciation, observed on March 25, celebrates Mary’s miraculous conception of Jesus, who has no human, biological father. Because the angel Gabriel “announced” the conception to her (Luke 1:26-38), the feast is known as the Annunciation. Mary’s response to Gabriel, “May it be done to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38b), sets the pattern of openness for everyone who follows Jesus.

The feast of the Immaculate Conception, observed on December 8, celebrates the conception of Mary by her parents (Joachim and Anne, according to an early Christian tradition). The conception was natural except that Mary was preserved from Original Sin. Even though this teaching was solemnly defined only in 1854 by Pope Pius IX, Catholics had believed it and celebrated it liturgically for many centuries.

Because there is no Gospel story specifically about the conception of Mary, the Catholic Church uses the same passage (Luke 1:26-38, Gabriel’s announcement to Mary) on each solemnity—even though each celebrates a different conception.

St. Joseph Missing?

Q: I am curious: What happened to St. Joseph, the husband of Mary? When and where did he die? Why wasn’t he at the death of Jesus? It seems that the Church is overlooking an important saint.

A: The last time that the Gospels speak of Joseph as being alive was when Jesus was 12 years old, had stayed behind in the Temple in Jerusalem and then accompanied Mary and Joseph back to Nazareth (Luke 2:41-52). Joseph might already have died when Jesus’ contemporaries asked, “Is this not Joseph’s son?” (Luke 4:22, with a similar reference in John 6:42).

Christians have presumed that Joseph had already died by the time that Jesus began his public ministry—around the age of 30. That probably explains why he is not included, as Mary is, in the stories of Jesus’ ministry, death and resurrection. Because Christians assumed that Jesus and Mary were at Joseph’s deathbed, he has long been regarded as the patron of a happy death.

Has St. Joseph been overlooked? In 1962, Blessed John XXIII ordered that his name be inserted into the Roman Canon (later also known as Eucharistic Prayer I). His feast on March 19 is a solemnity. This category is the highest rank of liturgical celebrations. Devotion to St. Joseph has always been strong in some countries. It increased worldwide in the 19th century—in response to the Industrial Revolution and its resulting strain on families. In 1956 the feast of St. Joseph the Worker was established for May 1.

Blessed Andre Bessette, C.S.C. (1845-1937), had a great devotion to St. Joseph and founded Montreal’s Oratory in his honor.