Sunday, May 27, 2018

Liturgy of the Traditional Mass, Part 5: The Nicene Creed

At the beginning of the readings, we hear from St. Paul or one of the other apostles in the Epistle. Before and after the readings, throughout the Mass, we hear and say the words of King David in the Psalms. All this is in preparation to hear the words of our Lord in the Gospel. Then, after being instructed on the theme of the day by the Holy Scriptures, in the words of a king, an apostle, and our Lord, we profess our faith in the words of the Church.

The Credo, also called the Nicene Creed, is the statement of our Catholic faith. It was initially drafted at the First Council of Niceae in AD 325 then revised into the form we have today at the First Council of Constantinople in AD 381. It is sung every Sunday, as well as on feasts of our Lord and our Lady, the central figures of our faith, and on some feasts of saints, who lived this faith in a most exemplary manner. Many of these saints are also martyrs, who willingly died for this faith. The Credo is named after its first word, which is Latin for “I believe.” In times of persecution, the martyrs would often try to write the word “credo” on their breast in their own blood, if possible while still conscious, as a final act of that faith that they held to so perfectly, like our Lord did, even unto death.

Credo in unum Deum, Patrem omnipoténtem, factórem coeli et terræ, visibílium ómnium et in visibílium.
I believe in one God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible.

The Credo begins in the same manner as the Gloria, with the priest intoning the first phrase and the priest and choir continuing independently. “I believe” here means not a mere mental affirmation, nor the casual use of the word to express a quantity of doubt, but rather true faith, in our mind, lips, and heart, in one God, without any doubt or uncertainty. This faith is placed in one and only one being, God, who must be placed above all others, in lieu of any earthly goods or other human being. This single supreme being is described as “the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible.”

From the beginning, we address God with the incredibly familiar title of our own father, who loves us as his own children. It is because of that love that we are able to receive Christ in the Mass. He is nevertheless almighty and omnipotent, maker of heaven and earth and therefore existing beyond our universe, not limited by the laws of physics or other limitations that he placed on our universe. The mention of all things “visible and invisible” is an allusion to the holy angels, the noblest of God's creatures, invisible to us, to whom we have already united ourselves at the beginning of the Mass. Assisting in the Mass by uniting ourselves spiritually to the Holy Sacrifice is akin to the work of the angels in assisting at God's throne.

To continue, we profess our faith in the second person of the Trinity using his Holy Name, Jesus.

Et in unum Dóminum Iesum Christum, Fílium Dei unigénitum.
I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God.

In Hebrew culture, a person's name was attached to their entire identity as a person. Thus, in uttering this Holy Name, we are condensing into one word the greatness of God and his infinite love for us in sending us Christ. St. Paul wrote that at the sound of this name every knee shall bow (Philippians 2:9-11). Here, as at every point in the Mass and other liturgies where the Holy Name is mentioned, all bow their heads in worship of his Name. It is also good devotional practice to bow one's head in daily life when the Holy Name is heard, even if it is used profanely.

In the Credo, we acknowledge Jesus Christ as our one Lord and the only-begotten Son of God the Father. As before, the Church goes out of her way to express the singular. I believe in one God, and now in one Lord, the only-begotten Son of God. A major issue discussed at Niceae was that of the dual nature of Christ. Being both fully God and fully man, he is nevertheless only one. He is the only-begotten of the Father, from the Greek word monogenes, meaning the only one of a kind, already indicating a very special relationship amongst the persons of the Trinity (Psalm 2:7, Mark 14:36, Luke 3:22, Hebrews 1:5).

The Credo begins this section by discussing Christ's first and eternal Nativity, born of the Father before all ages (John 1:1, Apocalypse 1:8, 2:8, 22:13).

Et ex Patre natum ante ómnia saecula. Deum de Deo, lumen de lúmine, Deum verum de Deo vero. Génitum, non factum, consubstantiálem Patri: per quem ómnia facta sunt.
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.

The Church elaborates somewhat poetically on this before noting again that he is begotten, not created, as he was in existence before all ages. Rather, the Father, by his own will, caused the Son to come into existence, and the Son, as the Credo continues to say, is of one substance with the Father (John 14:7‑11). This is particularly interesting in the context of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, as we are offering the Son to the Father; or, rather, he is offering himself to the Father, and we are assisting in this sacrifice. Next in the Credo is almost an exact quote of John 1:3, that through Jesus all things were made, as God's creative power presupposes the necessary existence of his Son.

The Church then proceeds to laud Christ's second Nativity, his Incarnation.

Qui propter nos hómines et propter nostram salútem descéndit de coelis.
For us men and for our salvation he came down from heaven.

She acknowledges that he came from heaven to earth, not only for us men in and of ourselves, whom God created in his own image; but more deeply for our salvation, so that we can be reunited to God's good will. The whole thing is best summarized in the popular verse John 3:16. We kneel as the next part of the Credo is sung, in awe and adoration of one of the greatest mysteries of our faith, the Incarnation.

Et incarnátus est de Spíritu Sancto ex María Vírgine: Et homo factus est.
And by the Holy Ghost was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man.

“By the Holy Ghost,” who, as we will sing later, is the giver of life proceeding from the Father and the Son, thus necessary to give Jesus divine life. “He was incarnate,” that is, the substance of God, the Divine Word, took on the form of human flesh (John 1:14). “Of the Virgin Mary,” our Lord's Mother, the Ark of the New Covenant, the New Eve; in short, the woman chosen by God to give to our Lord his human form, the sacrifice of which attains for us our salvation. “ET HOMO FACTUS EST.” “And became man.” Not enough emphasis can possibly be put on those words. Our Lord, the only-begotten Son of God, became truly human, taking on human flesh and human weakness, only to suffer and die in the worst possible way so that we could be saved. That sacrifice is re-created in the Mass, when the bread and wine transform into the Flesh and Blood of our Lord, both products of him becoming man.

After “Et homo factus est” has been sung, all rise. By this time, the ministers have finished saying the Credo for themselves. The deacon takes the burse (a small, square pocket in the color of the day) and ascends the steps of the altar. There he takes out the corporal (a larger square cloth of plain white linen, without embroidery) and unfolds it in the center of the altar, where the host and chalice will later be placed.

The Sacrifice of the Mass, being the same sacrifice as was offered at Calvary, is offered atop a plain linen cloth, just as our Lord, after his death, was buried in a clean linen shroud (Matthew 27:59). The name “corporal” comes from the Latin word “corpus,” meaning “body.” Being so close to the priesthood, deacons are charged with care of the sacred vessels, which by extension include the corporal. As previously stated, the Holy Sacrifice can occur only because of our Lord's Incarnation, so after we sing of the Incarnation in the Credo, the deacon makes this initial act of anticipation for the actual offering of the Sacrifice, which occurs after the Credo has been sung.

While the deacon is preparing to offer the Sacrifice by spreading out the corporal, the choir sings of this sacrifice.

Crucifíxus étiam pro nobis: sub Póntio Piláto passus, et sepúltus est.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate, he suffered death and was buried.

As in the Apostles' Creed, a shorter profession of faith composed by the apostles, the Church does not merely say that our Lord died. She explicitly mentions that he was crucified, attesting to the huge significance of the Cross. The Cross represents our salvation, God's love for us, and particularly the victory of the Cross over Satan. It is noted again that, like the Incarnation, it was for our sake. He suffered under Pontius Pilate, as the Credo continues. Crucifixion was the most painful method of execution in history, so the word "suffered" here is an understatement. Giving the name of the Roman Governor here is another feature inherited from the Apostle's Creed as a woe to the man who gave official permission to crucify Jesus at the slightest threat to his own reign (John 19:12-16). Just as with other dead bodies, Christ's body was buried, bringing to light the complete reality of his actual, human death.

There is not one moment of delay in proceeding to sing of the Resurrection, which is also noted in the Credo to be “in accordance with the Scriptures.”

Et resurréxit tértia die, secúndum Scriptúras.
And rose again on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.

It was first of all foretold by Jesus himself as the sign of Jonah the Prophet, who was swallowed by a whale and regurgitated on the third day (Jonah 2:1-11, Luke 11:29), and as destroying the temple and rebuilding it in three days (Matthew 27:40, John 2:19). All of the prophets of the Old Testament also foretold the Resurrection (Job 19:25-27, Isaiah 26:19-21, Ezekiel 37:12-14, Daniel 12:1-3). Jesus always went out of his way to fulfill every last word of the prophecies, and this is concluded with the Resurrection. At the Resurrection, his Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity are finally and permanently reunited, so in the Mass all of these become present. Finally, the Resurrection proved once and for all that Jesus was God and that his sacrifice on the Cross was the perfect sacrifice that would achieve our salvation. Our entire faith and religion is because of the Resurrection.

Following that, his ministry on earth was done, and he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.

Et ascéndit in coelum: sedet ad déxteram Patris.
He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.

Ascension here does not refer to actual spatial height, but moving into a higher existence, that of the Kingdom of Heaven, which exists beyond our universe. There he sits at the right hand of the Father, serving with him, in the unity of the same triune Godhead, as Lord of heaven and earth, Jesus now being there in his human nature as well as his divine nature (Psalm 109:1, Mark 16:19, John 14:13). As Jesus warned while he was here, he will come again in judgment (Matthew 25:32-46).

Et íterum ventúrus est cum glória iudicáre vivos et mórtuos: cuius regni non erit finis.
He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead and his kingdom will have no end.

Unlike the humility of his first coming, his second coming will be glorious (Matthew 25:31). In the Mass and all of the sacraments, we receive divine grace so that we may be judged favorably. On Judgment Day, all temporal powers and kingdoms will cease, and there will remain only the Kingdom of God (2 Peter 3:13, Apocalypse 21:1), which, as the Credo states to conclude its second part, will continue forever and have no end (Daniel 2:44, Matthew 24:35, Luke 1:33).

Thus concludes the second part of the Credo, the part discussing God the Son. Since it is our belief in Christ that defines Christianity, and the Mass especially is primarily (though not solely) about the Son, it is fitting that this is the longest part. In the third part, we sing of the Holy Ghost and all of his fruits.

Et in Spíritum Sanctum, Dóminum et vivificántem: qui ex Patre Filióque procédit.
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son.

He is Lord, just as the Father and the Son are both Lord, yet in the words of the Athanasian Creed, “not three Lords, but one Lord.” (The Athanasian Creed, or Quicumque Vult, is a much longer profession of faith dating from the fifth or sixth century, elaborating primarily on the Incarnation and the Trinity.) Within the Trinity, the function of the Holy Ghost is as vivificantem, that is, giver of life (Job 33:4, Matthew 3:16). The Spirit of God proceeds from the Father and the Son, the two other persons of the Godhead, who have given us the Holy Ghost, the Paraclete, in upholding Christ's promise to be with us forever (Matthew 28:20, John 14:15-18, 14:26). The Eastern Orthodox denominations insist upon omitting the word “Filioque” at this place in the Credo, such that it reads only: "who proceeds from the Father." However, the previously cited passages from the fourteenth chapter of the Gospel according to John prove otherwise, and if the Father and Son are both of the same substance, the substance of God, and the Holy Ghost is also a person of this Trinity separate from and equal to the Father and the Son, then it must follow that the Holy Ghost proceeds from both the Father and the Son. “Filioque” was not present in the original creed, but was added sometime in the eighth century.

Qui cum Patre et Fílio simul adorátur et conglorificátur: qui locútus est per Prophétas.
Who with the Father and the Son is adored and glorified, who has spoken through the prophets.

With the Father and the Son, the Holy Ghost is also adored and glorified as part of the Godhead, a fact stated both in the Credo and in the Preface of the Most Holy Trinity, which is often sung later in the Mass. This line expresses the trinitarian nature of our worship and especially of the Mass, which began with the Sign of the Cross. Furthermore, it is the Holy Ghost, in speaking through all the Prophets from Moses to St. John the Baptist, who has guided and led God's people throughout the ages under the Old Covenant and continues to do so through the Church under the New Covenant. Christ promised us the Paraclete to be with us and help us until the end times (John 14:16).

The Church today occupies the function of prophets, and she confers the life-giving grace of the Holy Ghost won for us by Christ's Passion (Acts 8:12-17, 19:2-6). The Holy Mass is the prime example of this. Thus, we next profess our faith in Holy Mother Church, ascribing to her the Four Marks of the Church. Only the Catholic Church, the one true Church established by God, has these four qualities: the Church is one (unam), holy (sanctam), catholic (catholicam), and apostolic (apostolicam).

Et unam sanctam cathólicam et apostólicam Ecclésiam.
I believe in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.

Unam: the Church is one, as Jesus steadfastly prayed for (John 17:11, 21-23) and as St. Paul wrote of (Romans 15:5-6, Ephesians 4:3-6, Philippians 1:27, 2:2). This negates Protestantism, which is divided into over nine thousand denominations, lacking any sense of unity. The Mass in particular displays many elements of unity in the Church, as this single liturgy, down to the exact same words, unites all Western Catholics throughout the world and throughout history.

Sanctam: the Church is holy; that is, she was established by Jesus Christ, and God has given her special protection and powers. Matthew 16:18-19 speaks of the Church's special protection from the devil, such that the gates of hell cannot and will not prevail against her, as well as the power of the Keys to the Kingdom of Heaven and the power of binding and loosing. In addition, St. Paul speaks of the Church as the Mystical Body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:27, Colossians 1:18) and as the Bride of Christ (Ephesians 5:24-32). Both of these indicate holiness by virtue of union with God. In addition, only to the holy Church does Christ make himself present in the Mass.

Catholicam: the Church is catholic, meaning “universal,” which since the first century has been the most often applied descriptor of the Church. St. Ignatius of Antioch wrote in AD 107, “Wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church.” This universality applies in both space and time: the Church can be found all over the world (Romans 11:25, Apocalypse 7:1), and she has existed uninterrupted since Christ was on earth and will continue to exist “even to the consummation of the world” (Matthew 28:20). The Mass is universal in both of these senses, particularly in time.

Apostolicam: finally, the Church is apostolic, being founded upon the teachings and practices of the apostles, who formed the Church from the beginning. The Credo itself is an expansion of the Apostles' Creed, the dogma of the apostles. In addition, the Mass was offered daily by the apostles, perhaps without regard to sermon length (Acts 20:7-12).

Confíteor unum baptísma in remissiónem peccatórum. Et exspécto resurrectiónem mortuórum. Et vitam ventúri saeculi. Amen.
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.

Christ commanded the Church to baptize using the verbal Sign of the Cross (Matthew 28:19), and we are baptized with the Holy Ghost (Mark 1:8) in Christ's death (Romans 6:3), so that we may resurrect with him and be given a new life, free from the stain of original sin (Romans 5:12-15, 6:4-11). As Christ only died and resurrected once, we need to be reborn and cleansed of our original sin only once, and thus we confess only one baptism for the forgiveness of our sins. Baptism is necessary to be a member of the Church and thus to participate fully in the Mass, and it is also normally a requirement for salvation.

The Credo concludes on an eschatological note. We do not merely believe in the resurrection of the dead, we look forward to it. If we have truly loved God and kept his commandments, including assisting at the Mass, we have the sure hope of attaining everlasting paradise in heaven and enjoying perfect, eternal jubilation in the New Jerusalem, whereas the wicked and those who reject God will suffer eternal torment (Apocalypse 20:1-15).

Like with the Gloria, we bless ourselves with the Sign of the Cross at the end of the Credo. The Credo, like the Gloria, has a trinitarian character brought to fulfillment at the end, but here the Sign of the Cross is concluding the profession of our great faith, defined by the Cross. The Credo concludes, “Amen,” to indicate our complete acquiescence to this divinely-ordained faith, that of the only religion in which truth and life are to be found (John 14:6).

The singing of the Credo is the end of the Mass of the Catechumens: the first part of the Mass, which prepares us to offer the Holy Sacrifice. Following this is the major transition point in the Mass. Originally, those who were not yet baptized (the catechumens) would be dismissed at this point, as only members of the Church, who had received the potential for divine life through Baptism, may assist in offering up the Holy Sacrifice. The second half, called the Mass of the Faithful, begins with the Offertory, in which the priest makes the initial offering of bread and wine, before they are transformed into the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of our Lord.

New terms

  • Nicene Creed or Credo – The long profession of faith, composed at the First Council of Nicaea in A.D. 325 and revised at the First Council of Constantinople in A.D. 381, which is sung at Mass on Sundays and major feasts.
  • Burse – A square pocket in the color of the day that is used to hold the corporal.
  • Corporal – A large square cloth of plain white linen that it spread out in the middle of the altar, where the sacrifice will be offered.
  • Apostles' Creed – A shorter and more ancient profession of faith composed by the apostles, not used in the Mass.
  • Athanasian Creed or Quicumque Vult – A long profession of faith from the fifth or sixth century attributed St. Athanasius, elaborating mainly on the Trinity and the Incarnation.
  • Four Marks of the Church – The four qualities possessed only by the Catholic Church, the one true Church established by God – one, holy, catholic (or universal), and apostolic.
  • Mass of the Faithful – The second half of the Mass, in which the sacrifice is offered.

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