Thursday, July 23, 2015


My mild expression of regret yesterday about the Creed no longer being required at Mass on the feast of Saint Mary Magdalene inspired some off-lien reaction and reflection about the place of the Creed in the liturgy. I confess that I don't have a well thought-out or intensely felt opinion about exactly how often the Creed should be required, except that I generally believe it would be better to require it more than we do at present. In the current liturgical regime, the Nicene Creed is confined, for all practical purposes, to Sundays and Solemnities. Not even Apostles, doctors of the church, or the days within the Octaves of Christmas and Easter are deemed worthy of having the Creed anymore. As for the Apostles' Creed and the so-called Athanasian Creed, both formerly so prominent in the Divine Office, both have completely disappeared. While the Athansian Creed may not be a great loss, the dropping of the Apostles' Creed from the Office seems something of a shame to me. During my 2005 summer study at Windsor Castle, where we prayed Morning prayer and Evensong from the BCP daily in common, I got to appreciate turning towards the altar for the twice-daily recitation of the Apostles' Creed, one of the many remnants of the medieval liturgy carelessly excised from contemporary Catholic worship but carefully preserved in the Anglican variant.

I have never really understood the reasoning (if there was any) behind some 20th-century liturgists' hostility to the Creed's place in the Mass. As a seminarian in the 1980s, I remember hearing that the Creed really didn't belong there - a position asserted but never convincingly argued. In the 1980s, of course, whim widely reigned supreme. If some celebrant's whim was not to say the Creed, it was likely to be omitted. But even earlier, when whims were not yet being indulged, there already seems to have been some developing animus against the Creed's prominent place in the Mass. 

Thus, the great 20th-century, Jesuit liturgical scholar Josef Jungmann wrote that, although "but a supplement on these days," the Creed still it gets such a performance at solemn service that both in duration and in musical splendor it often surpasses all the other portions of the Mass.... All the more reason to ask, why this formula of profession of faith secured the singular honor of being used at the celebration of Mass." At a time when the Solemn mass was still recognized as the liturgical norm (however rarely it was actually experienced by ordinary churchgoers in the places like the United States), Jungmann argued for "the plain recitation of the creed by the whole congregation" in preference to "residua of a musical culture that is past."

This past year, we resumed the singing of the Creed on Sundays in my parish. we use the plain chant setting in English - the same chant version I can still sing from memory in Latin from having heard it so often growing up. Reactions were mixed. Anything that threatens to lengthen, however minimally, our already overly brief liturgy will inevitably induce some anxiety. It was the same when churches routinely started singing the Gloria a couple of decades ago. In my opinion, not only is the chanting of the Creed more in accord with the sung Mass tradition, it also adds a certain gravity to a prayer that otherwise tends to be somewhat unceremoniously rushed, each person praying it at his own pace.

In his historical treatment of the Creed, Jungmann recounted the familiar story of Emperor Saint Henry II's surprise that the Creed was not included in the Mass in Rome. Rome duly conformed to the Emperor's expectation. But it was also explained to Henry that, since the Roman Church had been free from heresies, it had that much less need to profess the Creed so often!

By that same logic, it might seem that, in our contemporary, post-Christian society, the Creed should be proclaimed as much and as often as possible - perhaps even every time we assemble in anticipation of an alternative kingdom to what contemporary society offers.

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