Friday, May 25, 2018

Praying the Creeds

I was happilyy impressed several weeks back when the congregation at Barbara Bush's funeral was invited to recite the Creed together as part of the funeral service. One of the many wonderful things about Anglican worship is the prominent inclusion, as a consistent practice in Anglican services, of one or other of the traditional creeds.

The imminence of Trinity Sunday reminds me that this feast was traditionally not only the end of Easter Time but also the day most associated with the so-called "Athanasian Creed," which used to be recited at the Office of Prime on that day (and until 1955 also on many other Sundays of the year). Properly entitled the Symbolum "Quicumque Vult," the "Athanasian Creed" was ascribed at times to Saint Athanasius (c.296-373), but was actually composed in Latin, probably in Gaul, perhaps a century after Athanasius. Ascribed to him because of its strong affirmation of Trinitarian belief, it was Western in both origin and usage. Authorship aside, it remains a remarkably resonant creedal proclamation, fittingly associated with Sundays. (Verses 1-28 are focused on the Trinity; verses 29-44 are primarily christological.) 

The "Athanasian Creed" is just one of the three creeds traditionally used in the Western, Latin liturgical tradition. The creed commonly called the Apostles Creed (Symbolum Apostolicum) used to be recited daily at Prime and Compline. That medieval usage continues in the Anglican daily offices of Matins and Evensong. (I remember how, when I was at Windsor Castle on sabbatical in 2005, we would always turn to face the altar when reciting the Apostles Creed during those daily offices in Saint George's Chapel.) The inexplicable hostility to the liturgical use of creeds on the part of 20th-century liturgical reformers resulted in the Apostles Creed's complete disappearance from the Divine Office in 1955. 

The third creed, sadly now the only one still used in the liturgy, is, of course, the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed (photo), composed originally in Greek and thus the only creed used in both the Western and Eastern Churches. In the Eastern rites, the Creed remains a regular part of every Divine Liturgy. In the Roman Rite, however, its usage has been much diminished. Formerly used on all Sundays and very many feasts, it is now confined solely to Sundays and "Solemnities." Traditionally one of "the parts of a Sung Mass," the Creed is nowadays more widely recited rather than sung, even in otherwise "sung" celebrations, a dramatic rejection of centuries of liturgical practice, inexplicable except as one more consequence of 20th-century reformers' dubious legacy of hostility to the traditional prominence of creeds' in the liturgy. (Not long ago, it was even worse! For example, in the 1980s I can recall attending Sunday Masses at which the Creed was routinely omitted!)

Lex orandi, lex credendi. Liturgy has always been at the heart of what we do as a Church. Increasingly it may well become the only thing we do - the only experience of Church and religion most people will have in their lives, as an ambient Catholic and Christian culture and the cultural institutions that in the past shared responsibility for forming individuals, families, and society as Catholic Christians continue to weaken and disappear. . The proclamation and profession of an articulated faith in the liturgy, something previous centuries could perhaps take for granted, will therefore be that much more important a part of whatever liturgical experiences people have..

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