When one considers what the most important part of the Liturgy of the Word is, you would think that the proclamation of that word would easily rank in the top slot. I don’t wish to tell my reader they are wrong, but I submit there is something else that is also of the highest importance. This occurs when the priest professes his belief in God, and the congregation joins him in that profession.
There is a lot of material to cover when one considers the Nicene Creed, and most of it is pretty interesting. Both the “Roman Catechism” (the Catechism promulgated as a result of the Council of Trent) and the current Catechism of the Catholic Church tackle each article of the creed and tell us what it means. For those looking for such a commentary, I can hardly add to it. Instead, I’d like to focus on what the importance of the Creed should be for the Christian, and why you should say it at Mass with renewed vigor.
If I were to pick one word to describe today’s global Church, I would say that word is diverse. While there may have been a time when people thought Catholicism meant you could only express the deposit of faith in a singular and rigid manner, few of any stripe actually believe that today.
Roman traditionalists speak with admiration for Eastern Catholics, and from time to time attend their liturgies. Newer generations of Catholics in the Charismatic Renewal can be seen from time to time in Latin Mass centers. Many Eastern Churches are finally being shown the respect they deserve as Churches sui iurus (of their own right) in communion with the Roman Pontiff.
My wedding was a Latin Mass wedding officiated by a priest who celebrates the Ordinary Form almost exclusively, celebrated in a Church that has a daily Latin Mass, with a Ukrainian Deacon as master of ceremonies.
This trend is only going to continue, and the Church is richer because of it. Yet even granting all of these benefits, some difficulties are bound to arise. As this diversity increases, some of the defining marks we have come to associate with Catholicism are going to not have as much weight as they used to. While these cultural aspects of Catholicism should retain their importance, they are unable to serve as a unifying factor for the universal Church.
This is where I believe the creed should take on greater importance in our lives. While I might worship in a different language, I do have the same creed as others. While East and West have their differences, we have a creed that (even when accounting for things like the filioque) expresses our oneness in belief.
Another important thing the creed does is emphasize the source of all of our beliefs: the Holy Trinity. The Catholic Church is a communion of churches united in their profession of faith in Christ, just as the Trinity is a communion of divine persons united in their unending self-giving love. The Catholic Church exists not to advance their own interests, but to make known that Trinity.
When Christ gave the great commission to his disciples (Matthew 28:18-20), he asked that people from every nation be baptized into His Name. That name was Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In the context of Judaism, revealing a name implies a great closeness. (See, for example, God revealing His name to Moses.) Christ wants the world to know the Trinity, and it is our job to make sure this happens.
In order to do this, each part of the Creed describes who each person in the Holy Trinity is. Most importantly, we emphasize that we believe in something that is real and tangible, not some abstract force or creation myth.
The Father did create the Heavens and Earth. All that exists on life came about because of his action. Jesus Christ really did walk this earth during the times of Pontius Pilate, and he was executed by the Roman Empire (at the behest of the Sanhedrin), and he really did rise from the dead.
The Holy Spirit is real, and he is the giver of the divine life in the hearts of men. He is sent to the Church, and has spoken about Jesus and the Father through the prophets. In a nutshell, this is the Gospel.
We then affirm our belief that Christ founded a Church to reveal this Gospel to mankind, and protect it from error and corruption. Once we’ve accepted this Gospel and the claims of the Church, we are baptized into Christ’s name (we put on Christ!) and our sins are forgiven. As a result of those sins being forgiven, we have a hope the world longs for.
In the Resurrection, we offer the world something far better than the land and time they currently inhibit, and realize is a flawed mess. In the Resurrection, we offer them the chance to be set free from all that weighs us down.
Read from this aspect, the creed is far more than simply a profession of faith. It is a statement of who we are as Christians, and what our main responsibility should be. Within the context of the Mass, the Creed ultimately points to the Eucharist.
The Eucharist is offered to God for the sins of the world, being one and the same sacrifice as Calvary. We state in the creed our purpose as Christians, and then the Eucharist provides the strength to carry out that purpose. We call for the forgiveness of sins, and the Eucharist is that forgiveness. This is our faith, and when we profess it, we are not only making it our own, we are actually making it a reality upon earth.