Non Solum: Apostles’ or Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed

Today’s Question: Apostles’ or Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed

The Roman Missal allows for the usage of either the Apostles’ Creed or the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed at Mass. It suggests that Lent and Easter with their baptismal focus are especially appropriate times for using the Apostles’ Creed. This is because of its ancient baptismal usage in the Roman Catholic Church. However, this does not limit the Apostles’ Creed to only those times of the year. Which Creed do you or your priest like to use? Do you use the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed for the majority of the year or do you use the Apostles’ Creed? Do you reserve the Apostles’ Creed for Lent and Easter, or do you use it during other feasts or at times of the year? Is the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed falling out of use, and will the surprising new permission to use the Apostles’ Creed at any time lead to the loss of the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed for much of the Church? What are your thoughts? What does your parish do, and why? Please comment below.

Moderator’s note: “Non solum” is a feature at Pray Tell for our readership community to discuss practical liturgical issues. The title comes from article 11 of the Vatican II liturgy constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium: “Therefore there is to be vigilance among holy pastors that in liturgical action not only are laws for valid and licit celebration to be observed, but that the faithful should participate knowingly, actively, and fruitfully.” (Ideo sacris pastoribus advigilandum est ut in actione liturgica non solum observentur leges ad validam et licitam celebrationem, sed ut fideles scienter, actuose et fructuose eandem participent.) May the series contribute to good liturgical practice – not only following the law, but especially grasping the spirit of the liturgy!

42 comments

  1. We’re all Nicene Creed all the time. When I first started attending the parish, some 15 years ago, we never used any creed at all. That changed with the arrival of a new pastor. One Lent a number of years ago (before, I think, it was licit) we used the Apostles’ Creed.

    I tend to think that we should use the Nicene Creed at the Eucharist, since it is the creed of an ecumenical council (actually, two ecumenical councils), while the Apostle’s creed is a local Western creed. I might be persuaded that the Apostle’s creed would be appropriate for Lent and Easter, but it would take a little bit of convincing.

    If I might add an additional question: does anyone’s parish ever sing the creed, in either form?

    1. Around here, it’s always the Nicene Creed, always said, never sung.

      Personally, I like the The Apostles’ Creed better.

      Not sure why exactly; probably something to do with the rosary.

      @Fritz Bauerschmidt – comment #7:

      Me too!

  2. We always chant the Credo at our sung EF and occasionally have sung it in Latin at the OF. We hope to chant at one of our Sunday Masses Credo III in English from our St. Michael Hymnal beginning in January. In my previous parish we sang it every Sunday at our Main Mass. The congregation chanted the same note the entire English Creed while the organist did a background melody that made it sound like we were singing other notes. It was quite simple for the congregation.

      1. @Fr. Allan. McDonald – comment #4:
        Same as at St. John’s Abbey, Fr. Allan. Common ground! 🙂
        Actually we do use Apostles’ during Easter season on Sundays, but not otherwise.
        I admit that a certain Anthony Ruff pushed for Apostles’ on Sundays because in our acoustic, and with monks accustomed to sloooooow recitation of Psalms at office, we tend to recite the creed at a painfully slow pace that takes a day and a half to get through. Hardly a heartfelt, joyful reaffirmation of our faith. Liturgy committee was on board with my push for all Apostles’, all the time (Christmas Midnight Mass, Annunciation would have been exception). But the abbot – and this isn’t a criticism, this is his role and his job – said that the hallowed, ecumenical text of the Nicene needs to stay in our consciousness and our use, and it need to be standard all year except Easter. So now I get on the mic and try to lead it at a more moderate pace. Which I’m sure pleases some monks and irritates others – so it goes.
        awr

  3. At our 11 am Sunday parish Mass (Latin, Novus Ordo) we always sing the Nicene Creed in Latin, tone 3. The singing goes on in August, when the (professional) choir is away.

    We often have Mozart choral Masses at this time — usually with organ, now and then with strings. In some of these, the Credo is exceptionally beautiful. But it is never done chorally, always by the congregation to the simple chant tone. Kyrie, Gloria, Sanctus and Benedictus, yes. Never the Credo.

    Over time I have come to the view that this is right. The Creed should be said (or sung) by the congregation, standing together to do so; not sitting, as when the choir sings the Kyrie and Gloria.

    At other Sunday Masses we say the Nicene creed. At least as far as I can remember, never the Apostles’.

  4. We have used only the Apostles’ Creed since Advent 2011. I think this was the right decision for then, as so much of the rest of the revised translation was unfamiliar that negotiating the changes in the Nicene creed seemed like a bridge too far. As the nominal parish liturgist, I’ve suggested to the pastor, unsuccessfully so far, to change for a couple of years to the Nicene for “big church” reasons, because folks should know both prayers, and because they will have to use the Nicene in many other parishes around the country. There isn’t much sympathy in the rectory for that point of view, and straw polls in the assembly suggest that the Apostles’ Creed is still on shaky mnemonic grounds. If we were just a local congregation, I’d say stick with the AC. But I’ll be pushing again for Nicene, against my real feelings, on ecclesial grounds.

    1. @Rory Cooney – comment #6:
      Rory – have not heard the Apostles’ Creed used in years. NC memorized – well, still say *we* and usually emphasize *consubstantial* and smile at my wife.

  5. We generally use the Nicene Creed. The pastor sometimes, and apparently arbitrarily, does use the Apostle’s Creed, but not the other priests. Whichever is used, it is never sung, and is spoken at a normal conversational pace. And the priests and most congregants still take advantage of the cheat sheets.

    I prefer the more ‘formal’ tone of the Nicene. Based on my early schooling, the Apostles’ will always be the “kids’ creed” in my mind. (But then, I still pine for the awesome word “allurements” in the renewal of Baptismal vows!)

  6. I’ll admit, I’ve basically gone with the missal’s suggestions: Nicene all of the year, except Lent and Easter (which is nice, because Masses during Lent and Easter tend to be longer, so any savings of a few seconds is appreciated).

    This does mean we’ve stopped doing the Q&A format of the Creed that we used to do during the Easter Season (all 8 Sundays), as part of the Opening Rites and before the Sprinkling Rite. (Thus skipping the Creed after the homily.) Don’t think it too crazy: This practice actually was what our archbishop in Seattle did for confirmations, until his retirement 3 years ago.

    Echoing what a few others have said, no matter the translation, this is the one text that hasn’t sunk in and we invite people to read out of our missals. “Please turn to page 8…”

  7. I have detected a significant number of priests using the Apostle’s Creed only. Even this is not completely straightforward, as there are a few tiny differences when compared with the old traditional text. Nevertheless, it is simplicity itself when compared with the Nicene Creed. Like Fritz, I have not succeeded in committing this to memory yet, and perhaps I never will. 40 years of a communal We believe is amazingly hard to jettison.

  8. Our parish, like Rory Cooney’s, has used only the Apostle’s Creed since the implementation of the New Missal. And when I worship elsewhere, I experience exactly the issue he points to: I don’t know the new translation of the Nicene and stumble all over the place.

  9. We had decided to use the Apostles Creed when RM3 was implemented. But we use the Nicene creed for a very pedestrian reason; it is the one that is on our card we ordered for the new translation. But no one seems to have memorized it yet (me included) as the cards are still very much in evidence!

  10. Never went to a Mass where the Apostle’s Creed was used until after Advent 2011. In my parish, it has been more than half Apostle since then with visiting priests being the Nicene choosers. There’s just less to stumble over.

    I sense from reading above that there is some preference for Nicene on Sundays (ecumenical councils, e.g.) but is there a rubric or GIRM instruction that makes this argument? Except for personal preference – what feels right, I guess, one is as good as the other, or you wouldn’t have the choice, right?

  11. In Canada (or at least in this part of Canada), the Apostles’ Creed has long been far more common, with the Nicene maybe being used on special occasions or for some variation.

  12. At the sub-parish here in Papua New Guinea where I regularly celebrate Mass, we have only used the Apostles Creed (in Pidgin English) since before I arrived 5 years ago. However, we are introducing the Nicene Creed this Advent, at the request of a group of parishioners. We might keep the Apostles Creed for Lent, at least.

  13. Before Advent ’11 we always used the Nicene because we had done extensive parish-wide catechesis to make it an authentic prayer and not just a recitation. Then like Linda (#16) we started with the ‘new’ Nicene and stayed with it because it was on the pew cards. But even though we tried, we just couldn’t ‘sell’ the new language. “I just can’t make a prayer out of this” was the most common comment. (One parishioner said it felt like reading a passage from a book on tort law.) After a fair trial, we gave up. Now it’s all Apostles’ all the time, with no more stumbles and no more complaints.

  14. We have been using the AC since the imposition of RM3. Both creeds are on the cards, so we use the NC at Christmas and now and again so people know it is part of our tradition. It isn’t like there are fundamental articles of faith not available in the AC.

  15. At the introduction of the new missal two years ago, we chose to use the Apostle’s Creed that year through Easter, as it’s easier for us. Theoretically, we would then have used the Nicene Creed, at the presiding priest’s option. Well, that’s what we decided when we were gathered as a Liturgy Committee. What’s actually happened is that we use the Apostle’s Creed almost all the time. When once in a while the priest starts the Nicene Creed, there’s gigantic rustling as people frantically page through the missalette.

    I have suggested to the priests that it would be beneficial to use the Nicene Creed often enough to gain familiarity, because we all go to Mass other places now and then. But it hasn’t happened very often.

  16. In the Boston area, the AC use appears rare in various samplings over the years. I suspect it’s because a lot of younger people don’t know it well. (I remember in one community that used it in the 1990s, one priest unilaterally decided that “resurrection of the dead” was better than “resurrection of the body”, which quite fried me.) As for the NC, it seems about half of people recite it by memory now, another quarter only look once or twice at their aids.

    I found it took me about 2/3 of a year of Sundays to remember it entirely by heart, but then again, the text closely follows the text that I first learned in the “interim missal” years before RM1 between 1965 and 1970 when I was a young kid.

    The AC is distinctively Roman. The NC has greater ecumenical value, FWIW, aside from the Filioque; the NC has a somewhat more developed pneumatology and therefore trinitarian emphasis, as it were, and one recurring problem in Western Christianity is to collapse the Trinity into Jesus & Co, which the NC resists.

  17. Q and A, thank you very much.

    It says something about the paucity of the “new” translation that presiders still need the cheat sheet for the prayer in the middle of the Lord’s prayer.

  18. Am I the only Catholic who knows the Nicene Creed backwards and forwards, but doesn’t know the Apostle’s Creed that well (and tends to get it confused with parts of the Nicene Creed)?

  19. Re: #23: “The AC is distinctively Roman. The NC has greater ecumenical value” That was surely true of the former translation of the Nicene Creed, but clearly is no longer the case. With “incarnate of” and “consubstantial” we might as well hang out a big “No Non-Romans Allowed” sign on our clubhouse.

    1. @Glenn Lamb McCoy – comment #26:
      Actually, the former translation was not closer to what was used elsewhere. FWIW. And the AC is still much less universal than the NC, which is where my ecumenical comment was going.

  20. For those of you using the Apostles’ Creed: was there confusion, especially among younger folks unfamiliar with this text, over “he descended into hell?” Did you find it necessary to offer catechesis on this point?

  21. When the pastor is celebrating, we use the AC. He has never publicly stated why but I suspect the rectory phone rang off the hook with complaints as respect the NC. With a visiting priest, it’s almost always the NC.

  22. In a parish where I previously served, during the Easter season we would sing the Profession of Faith from Tom Booth’s Mass of Life, #29 in OCP’s Spirit and Song book. This is a setting of the Q&A Apostle’s Creed, with a praise-chorus style refrain of, “Amen, amen! Amen, amen! Amen, we do believe!” Of the many pieces of ritual music I introduced in that parish, this was by far the most loved. Even now, 7 years later, I will still run into parishioners who tell me how much they miss this setting.

  23. I use only the Apostles’ Creed, while the other parish priest uses the Nicene. Thus parishioners are now familiar with both. If all things were optional, I would not include a profession of faith in the liturgy, except perhaps the Apostles’ Creed during the season of Easter – since that creed evolved from the initiation liturgies. The Nicene creed was not a part of the liturgies of Rome for the first thousand years. After all, the eucharistic prayer itself ought to serve quite well as the primary and foundational profession of faith.

  24. Re: #28: I will grant you that among Protestant Nicene creeds some use “born” of some use “incarnate.” But “consubstantial”?Really? “Consubstantial” is ecumenical? Huh.

    1. @Glenn Lamb McCoy – comment #32:
      Again, the point of my reference to ecumenism was that the NC is far more widely used in worship in Christendom than the AC. *That* level of ecumenism. What Eastern and Oriental Churches use the AC liturgically?

      Consubstantial is a mere detail by comparison. (I prefer “of one substance” for what it’s worth…)

  25. I think we may underestimate the length of time people require to assimilate new material. We ourselves, many of us, attend mass maybe 4-5 a Sunday, not to mention the (generally creedless) weekdays. People in the pews attend 20-25% of that number of times AT MOST, so one would expect it to take 4-5 times as long to assimilate new material, like, say, the Apostles’ Creed by heart. I can do it, not without occasional backsliding, after two years. After eight, maybe, other folks will be able to do it as well. Should I really push for a change before then? And let that be a lesson to us with the music we introduce. I’m very conservative about that, if I may use such a word to describe my humble self. 🙂

  26. Pierre Font : Am I the only Catholic who knows the Nicene Creed backwards and forwards, but doesn’t know the Apostle’s Creed that well (and tends to get it confused with parts of the Nicene Creed)?

    I don’t recall ever encountering the AC at any Mass in New York. Now, though, in my parish in Catalonia, it has been the AC every Sunday so far (since late August) — after I had carefully memorized the Nicene!

    There is, by the way, a curiosity in their version of the AC, in which they profess belief in “la santa Mare Església catòlica.” Presumably news of this outrage against Liturgiam Authenticam has not reached Rome. There are a number of other non-literal translations in their Ordinary, as well.

  27. I entered minor sem in1962 and we put in our share of time on Saturday evenings practicing Gregorian Chant. One result is that when I lived in the seminary here in Japan where it is customary to sing the Misa de Angelis on Christmas and Easter morn I can still sing the N-C Creed in Latin with little hesitation.
    I use the N-C Creed almost every Sunday, still struggling occasionally with the phrasing, and use the AC only when we are pushed for time and the room we use for the English Eucharist is booked for some event soon after.

  28. It’s interesting that the descent into hell has been mentioned. It is just one of the many parts of the new translation that makes me not want to hear it or say it. It may very well be that the theological view of hell in this context is different to everyone else’s view of hell but there were better ways of saying it, like the old way. I suppose it is a proof by counter example that no one is stuck in hell, which was an amusing thought I had last time I was in mass which was several weeks ago. With the advent of the new translation I have pretty much lapsed from church. The faith is still good and strong, I hope. And I am patiently waiting for the day the language is changed back to reflect the God I have known all my life. I hope that day comes soon. Let’s see if what is happening in Germany will have repercussions for the English speaking world

    1. @Mark Coley – comment #38:
      Actually, the descent into hell (which is not part of the NC but is part of the AC) is one of my favorite reasons to recite the AC. The Eastern ikon of the Resurrection is actually a depiction of what in the West is called the Harrowing of Hell. The image of Christ as victor, trampling down Death by death, to redeem souls of the dead, is a very powerful one.

      One of my favorite depictions in a Roman church is from one of the main arches in the Basilica San Marco in Venice:

      http://05varvara.files.wordpress.com/2011/08/the-descent-into-hell-basilica-cattedrale-patriachale-di-san-marco-venezia-it-11th-c.jpg?w=1200&h=960

  29. It was that icon that sprung to my mind too, but I had always associated it with a descent to the place of the dead, which was not in my language the same as hell. The old AC used to speak of Jesus descending to the dead. Perhaps I erroneously read too much into this use of language. The community in Taizé used to speak a lot about this icon and they, probably to a large extent, have helped shape my understanding.

    1. @Mark Coley – comment #40:
      Actually, the old language of the AC in English spoke of his descent to hell. (The Latin: descendit ad inferna”. Inferna as understood by the Greek katatota means the underworld or netherworld. Before Christ defeated Death, all those held under Death were understood to be in hell in the sense of outside the fullness of God’s presence. So the reference to Hell in English does bespeak the sense of the magnitude of Christ’s victory in a way that merely saying he descended to the dead does not, but not without risk of misunderstanding.) “Descended to the dead” was an attempted re-write in the 1970s that never really took on; but maybe that’s what you originally learned (it was very new then, at least for Catholics) and so the older is new for you.

  30. Sounds about right. What the retranslation doesn’t take into account is that hell is commonly used in this day and age to mean the place God sends you if you don’t get into heaven. This concept has no place whatsoever in my Catholic understanding of a God whose call is unceasing, so why do we have to use language in a way that is so open to misinterpretation?

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