On certain days and feasts, the announcement of the good tidings of salvation is followed by the solemn profession of faith. When the Credo occurs, it forms the answer and the echo to the voice of God, who has spoken to us by His prophets and apostles, yea, by His own Son.—Monsignor Gihr
In this article we examine the Credo, presenting the work of Monsignor Nicholas Gihr in his fundamental liturgical commentary The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass: Dogmatically, Liturgically, and Ascetically Explained. Monsignor Gihr was a priest of Freiburg in Breisgau whose work of liturgical research took place during the time frame spanning the pontificates of Popes Pius IX to Pius XI, including that of Pope St. Pius X. The early years of his work were contemporaneous with the last years in the work of Dom Prosper Guéranger. (The English translation of his study appeared in 1902; the original is: Gihr, Nikolaus. Messopfer dogmatisch, liturgisch und aszetisch erklärt. Herder: Freiburg im Breisgau, 1877.)
There are a great number of ecclesiastical professions of faith or creeds. In Latin, a profession of faith is commonly called a credo or, more technically, a symbolum fidei. A symbolum is a mark, characteristic, or true sign by which a person may be recognized or be identified. By the profession of faith, the faithful are distinguished from heretics and unbelievers. The creeds briefly contain the principal points of all dogmas and hence they serve for the profession of the communion of faith with the Church.
The first in origin and the simplest is the Apostles’ Creed, which most probably is of strictly apostolic origin, and forms the basis of the others, as all later creeds are only a greater or less development and extension thereof. Next to the Apostles’ Creed (Symbolum Apostolorum), the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed (Symbolum Patrum), often called simply the Nicene Creed, holds the most prominent place. This Creed is called Nicene, because the definition of the first General Council of Nicea (325) regarding the divinity of the Son is therein almost literally recorded; it is called Constantinopolitan because, although not first arranged in this order by the Second Ecumenical Council of Constantinople (381), it was, however, there received and confirmed as Catholic.
The Nicene Creed is particularly suited for the solemn profession of the true Faith at divine worship due to the fact that not only the divinity of the Father, but also the divinity of the Son and of the Holy Ghost are so expressly and emphatically emphasized therein; this is mainly in opposition to the Arian and the Macedonian heresies, which chiefly occasioned its admission into the sacrificial liturgy of the East in the beginning of the 6th century. Toward the end of the 8th century, the same Creed was incorporated in the constituent portions of the Mass in France and Germany. Far more difficult is it to state the period when the Roman Church began to recite or to sing the Credo during Mass. According to the lucid and reliable information of the Abbot Berno of Reichenau (+1048), the general admission of the Credo into the Roman Mass seems to have taken place only at the commencement of the 11th century, and that, indeed, by Pope Benedict VIII at the instigation and request of the Emperor Henry II.
On the 14th of February, 1014, which fell that year on Sunday, Henry II was anointed and crowned Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire in St. Peter’s Basilica. During the High Mass at his coronation, the devout Emperor noticed that the Credo had not been sung, as was customary throughout Christendom; inquiring the cause, he was informed that the Roman Church, which had never departed from the Catholic Faith and had never been corrupted by heresy, had no necessity for such a profession of Faith. But the Emperor requested as a coronation gift to him and for the edification of the faithful, who from all parts of the world flocked to Rome, that the pope would prescribe the insertion of the profession of faith into the solemn High Mass, and the pope deemed it advisable to introduce into Rome a custom which henceforth for all times would be a testimony of the lively Faith of the holy Emperor and which, in consequence, would enkindle this ardor of Faith in thousands of hearts.
The Credo is chanted in a Sung Mass, while in the Low Mass it is recited in a loud voice (in contrast to sotto voce and secreto) so that all present may unite in heart and mind with the priest. At the first words, the hands of the priest are raised and extended; then, during its recitation, the hands remain joined before the breast: this devout attitude corresponds with the humble homage and the confiding abandonment of oneself to the absolute truth and veracity of God. The three different inclinations of the head at the words Deum, Jesum Christum, and simul adoratur, that is, at the confession of Faith in the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, express due reverence to the three divine Persons. The words: Et incarnatus est… are accompanied by a genuflection in order appropriately to revere and glorify the Incarnation, this mystery of God’s inconceivable condescension and self-emptying. At the last words (et vitam venturi saeculi), the priest makes the Sign of the Cross. It is evident how appropriate it is to conclude and seal the Credo with the Sign of the Cross, because the latter is not only a brief profession of our Faith, but also our shield and buckler against all the adversaries and dangers to our Faith.
While in the Greek the Symbol of Faith is placed after the Offertory, the Roman liturgy orders its recitation after the Gospel, and whereas in the East the Creed is a permanent, constituent part of every Mass celebrated, it occurs in the Roman liturgy only on certain days as a mark of special distinction. The Credo has assuredly the most suitable position in the make-up of the Roman liturgy for Mass. It makes no difference whether it be regarded as the end of the first or as the beginning of the second principal division of the Mass; it is in any case the most proper medium and connecting link between the two parts. As the blossom and fruit of the preceding scriptural readings it forms, on the one hand, the conclusion of the general divine service; but on the other hand, it is also the foundation-stone and the basis for the special sacrificial celebration about to begin, which is called in a special manner the “mystery of Faith” (mysterium fidei). Since, therefore, only certain Masses are distinguished and privileged above others by the solemn profession of Faith, the question remains to be answered, which were the reasons for admitting the Symbol into the sacrificial rite. As a rule, liturgists classify under three heads the principal reasons for the recitation of the Symbol, and these they designate by the words Mysterium, Doctrina, and Solemnitas.
The first principal reason lies in the mystery celebrated. The Credo is recited, namely, on certain days and feasts whose historical foundation or dogmatic subject is contained in the Symbol, that is, one of the mysteries expressly mentioned therein or at least acknowledged as therein included. Since the celebration of divine worship on such days is consecrated to the commemoration and to the honor of a special mystery of Faith, it is proper to confess this mystery by the solemn singing or the recitation aloud of the Credo. Among such days, we find, for example:
All Sundays. Sunday is sanctified by reason of many mysteries recited in the Symbol and is devoted to their commemoration. The celebration of Sunday is pre-eminently ordained to honor the triune God; this veneration is rendered to the Adorable Trinity not merely because of the infinite majesty and glory of the divine Persons, but also on account of the great works of their power and love for the salvation of men, not the least of which is the resurrection of the Lord. (2) The feasts of the Most Holy Trinity and Whitsunday, as well as the principal feasts of Jesus Christ and of His Blessed Mother Mary. In the Credo we proclaim the name and glory of the three divine Persons, who are therein expressly mentioned and confessed. In these mystical joys, sorrows and glories, the Blessed Mary, Virgin Mother of God, is inseparably connected and united with her Son; therefore, some special days are feasts of Mary as well as of Jesus. The Blessed Virgin is also praised by the Church as the Queen of Apostles and of Apostolic Doctors, as she who has destroyed all heresies. (3) The feasts of the holy angels. The reason is found in the mention made of them in the words “the invisible world” (invisibilium), by which the angels are understood. (4) The feast of all saints. The Credo on this day has for its reason the article of faith of “the one, holy, Catholic and apostolic Church,” whose triumphant, glorious members are the blessed in Heaven. (5) The celebration of the Dedication of a Church and its anniversary. This day also may be brought into relation with the above-mentioned article of the Symbol; for the material house of God is a figure of the Church Militant and Triumphant, of the kingdom of Christ on earth and in Heaven.
The second principal reason for the recitation of the Symbol is designated by the word doctrine. For this reason the honor of the Creed is bestowed upon the feasts of the apostles and evangelists. The Credo contains the doctrine taught by the apostles, and it mentions expressly as one of the four marks of the true Church that she is apostolic. The apostles introduced into the world the Church instituted by Christ and they spread it over the whole earth. They were the organs of the Holy Ghost and the infallible bearers of revelation; they announced all that Christ did and suffered for our salvation. By the hands of Evangelists the Holy Ghost Himself wrote down the history of redemption, the tidings of salvation of the kingdom of Christ, the doctrines and facts, the mysteries and means of grace of our Faith; these writings of the holy Gospels were handed over and entrusted to the Church as a precious treasure. To these feasts we also add the feast of St. Barnabas, the apostolic cooperator of St. Paul, and that of the Chair of St. Peter. In former times, the feasts of the Doctors of the Church were included, as well as that of St. Mary Magdalen, since the Magdalen, after the Mother of God, first beheld the Risen Savior and, as an eye-witness of His resurrection, she was sent by Him to the apostles as the first promulgator of the mystery of His resurrection.
The third reason for inserting the Credo in the ritual of the Mass is some special solemnity, that is, the profession of Faith is often sung or recited publicly to enhance the exterior splendor of the feast or Mass. According to this rule, the following feasts or Masses are entitled to the Creed: (1) The Patronal feasts, that is, the feast of the principal Patron of the church and of the place. The patron of a church, or titular, is that saint under whose invocation and in whose honor the church has been erected and dedicated. By the patron of the place, on the other hand, we understand that saint who is chosen as the special intercessor or protector of a parish, a diocese, a province or a kingdom and who is invoked, honored and celebrated as such. (2) The Mass of the feast of a saint in that church in which the body or at least a notable relic is preserved. As notable relics are considered, for example, the head, an arm or leg of a saint. (3) The solemn Votive Masses which, on general and important occasions, are celebrated by order or with permission of the bishop; only those which are sung on ordinary weekdays in purple vestments have no Credo. Thus, the Church has, according to well established principles, prescribed the Credo, as a special distinction of the feasts and days, only in such Masses whose character has a most intimate and close relation to the profession of Faith.
The profession of Faith, proclaimed so loudly and solemnly at the Holy Sacrifice, should always emanate from hearts replete with faith. And with what enthusiasm does the apostle describe the combats and victories of men of faith! In the 11th chapter of his epistle to the Hebrews he extolls how by faith they became heroes in the conflict; by faith subdued kingdoms, wrought justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire. Persecuted, oppressed, maltreated, they wandered in deserts, in mountains, in the caves and dens of the earth, of whom the world was not worthy; but, strong in faith, their spirit did not succumb.