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Don’t use the creed in worship

Shema
A Jew recites the Shema

This is the seventh post in a series on the Creed.

The first is Apostles’ Creed.
The second is I believe in God.
The third is a source of the Apostles’ Creed.
The fourth is I believe in the Father.
The fifth is Handing over the Creed.
The sixth is I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son

Rev. Doug Chaplin and I have been having a useful discussion on his site (here and here). As part of that, he points out the location of the Creed in Eucharistic liturgies:

… [the book Doug is reviewing] treats [the Nicene Creed’s] position in the liturgy as though that reveals something essential about the Creed as response to the Word and anticipation of the prayers. Yet until recent decades the Anglican liturgy (he is an Anglican) had the sequence Gospel, Creed, Sermon and the Creed functioned more in the traditional role of the rule of faith, placing these particular Bible readings in the context of the catholic faith, that they might be properly interpreted. …

By the way if you want another position for the Creed, then the Liturgy of St John Chrysostom among others places it after the offertory, the peace and the exclusion of the catechumens, and immediately before the anaphora…

Doug, might I emphasise, warns against theology and history that appear too tidy. And I agree that I do not want to present a historical, liturgical, theological reconstruction that is too neat, without any grey areas and blurry edges.

But…

It seems to me that it is no accident that the structure of our Christian Eucharistic Prayer is that of the Jewish berakoth – that is its source. My suggestion is that the creedal dimensions of the Shema’s regular recitation, which the early followers of Jesus (and he himself) practised, are present in the earliest Christian developing of the berakoth meal prayer into the Eucharistic Prayer as we know it. I develop this in my study Offering Thanks.

Ie. the proclamation of the mighty acts of God in the Eucharistic Prayer, in many ways is our Christian Shema, is our creed:

…You are the source of all life and goodness;
through your eternal Word you have created all things from the beginning
and formed us in your own image; male and female you created us.

When we sinned and turned away
you called us back to yourself and gave your Son to share our human nature.
By his death on the cross,
he made the one perfect sacrifice for the sin of the world
and freed us from the bondage of sin.
You raised him to life triumphant over death;
you exalted him in glory.
In him you have made us a holy people
by sending upon us your holy and lifegiving Spirit…
[A fairly standard contemporary preface in the Eucharistic Prayer]

The Creed was not a liturgical element in the early church at all. The Eucharistic Prayer functioned as the Christian proclamation of the great acts of God, of our beliefs.

It is obviously not the case that the day that the Eucharistic Prayer ceased to be proclaimed aloud that the laity started to proclaim the Creed instead – such an oversimplification would fall into the very tidiness Doug is rightly eschewing. But it is, IMO, noticeable that as the Eucharistic Prayer became, more and more, a private prayer of the priest, the Creed, more and more, took over the role and understanding of being our Christian Shema.

This has consequences for our renewal of liturgy. Now that a renewed Eucharistic Prayer, once again, proclaims (aloud) the mighty acts of God, the need/requirement of regular recitation of the Creed might thin. Notice that the latest revision of the RC Church’s rite has abandoned the requirement that the Creed recited be the Nicene one!

The Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia abandoned the requirement to recite the Creed on Sundays in the 1984 revision.

The implicit understanding of the Creed as a Shema-type prayer gave birth in 1989 to “A Liturgical Affirmation” as an alternative. This looks more like the preface of a Eucharistic Prayer than an actual Creed – reinforcing my thesis:

You, O God, are supreme and holy.
You create our world and give us life.
Your purpose overarches everything we do.
You have always been with us.
You are God.

You, O God, are infinitely generous,
good beyond all measure.
You came to us before we came to you.
You have revealed and proved
your love for us in Jesus Christ,
who lived and died and rose again.
You are with us now.
You are God.

You, O God, are Holy Spirit.
You empower us to be your gospel in the world.
You reconcile and heal; you overcome death.

You are our God. We worship you.

[We are in desperate need of more history of our NZ liturgical material. If anyone knows who created this faux-creed-preface please let us know.]

The purpose of the Nicene Creed was to draw a strong line around the community, stressing who was in and who was out (historically with often brutal, unChristian consequences!). But in worship, the Creed (it is my contention) has taken on a Shema-like role, and become more of a prayer declaring the mighty acts of God. The creation of New Zealand’s Shema-like, faux-creed-preface, the so-called “A Liturgical Affirmation” (“You, O God, are supreme and holy…”) bears out my thesis.

Because we have no commentary, and no full history of New Zealand’s liturgical reforms, we have no idea why the Creed was made optional in 1984. Many of those who now omit the Creed do the right thing for the wrong reason.

Omit the Creed. And renew people’s understanding of the Eucharistic Prayer as the worshipping recitation of the mighty acts of God – the Christian Shema.

The Creed would still be used, of course, on Sundays when we baptise, or which are assigned when we verbally renew our baptism; when we ordain; and appropriately on such occasions as Trinity Sunday.

*****

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You can also read the history of The Anglican Eucharist in New Zealand 1814-1989.

UPDATE: A helpful blog post responding to this is here, with my response here.

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23 Responses to Don’t use the creed in worship

  1. I find myself to be of two minds. On the one hand, I am attracted to your thesis (and I like “A Liturgical Affirmation” very much). On the other hand, I have, in later years, become fond of our common recitation of the Nicene Creed on Sundays. I think it is the fact that I, and at least most around me, recite from memory. We fall into a rhythmic cadence and recite together without rushing. There is an intentionality about the recitation. We say the Nicene Creed is a formal aspect of our Sunday eucharist, the formal gathering of the ecclesia. Saying the creed is a statement as much about who and what we are as about who and what God is.

    • Thanks, Lou.

      There is so much in and under your points. Possibly most importantly, within the context of this thread, is my interpretation from what you write, that the gathered community is not experiencing the Eucharistic Prayer as your “statement as much about who and what we are as about who and what God is”. This emphasises my point: we need to work harder at renewing the experience of the Eucharistic Prayer.

      A priest who disagrees with my suggestion wants, nonetheless, to “sing [the Creed] rather than say it“. As far as I can see this merely reinforces the faux-Eucharistic-preface nature of the Creed.

      Blessings.

      • Thanks for your reply, Bosco. I am a “pew dweller.” (Well, that’s not accurate. I moderate our parish worship committee and am a licensed lay preacher in our diocese.) I don’t experience the eucharistic prayer as the type of proclamation you describe, and I am wondering to what to attribute that lack of experienced understanding. The words are good, but they are too often “read” rather than “prayed.” The big exception to that has been each Fall, when we use a eucharistic prayer from Iona which language is richly evocative, invitational, and affecting. It helps that our rector passionately loves that text. THAT eucharistic prayer IS prayed, and not just read. (I write this suspecting that I am not being fair to our clergy.)
        Lou

        • Very perceptive, Lou, thanks. And maybe worth its own post. The same is true in a drama production – the difference between merely saying (reciting) the words of a play and thinking them, making the words your own. So that can be learnt. Another aspect is that the congregation can experience it as the presider’s prayer – not theirs. I wonder if the collect, prayed by the presider in the name of all gathered, is similarly experienced. And if the gathered community is conscious of giving the presider permission to lead the Eucharistic Prayer in their name? Blessings.

          • …probably worth its own thread. yes.
            Once in a while the collect makes my heart leap and my mind sparkle. Most of the time, not so much. Ditto the things you said above. If you are interested, I will write to you about that Iona liturgy experience we have in our parish each Fall. It is about the only time I am aware of much feedback about the Sunday service, apart from comments about the sermon.

    • I very much agree with the statement as to “recite from memory” and “rythmic cadence” and “who and what we are”. However, when hearing the creeds I often try to hear it as a visitor would, as if hearing it for the first time. Then it sounds so un-inviting, so absolute, so much like putting a line in the sand.

      In the modern world it seems the creed may have an anti-evangelizing effect. It brings the community together at the expense that a wider community cannot identify with this creed-reciting community.

      • My work often has me visiting churches. Because I’m interested in what happens to us when we sing together, I’ve become interested in what I hear when we speak or recite together. The congregational voice I’m hearing when we say the Nicene Creed together is heavy on emphatic low notes in speech, close to monotone, and lacks color. It’s startling different from the voice I hear from the same congregation praying the Lord’s Prayer together. I started listening to both because I wondered about when, historically, unison speaking (rather than singing the text) became part of liturgy. Still haven’t figured that one out. But I think the two different voices tell us something about the feeling/affect of the congregation saying the creed. It’s hard to call it prayer.

        • What fascinating point, thanks, Donald. I share your interest in when unison speaking began. Maori chant the liturgy. Did they copy that off (some) Evangelical missionaries? Blessings.

  2. Hi Bosco, just a couple of thoughts.

    I appreciate the force of your main point, but I note Paul Bradshaw’s point that there are two Jewish prayer patterns available to the early Christians berakah and hodayah, blessing and giving thanks. This may relate to the different language of the various institution narratives with Matt / Mark going for blessing and Luke / Paul going for giving thanks. It is the verb of the latter pattern – hodeh – which is translated both confess (homologeo) and give thanks (eucharisteo).

    I wonder if that means we have to be less certain about the berakah origins, but at the same time, perhaps the hodayah pattern makes your argument more strongly about the creedal nature of the eucharistic prayer?

    • Thanks, Doug. And particularly for the spur to write this post. The berakah-hodayah discussion is an interesting one, but as you point out it does not affect my point about underscoring the Eucharistic Prayer as our community proclamation of the mighty acts of God. I suspect if you ask people, “When in the Eucharist does the community proclaim the might acts of God?” there would be many who would point to the recitation of the Creed rather than to the Eucharistic Prayer. This means we still have a long way to go in the renewal of our Eucharistic spirituality. Blessings.

  3. The American BCP 1979 still requires the Nicene Creed at the Eucharist on Sundays and holydays, but may be omitted at other times. BTW, what about the Te Deum being used as a proclamation of faith?

    • Thanks, Errol.

      There are, of course, revisions to BCP 1979 (eg. the lectionary, Enriching our Worship) and a process for revision and renewal.

      Are you suggesting using Te Deum at the point where you would currently recite the Creed? If so, why might you feel the need to do that? Does the Eucharistic Prayer not fulfil that need? Is the Te Deum not another quasi-preface (“To thee all Angels cry aloud :
      the Heavens, and all the Powers therein.
      To thee Cherubim and Seraphim :
      continually do cry,
      Holy, Holy, Holy :
      Lord God of Sabaoth;
      Heaven and earth are full of the Majesty :
      of thy glory.”)

      Blessings

  4. I came across your page some time ago and have followed it with interest. First let me tell you I am Catholic and I live in New York. The Nicene Creed is something that unites us as Christians. I like to think of this being said all over the world all day on Sundays by millions. It is our assent of faith. Saying this prayer is a place where we can all meet.

    • A good point, Kevin, thanks.

      To some degree.

      At the same time you must be very conscious that we in the West have altered the Creed, and the East has not – and this is a very sore point; and so our recitation of the Western variant of the Nicene Creed rubs in, week by week, our primary division in Christianity. The Roman Catholic Church, of course, has recently altered the Nicene Creed again – unilaterally within the West. Not to mention abandoning our agreed translation.

      Secondly, I notice you call it a prayer. To whom are you addressing this prayer? I would understand a prayer to be more in the form of, “We believe in you…” Your viewing it as a prayer reinforces my primary point that it is being treated as a prayer, in fact as a Shema-type prayer that is the purpose of the Eucharistic Prayer.

      It’s great to have your presence here.

      Blessings.

      • The Creed may indeed be redundant if there is a full Eucharistic Prayer used. There are other liturgical traditions that use the Sursum Corda, Preface, Sanctus and Verbum Domini only (i.e. some Lutherans), so the Creed supplies these deficiencies. Ecumenically, we are not all on the same page if the Creed is not used, albeit in different translations, with or without the Filioque.

        • Thanks Eerol. We appear in agreement on the Creed’s redundance. But I would need some convincing that a community’s reciting of the Creed makes up for deficiencies in a prayer said over bread and wine. Why?! Your last sentence is a negative, the reverse of which is not true. By reciting the Creed in different translations with and without the Filioque we are not suddenly ecumenically on the same page IMO. Blessings.

  5. In terms of the structure of the eucharist, I have never felt that the creed fits. The Liturgical Movement has urged us to remove the clutter so as to appreciate sleek structure. The creed’s current western position is a relic of dismissal of catechumens. The reformed position between the gospel and sermon made sense of anxieties about doctrinal purity. Neither of those rationales fit today. What would make sense would be to have the creed in the gathering rite as and establishing of the assembly of believers, or to have it before reception of the sacrament as a test. Yet neither of these are necessary or desirable. We have texts that more fittingly establish the assembly and prepare us for communion that are already in use. I don’t think we have to link this with use of Shema to make sense of the disconnect.

  6. This is so beautiful, Bosco! I mean the exquisite Eucharistic prayer alongside the lovely photo of the prayerful Jew – reciting the Schema, while shielding his face from the Power of the Divine, much as Jewish women cover their eyes after lighting candles to invoke the Sabbath.

    And the problems you note…

    The Creed: one more thing that “doesn’t work as it should”. (If there’s time, click my name for a blog on that topic.)

  7. Many years ago I sang in the choir at an Anglo-Catholic parish. The mass was almost completely chanted and this included the Nicene creed.
    Having come from a very low church background this was both a cultural shock and an exhilarating experience.

    In between then and now there’s been some dark times but the thing that kept popping up from time to time was the sung creed.

    I now use the sung creed (sans filoque – your point here is well made IMO) as my main introduction to private meditation (which I find as blurring lines between prayer/worship/introspection). In short it’s become more than simply an affirmation of belief.

    I find the tone and rhythm of the (merely) said creed to render it to be neither fish nor fowl when done within the liturgy. This is a great pity IMO.

  8. You outline a very interesting argument about the use of the creed in worship. I’m more than a little sympathetic to the notion of renewing the Eucharistic Prayer as the a center of our worship and a place for recalling and praising the great acts of God. But I also find something wanting. Do not the readings from the Old Testament (or Acts during Easter), the epistles, and the Gospels also proclaim the great deeds of God? What of proclamation in preaching and in song? I’m keen on renewal of a Eucharistic centered piety. but does such a renewal need to come at the expense of dividing the Eucharistic liturgy rather than seeing it as a whole? Certainly we don’t need to remove other proclamations of the great deeds of God, in indeed that’s what the recitation of the creed functions as, in order to put all of those eggs in one part of the basket.

    • Thanks, Mark. I certainly don’t want to “divide the Eucharistic liturgy rather than seeing it as a whole”. If your community is experiencing the Eucharistic Prayer as the community’s proclamation and thanksgiving for the mighty acts of God – that’s great. Do they? Blessings.

      • I think my community experiences the whole of our worship as our proclamation and thanksgiving for the might acts of God. The Eucharistic Prayer is as much a part of that as any other portion of our worship. But the challenge for me is why the Eucharistic Prayer would specifically be signaled out to carry this weight, even if the desire is to renew a Eucharistic piety, instead of infusing all of worship with this duty. I guess, it seems to me that the focus seems to diminish the proclamation and thanksgiving that is elsewhere in the worship, and makes the rest of worship prelude to the Eucharist, rather than an integral part of our celebration thereof. Thus the recitation of the creed doesn’t seem to me to be something to compete with or diminish the Eucharist Prayer as proclamation of the Eucharist, or interfering with a renewal of Eucharistic piety, but as something that is integral to the whole celebration of the Eucharist and the proclamation of the liturgy as an integrated whole.

        My main concern wouldn’t so much be the creed, but what focusing so much on the Eucharistic Prayer might do to the whole. For me fostering a Eucharistic piety means integrating the whole of the liturgy as the Eucharistic act. Perhaps this is particularly keen for me because I see the reading of the Word and its proclamation through preaching as something of a sacramental event in its own right, an encounter with the presence of God and his sure promise of grace. In that proclamation, Christ, who is the Word, is conveyed to us through words, being present in our midst through sound and speech, working in us and amongst us. In the Eucharist, we proclaim Christ in our eating and drinking, in which we encounter him present as his body and blood in, with, and under the bread and wine. Much like incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection can be understood as one Christ-event, so the liturgy would seem well understood one sacramental event. So it seems problematic to suppress recitation of the creed on the basis that it somehow competes with or diminishes the Eucharist Prayer as the central community proclamation of God’s great wonders.

        Or perhaps I’m misunderstood your point about the creed in relation to the Eucharistic Prayer.

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About This Site Welcome to this ecumenical website of resources and reflections on liturgy, spirituality, and worship for individuals and communities. It is run by Rev. Bosco Peters.

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