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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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