Focus on the reality of the words

By | September 12, 2012

On the road to Caesarea Philippi, Jesus asked the disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” And after he heard their responses, he asked the more personal question, “But who do YOU say that I am?”

Each week at Mass we answer that question in various ways. We sing to or about Jesus. Our personal and communal prayers are addressed to the Father through Jesus. In the readings and homily we hear more about Jesus. In the act of worship in the midst of a believing community, we experience Jesus, in Holy Communion we physically receive Jesus, and we are sent out to live the faith and do what Jesus would do.

But we most directly respond to the question by expressing our personal faith and the community’s faith during the creed. With the revised Roman missal, we have two options: the Nicene Creed or the Apostles’ Creed.

The previous translation of the Nicene Creed began, “We believe in one God.” The Latin words are credo in unum Deo. While the literal translation of credo is “I believe,” the former translators used “we believe” to highlight the communal nature of the Mass.

The new translation uses “I believe,” which is the accurate rendering of the Latin. We still stand together as a community and profess one faith in one Lord and one baptism. It is our personal faith, but it is also the faith of the church. However, while we share a common faith, I can only express my belief and you can only express what you believe. We can’t speak for anyone else.

There are other wording changes with the new translation. We believe God is creator of all things “visible and invisible.” That’s close in meaning to “seen and unseen” but not exactly the same. My parents in Nevada are unseen by me, but they are not invisible.

Probably the most noticeable change is “consubstantial with the Father” because people don’t use that expression today. “Consubstantial” is closer to the Latin. Medieval Latin philosophers used the categories of substance and accidents to describe aspects of reality. The substance of the thing was its essence. The accidents were aspects that were tangential or not essential. So the substance of a person is body and soul, mind and will. The accidents are height, weight, hair or skin color, or nationality. Those things can vary but don’t change the essence of a person. So when we say Jesus is “consubstantial with the Father,” we profess that Jesus is God and shares the same essence or godliness as the Father.

This week as we pray the creed together, let’s pay attention to what it is we say about the Trinity and the church and our relationship with them, and take responsibility for the words we speak.

Sr. Rehrauer is the diocesan director of Evangelization, Living Justice and Worship.

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