Sometimes when people are questioning whether to join the church or even participate regularly in worship, they bring up the creed. They usually mean the Nicene Creed which is a normal part of the Sunday celebration of Holy Communion. They say, “But I’m not sure I believe everything in the creed. How can I stand in church and say things I might not believe?” While I don’t try to argue people out of their questions or doubts, I do like to point out the importance of our saying the creed together.
In the Rite I order for Holy Eucharist (Book of Common Prayer, pages 326-237), the Nicene Creed is printed in two forms, one that uses a plural form (We believe) and one that uses a singular form (I believe). The Rite II order uses only the plural form. The singular form of the creed seems to have developed at some point in the early Middle Ages, when the people took a less active part in the Eucharist and the priest alone said the creed. Gradually, the first person singular form began to spread. Because people were used to this form, when prayer books began to be printed, they used the singular version. It was the 1979 Book of Common Prayer (which we currently use) that restored the early Church’s use of the plural and for this, I am very grateful.
I love the plural version of the creed because it means I’m covered. When my belief in a particular aspect of the faith is wavering, I can lean on another’s belief. If we only used the singular version, there are some days when I might be mumbling or keeping quiet. But with the plural version, I know that I am affirming the inherited and received faith of the Christian Church. Included in my affirmation is the accumulated mixture of diversity, argument, and difference of two thousand years. When we say the creed together, we cover one another, just like Christians have been doing since Jesus first called followers who believed, denied, questioned, and doubted—but through it all, have remained in relationship with Christ and his Body the Church.
At the High Mass this Sunday, the choir sings the Nicene Creed as a part of Mozart’s Coronation Mass. As we experience this unusual way of participating in the creed, may we continue to give thanks that it is through our doubts, our questions, and our beliefs that we encounter the risen Christ.