Sense and Nonsense: Mass and Creed

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On walking by two Catholic churches, I noticed something odd: One has “Daily Worship” and the other has “Mass.” This diversity of wording made me curious. St. Matthew’s Cathedral and the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., both have “Masses.” I looked in the phone book under “churches.” Anglican churches have “Holy Eucharist.” The Ukrainian Catholic Church has “Divine Liturgy.” Most of the Protestant churches have “Worship.” Such variation is not, I think, without theological import.

Worship is the kind of honor we give to God; its direction is from man to God. Saying the rosary would be worship in this sense, as would taking off our shoes on entering a mosque. Protestant churches that do not have the Eucharist “worship.”

Though the word “Mass” seems to come from the closing Latin phrase “Ite, Missa est,” by custom it refers to a particular and exact manner of offering objective honor to God, a manner not conceived primarily by human beings. The main direction of this event is from God to man. Mass does not refer to our subjective feelings or emotions but to that rite that is the memorial of Christ’s sacrifice, a memorial viewed through the Last Supper but making present Christ’s one sacrifice.

In Liturgiam Authenticam, the 2001 Vatican document on liturgical translations, we read, “The words of sacred Scripture, as well as other words spoken in liturgical celebrations, especially in the celebration of the sacraments, are not intended primarily to be a sort of mirror of the interior dispositions of the faithful; rather, they express truths that transcend the limits of time and space.” Revelation means that the ancient longing of mankind to worship the true God in the right way is met by God Himself in a way that no human being could have foretold.


Msgr. Robert Sokolowski writes in his Eucharistic Presence (1994):

We as a group of Christians at worship, we as addressing the Father, living in our own present time and place, scattered into countless celebrations of the Eucharist all over the earth, “we” are now all brought together in the single time, place, and perspective from which Jesus, at the Passover he celebrated with his disciples, anticipates his own sacrificial death. The one event on Calvary that we commemorate and reenact was first anticipated, before it occurred, by Jesus. It was anticipated and accepted by him as the will of the Father.

The Mass is not a drama or a stage or a performance. What goes on at Mass does “transcend the limits of time and space.”

The Church still requires us to “keep holy the Sabbath day,” by which it means, above all, that we need to attend Mass. Catholics have a right to know that the Mass they attend follows exactly the norms of the Church both in manner and in understanding. The priest or bishop does not and cannot “make up” what the Mass is. They are subject to the rules, like anyone else.

Another striking feature of Liturgiam Authenticam is its comment about reciting the creed at Sunday Mass. I refer to this passage because the last time I concelebrated a parish Mass on a solemnity, the priest did not see fit to lead his church in saying the creed. The General Instruction of the Roman Missal states: “Recitation of the profession of faith [the creed] by the priest together with the people is obligatory on Sundays and solemnities.” Nothing could be clearer.

“The Creed is to be translated according to the precise wording that the tradition of the Latin Church has bestowed upon it,” Liturgiam Authenticam reads, “including the use of the first person singular, by which is clearly made manifest that ‘the confession of faith is handed down in the Creed, as it were, as coming from the person of the whole Church, united by means of the faith.’ ”

I have a missal with Latin on one side and English on the other. For the creed, the Latin says, “Credo in unum Deum….” The English says, “We believe in one God….” Any difference? If I say, “I believe,” it means that I explicitly affirm in my soul and in public these truths of the faith. If, however, I say “We believe,” it might mean merely that I understand that this is the teaching of the Church whether I affirm it or not. I suspect that this ambiguity lies behind the insistence on the proper translation of the simple word credo—”I believe.” The Mass and the creed—both “truths that transcend the limits of time and space.”

Fr. James V. Schall


The Rev. James V. Schall, SJ, (1928-2019) taught government at the University of San Francisco and Georgetown University until his retirement in 2012. Besides being a regular Crisis columnist since 1983, Fr. Schall wrote nearly 50 books and countless articles for magazines and newspapers.

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