The Lenten creed

Friday, February 14, 2020 - Updated: 3:53 pm

By David Mills

We tend to say it as if we’re racing to say the alphabet as fast as we can. We smear the words together and don’t even think about what we’re saying. At least I do, when I’m saying the Nicene Creed during Mass. My mind wanders at the slightest excuse. I have to remember to pay attention when we stand to say the creed. If I don’t, I’m saying “Ibelieveingodthefatheralmightymaker,” but thinking about who knows what.

I lose out by doing that. The creed gives us the lyrics of a celebration, like the “Hallelujah Chorus” or even “Happy Birthday.” It puts the whole good news into a few words.

Some of the words are kind of academic, I admit. “Consubstantial,” for example, which not one of us ever uses in real life. It sounds nerdy. The things of God, being way beyond us, sometimes require unusual words.

Here’s a suggestion for a different kind of Lenten discipline. The church tells us to pray more during Lent. Say the creed with close attention. Say it not just as a statement of belief, but as a prayer and a hymn. You’re actually doing that anyway. On Sundays, we all say it as part of the whole long prayer that is the Mass.

Since you’re trying to say it with more attention, you should learn more about what you’re saying. I recommend doing two things.

First, read the section on the creed in the “Catechism of the Catholic Church.” It’s dry reading, but the easiest way to know exactly what the church says about all these things the creeds cover. It uses the shorter Apostles’ Creed, but talks about all the extras the Nicene Creed adds. Just search “vatican catholic catechism” to find the table of contents and click on “Section 1 I Believe.”

Second, read Catholic writer Ronald Knox’s “The Creed in Slow Motion.” There are a lot of good books on the creed, but I like this one because the writer treats the creed as good news. It collects sermons he gave to girls at a Catholic school, where he was chaplain during World War II.

It’s a little old-fashioned and you may think a little fussy, but it’s good. He drills down into the truths the creed declares and explains the thinking behind them. It’s not always easy reading, but he makes difficult ideas as easy as possible.

You could call Knox the Catholic C.S. Lewis. More Catholics know Lewis than know Knox. It would be truer to say that Lewis was the Protestant Knox. Knox began writing first, was just as smart and gifted as Lewis, and wrote out of the wealth of the Catholic Church’s wisdom when Lewis didn’t.

“I believe in God” may sound dull, he told the girls. Of course we believe in God. We wouldn’t be in church if we didn’t. Big whoop.

The news that God exists should excite you more than anything, Knox said. “It turns everything right round, makes everything fall into place, redresses the balance.”

How do those words do that? Knox explained: “What matters is no longer me, but God. He, not I, is the center of existence; his will matters, not mine; it is what he thinks about things, what he thinks about people, that makes the difference, not what I think about them; his glory, not my glory, is to be the thing I live for.”

When you stand up and say, “I believe in God,” you declare that someone has taken the weight off your shoulders. You don’t have to do everything, you don’t have to figure out everything or make everybody happy. That’s God’s job.

Those four words basically say what the first three steps of Alcoholics Anonymous’ famous 12 steps say. We can’t do what we should and want to do, a higher power will fix us, and we give our lives to it. AA gives the nonreligious version, and that’s a little vague. The creed gives us the full, direct, clear truth.

The rest of the creed tells us why, by telling us what God has done and is doing for us. Even nerd-words like “consubstantial” declare the good news. This Lent, you might work on praying the creed. I will be working on paying attention.


Mills is finishing a book titled “When Catholics Die,” to be published by Sophia Institute Press.

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