Praying the Creed

Q. Could you tell if I am correct in assuming that the Nicene Creed is the norm for use in the Mass and the Apostles’ Creed is an occasional alternative?

The importance of the Nicene Creed in the history of the Church would be diminished if the Apostles’ Creed could be regularly used in its place at Mass. It has far more significance because [a] It was the conclusion that was achieved from the Councils of Nicea (325) and Constantinople (381) as an answer to Arianism and the multitude of creeds that were floating around at the time, [b] it has been the creed used for some centuries in the Mass, and [c] it is the basis of the first of the four parts of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Besides all of that, the Nicene Creed is a beautiful statement of our faith.

A. The answer to this and similar questions about the choice of texts for Mass are found in the rubrics in the Missal and/or the General Instruction of the Roman Missal.

At the top of p 563 of the Missal it says:

19. Instead of the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed, especially during Lent and Easter Time, the baptismal Symbol of the Roman Church, known as the Apostles’ Creed, may be used.

In other words, either creed may be used - but only these, because the creed must express the belief of the whole Church and not of any individual or community.

As its description in the Missal as “the baptismal Symbol of the Roman Church“ suggests , the Apostles’ Creed is basically the official baptismal creed of the Church of Rome from the end of the second century.

What we call the “Nicene” Creed is actually not the creed from the Council of Nicea in the year 325, but a summary of the faith expressed by that council and the Councils of Constantinople in 381 and Chalcedon in 451. Its proper title is really the “Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed”.

The creed was first used only in the celebration of baptism and was later added to the prayers of the daily office. The fact that it did not become part of the Roman Mass until the eleventh century reflects its importance in relation to other elements of the celebration.

Certainly the Nicene Creed is a beautiful statement of our faith, as you say, but that does not mean we need to recite it every Sunday. In the scheme of things, it matters little which version we use at Mass as long as we stick to one and give people a chance to learn it and be able to say it by heart. Chopping and changing is confusing unless the texts are supplied.

The important thing to keep in mind is that Mass is not catechesis but worship. Proclaiming the creed is not about reciting a long list of what we believe but rather a vibrant, life-filled glorification of God, and of God’s love for us.  Its structure, its every word, is a proclamation of God’s goodness.

As a communal prayer, the profession of faith is said as one voice by all the people. It needs to have a certain pace and rhythm to be an effective communal statement. Like singers in a choir, members of the assembly need to listen to each other and keep together when proclaiming the creed and other communal prayers.


Elizabeth Harrington