Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Creed: Mouth Wide Open

When my brother and sisters and I were growing up, my parents always began dinner by asking us to hold hands and say together this short prayer: "Bless us, O Lord, and these thy gifts which we are about to receive from thy bounty through Christ our Lord. Amen."

After doing it for a while, at some point we didn't even listen to the words; we just opened our mouths and out they came. Like human pez dispensers.

And it turned out the same was true for our parents, at least a little. I can remember being away from home for a while and then coming back for a vacation, and realizing someone in my family was so "in the zone" when they said the blessing they really only said about every other syllable. "Bless Lord these gifts bout ceive bounty Christ Lord Amen." And they didn't even know it.

For as much listening as the congregation does during Mass, even so there are a couple prayers so familiar that they are easily overlooked. I can't tell you how many times I've said the Our Father during daily Mass only to wonder when it's over, wait, did we just do it, or is it still to come? For some reason I was distracted...

And then there's the Creed -- a longish text with some pretty abstract language and difficult concepts. What exactly does it mean to say that Jesus is "eternally begotten from the Father", for instance? Or to say he was "begotten, not made"? Or to say he's "true God from true God"?

Plus, it's not a prayer. Maybe that doesn't seem like that big a deal, but if you think about it, a prayer immediately establishes a relationship. We're talking to God. It's personal.

A profession isn't like that. It's not a direct address to God. It's not the language of personal relationships at all, but something more formal, veering toward the contractual. The Creed presents the fundamental tenets of the faith, the things you have to agree to in order to consider yourself a Catholic. In stating them aloud, we affirm that yes, we have accepted these principles. We're on board.

You know when you're watching a foreign film and the speaker goes on a very long time, and then the translation comes up and it's something really short, like "Indeed"? There's a way in which the Creed is like that -- it's a very very long way of saying "Amen" (which literally means, "so be it" or "truly" -- in other words, "I believe").

So why do it? (And more importantly -- why is it TOTALLY AWESOME?) More tomorrow.

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