Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum
Q: Could you tell me why, in our profession of faith and creed, we don't profess
our belief in the Real Presence of the body and blood of Jesus Christ in the
Eucharist? -- D.K., Norwalk, Connecticut
A: The reasons are above all historical but also involve the purpose of the
From a historical perspective the creed as we know it was first sketched out at
the Councils of Nicaea (325) and Constantinople (381) although in its developed
form it first appears in the acts of the Council of Chalcedon (451).
This creed was probably based on a baptismal profession of faith and
encapsulated what were perceived as the essential tenets of the faith.
Above all it was a response to Arian and other heresies and defended the
doctrine of the Trinity and Christ's true humanity and divinity. It was never
intended to be an exhaustive exposition of every aspect of the faith.
Since it was necessary to defend the very foundations of the faith, such
questions as the nature of the Eucharist were simply not on the theological
horizon and would not be for several centuries more.
Also, during this early period, the fullness of Eucharistic doctrine was often
explained only after baptism -- thus only after the new Christian had publicly
recited the creed.
The practice of reciting the creed at Mass is attributed to Patriarch Timothy of
Constantinople (511-517), and the initiative was copied in other churches under
Byzantine influence, including that part of Spain which was under the empire at
About 568, the Byzantine emperor Justinian ordered the creed recited at every
Mass within his dominions. Twenty years later (589) the Visigoth king of Spain
Reccared renounced the Arian heresy in favor of Catholicism and ordered the
creed said at every Mass.
About two centuries later we find the practice of reciting the creed in France
and the custom spread slowly to other parts of Northern Europe.
Finally, when in 1114, Emperor Henry II came to Rome for his coronation as Holy
Roman Emperor, he was surprised that they did not recite the creed. He was told
that since Rome had never erred in matters of faith there was no need for the
Romans to proclaim it at Mass. However, it was included in deference to the
emperor and has pretty much remained ever since, albeit not at every Mass but
only on Sundays and on certain feasts.
Eastern and Western Christians use the same creed except that the Latin version
adds the expression "filioque" (and the Son) to the article regarding the
procession of the Holy Spirit, a difference that has given rise to endless and
highly complex theological discussions.
In spite of this difference, there is a common understanding among all
Christians that the creed should be left as it is and that neither the creed,
nor indeed the Mass itself, is a suitable place to give technical expression to
every tenet of the faith.
On another level, however, the entire Mass is itself a profession of faith. It
is the living faith celebrated and heralded in a great and sublime act of
worship that is converted into a faith that imbues every aspect of daily
Even though there is no explicit mention of the real presence in the creed,
Catholics proclaim their Eucharistic faith through almost every word and gesture
at Mass and especially by their Amen at the end of the Eucharistic Prayer and
when receiving Communion.
In a similar fashion they liturgically express their faith in other dogmas not
contained in the creed. Going to Mass for the feasts of the Immaculate
Conception and Assumption also proclaims our faith in these doctrines.
Going to confession or receiving the sacrament of the sick affirms our faith in
the sacramental system itself and our belief that Christ has granted the Church
power to forgive sins.
In short, every act of liturgical worship is, by its very nature, also a
proclamation of faith.