First Sunday of Lent

Sunday 5 March 2017

Dear Friends in Christ,

From today through Pentecost, we will be using the Apostles’ Creed at Mass instead of the Nicene Creed. This is a practice suggested by the Roman Missal because the text we call the Apostles’ Creed is so directly connected to the sacrament of Holy Baptism, the promises of which we renew every year on Easter Sunday.

The full title for what we call the Apostles’ Creed is the Baptismal Symbol of the Roman Church, and in this case the word “symbol” means the mark of Christian faith summarized in the creed. This text was not written by one of the Apostles, but it does accurately state the essentials of Christian faith as taught by the Apostles. In the early Church, many dioceses founded in the Age of the Apostles had their own local profession of faith that was used in the sacred liturgy during the Baptism of adult converts, and that is the origin of this Baptismal Symbol of the Roman Church. It is the ancient profession of faith used in the Diocese of Rome by those being baptized, and we still use this text in a question and answer format at every Baptism in the Roman Rite and during the renewal of our Baptismal Promises on Easter Sunday.

Because the 40 Days are a preparation for the worthy celebration of Easter and because the Mass of Easter Sunday always includes the renewal of our baptismal promises, a central purpose of Lent is brought into bright relief. All Christians live in the gap between who they are and who they should be, and who we should be is revealed by the grace of Holy Baptism in which we become children of God, members of Christ, and heirs of the Kingdom of Heaven. Striving to close that gap and live according to the dignity of our Baptism is the goal of the 40 Days of Fasting, Prayer, and Almsgiving, and closing that gap is first, last and always a work of grace rather than a mere exertion of our wills. Nevertheless, we are called to the obedience of faith — meaning that we must cooperate with God’s grace and strive to follow the Lord Jesus in the Way of the Cross, rejecting whatever is contrary to the Gospel.

The text of the Apostles’ Creed is found in the missalette on page 79 and it will be printed in our Mass booklet each week, and this is the Profession of Faith we will use at Mass in place of the Nicene Creed starting today and continuing through Pentecost Sunday. On the Day of Resurrection, the priest will introduce the Renewal of Baptismal Promises with words that can guide us through these 40 Days: “Dear Brethren, through the Paschal Mystery we have been buried with Christ in Baptism, so that we may walk with him in newness of life. And so, now that our Lenten observance is concluded, let us renew the promises of Holy Baptism, by which we once renounced Satan and his works and promised to serve God in the holy Catholic Church.”

Father Newman