By Tim O’Malley
Over the last two years — partly because of my involvement with Covenant — I have committed myself to praying the Divine Office from the Customary of Our Lady of Walsingham. As a Roman Catholic who has grown up praying the reformed Office of the Second Vatican Council, I have rediscovered the gift of Morning and Evening Prayer through a developing familiarity with the Anglican tradition. My initial awkwardness at praying the Office in the Customary has given way to a fruitful appropriation of a rich diet of Scriptures, especially the Gospels, a monastic approach to praying the Psalms in the course of a month, and a deeper appreciation of Archbishop Cranmer’s 16th century collects.
A surprising fruit of giving myself over to the Divine Office within the Ordinariate has been a deeper appreciation of the daily recitation of the Apostles’ Creed at Morning and Evening Prayer — a practice that was eliminated in the reformed Office of the Roman Church. I grew up praying this Creed primarily at the beginning of the Rosary. In this context, the Creed was often a precursor to a deeper meditation on the mysteries of Christ and the Church as enfleshed in his mother, the Virgin Mary. In the Rosary, it was the Salve Regina that captured my imagination, rather than this ancient baptismal formula.
But in the Divine Office, I have come to appreciate the Creed in a new way. In the midst of prayer, one moves immediately from the Benedictus or the Nunc Dimittis to a profession of faith. In the context of the Office, this profession of faith seems less like a catalogue of beliefs than an occasion to re-orient the Christian to his or her proper posture before God. We stand in prayer before God not primarily through our own efforts or worthiness. We pray before the Father through the Son because God has acted within a world that was created as gift, a world redeemed through the self-emptying love of the Son and his resurrection into glory. His ascent into heaven is not a departure but a deeper union with Christ who sends his Spirit upon us. Our posture of prayer is one of expectation as we await the final judgment of the world and the resurrection of the dead. And we desire this coming, this apocalypse of divine love, immersed in the Church catholic.
Through praying this Creed, we rediscover the union of dogma and prayer that has been largely separated in the modern age. It has become a common trope in Roman Catholic preaching and catechesis that devotion and mysticism are more important than doctrine. This false dichotomy has warped both doctrine and prayer. It presumes that doctrine has nothing to do with the mystical life, the manner in which we commune with the Word made flesh. Yet, the Creed interrupts this assumption showing to us that the doctrinal claims of the Church are the entrée into prayer. Likewise, prayer depends on the content of divine Revelation. Even in its most contemplative form, the doctrinal claims of the Church do not dissipate into thin air. Instead, we are led from contemplating the Incarnation through speech to enjoying—as much as we can in this life—union with God.
In this sense, there is no reason to choose between doctrine and mysticism, between creed and cult. For it is the various doctrines of the Creed, as contemplated in the Church’s prayer, that opens the Christian to a proper posture before God.
After all, in both Morning and Evening Prayer, we move from the Creed to the Our Father, assuming our identity as sons and daughters of God. Because God has created the world, redeemed the world, and sanctified the world through the Spirit, we can dare to speak the very words that our Savior spoke. We can assume our posture as those consecrated in Christ before the Father. It is the content of divine Revelation that enables us to pray before God aright. Our prayer is not simply our project, our spiritual discipline that we have taken up. Instead, it is a response to the God who first loved us.
Christianity without a Creed risks becoming an endorsement of works righteousness, of human effort at being a decent person. With the Creed, Christianity becomes a remembering of what has been accomplished through Christ.
It would behoove the Roman Rite to consider restoring the Creed in a reformed version of the Roman Daily Office. For the Creed functions as a kind of baptismal and Eucharistic remembering of why we pray in the first place. God has first loved us.
Dr. Timothy P. O’Malley is the academic director of the Notre Dame Center for Liturgy at the University of Notre Dame’s Institute for Church Life. He is also a professor in the Department of Theology at Notre Dame.