There isn’t a single word in the Creed that is out of place or the result of mere chance.
When we recite the Creed at Sunday Mass, it’s easy to let the words flow through our mouths like the burble of a country stream. But if we pay attention, the truths we proclaim begin to seem more like a rushing waterfall. Each phrase of the Creed was fought over, thought about, and fine-tuned over the course of the first several centuries of the Church’s life. There isn’t a single word that is out of place or the result of mere chance.
When we allow our minds to savor the words we speak, there are startling insights that patiently await our attention. With the help of the Holy Spirit, who reminds us what Christ has taught and who helps us to understand the fullness of that truth, we can find always find deeper meaning in these words we speak.
Despite the laconic expression, these are fighting words.
One of my favorite lines from the Creed is about the Holy Spirit, when we claim that he “has spoken through the prophets.” Despite the laconic expression, these are fighting words. They’re a declaration that the Old Testament is still relevant for us, thousands of years after it was first revealed to the Jewish people.
In the early days of Christianity, there were some who rejected the value of these writings, thinking that the New Testament was all we needed. Some Christians today have a similar idea, perhaps hidden under a vague conception that the “God of the Old Testament” was kind of mean, but that Jesus is nice (even if a bit clichéd). But when we say that the Holy Spirit has spoken through the prophets, we remind ourselves that these ancient writings still have something to teach us, if we allow ourselves to be taught by the same Spirit who inspired them in the first place.
On the way to Emmaus, Jesus begins to teach the Church how to understand the Holy Spirit’s prophetic utterances:
“Oh, how foolish you are! How slow of heart to believe all that the prophets spoke!Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them what referred to him in all the scriptures (Lk 24:25-27).
After his Ascension, Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to the Church to continue this work of interpretation. The same Holy Spirit who spoke through the prophets also inspired the apostles and their companions to put Christ’s teaching into written form. But as the Gospel of John reminds us, it would be impossible to fully transcribe the depths of Christ’s revelation: “There are also many other things that Jesus did, but if these were to be described individually, I do not think the whole world would contain the books that would be written” (Jn 21:25).
One way that the Holy Spirit teaches us through the prophets today is through the liturgy of the Church. In the chants, prayers, and readings of the Mass, we continually encounter words and ideas from the Scriptures that draw us deeper into the mystery of Christ.
The Holy Spirit spoke these words through the prophetic Psalmist, and spoke them again by guiding the Church to choose them for the liturgy.
On Easter Sunday, for instance, the first words we hear at Mass are from one of the Psalms: “I have risen, and I am with you still.” The Holy Spirit spoke these words through the prophetic Psalmist, and spoke them again by guiding the Church to choose them for the liturgy. When we sing these words on Easter Sunday, the Holy Spirit’s inspiration continues to resound, helping us to understand this psalm as a prophecy of the resurrection of Christ. Through this prophetic word, we hear Jesus speaking to us in his own voice, assuring us not only that he has risen from the dead, but that he is still with us in the Eucharist.
Christians today do not expect any new prophecies: God has already revealed himself completely by speaking his Word, who is made flesh through the Holy Spirit. But we do expect, and are assured of, the continuing guidance and inspiration of the Holy Spirit in our attempts to enter into the mystery of God’s revelation. By participating in the Church’s liturgy, reading the scriptures, and spending time in personal prayer, we are continually being invited to receive the gift and guidance of the Holy Spirit.
Lord, send forth your Spirit—and renew the face of the earth!