“The Great Comma”
I am currently reading Richard Rohr’s new book, The Universal Christ. A friend gave it to me after we were talking about the historical Jesus and the Cosmic Christ. I concluded that I definitely need to gain a greater understanding and appreciation of the Cosmic Christ. That’s exactly what Rohr’s book focuses on.
Even before I began to read it, I was impressed by the diversity of individuals who wrote testimonials for the book. Melinda Gates said, “Anyone who strives to put their faith into action will find encouragement and inspiration in these pages.” Timothy Shriver (Chairman of the Special Olympics; son of Sargent and Eunice Kennedy Shriver) wrote, “This book will change religion and make it tender and gentle and transformational.” And even Bono said, “I cannot put this book down.”
The book explores what it means that Jesus was called Christ. According to Rohr, the word is not simply Jesus’ last name. As the book’s cover says, reclaiming Jesus as Christ “can restore hope and meaning to our lives.” I am not going to summarize the entire book here. After all, I’m not even halfway through it. But let me share a few of Rohr’s thoughts from the section he calls “The Great Comma.”
When we recite the Apostles’ Creed, we say these words: … born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate… Rohr asks, “Have you ever noticed the huge leap the creed makes between” those two phrases? A “single comma connects them.” Falling into that “yawning gap… is everything Jesus said and did between his birth and his death!” Called the “Great Comma,” that gap raises some interesting questions. Was Jesus’ birth and death the only things that mattered. Did his life and teachings not count for very much?
Rohr notes some of the other glaring omissions in this formal early declaration of our beliefs. He says, “The Apostles’ Creed does not once mention love, service, hope, the ‘least of the brothers and sisters,’ or even forgiveness—anything, actually, that is remotely actionable.” He concludes, “It’s a vision and philosophy statement with no mission statement.” The Creed emphasizes theory and theology, says Rohr, with no emphasis on praxis.
How did the Creed come to be this way? Rohr gives some trivia from Church history to suggest one influence. The first seven Councils of the Church, agreed upon by both the East and the West, “were all either convened or presided over by emperors.” (I didn’t know that, did you?) Says Rohr, “Emperors and governments do not tend to be interested in an ethic of love, or service, or non-violence (God forbid!), and surely not forgiveness unless it somehow helps them stay in power.” No, it serves emperors and governments better “to have a disembodied Christ without any truly human Jesus.”
But if we look at what Jesus taught, we see he showed that “doing is more important than saying.” Isn’t this the message of Jesus’ parable of the two sons in Mt. 21:28-31? One son says he won’t work in the vineyard, but he does. The other says he will work in the vineyard, but he doesn’t. Jesus tells his followers he prefers the son who actually goes and does what his father requested–over the one who says the right words but doesn’t act.
For me personally, reciting the Creed at Mass doesn’t move me like some other parts of the Mass might do—for example, some of the hymns, or the homily, or the offertory petitions, or reciting the Our Father together, or simply watching people going up for Communion. Maybe that’s because the Creed is not a prayer. It is not addressed to God. It is a Declaration of Religious Truths. Secondly, in the Creed there is very little of the flesh-and-blood-Jesus of Nazareth. Rohr makes it clear that he is not saying that Creeds are insignificant. On the contrary, he calls them “important documents of theological summary and history.” But he raises the question: Are they guides and inspiration for peoples’ lives?
I would be interested in knowing what you think or feel about all of this:
Do you find the recitation of one of the Creeds at Sunday Mass to be important and/or a moving experience for you?
Are the Creeds “guides and inspiration” for your life?
How does your congregation recite the Creed—meaningfully or hurriedly or somewhere in between?
I mentioned a few parts of the Mass that sometimes touch my heart and provide inspiration for me. Are there any parts of the Mass that often provide inspiration for you to live your faith on a daily basis?
PS: Just a reminder that I’m facilitating a retreat this week for the Pittsburgh Benedictine Sisters. I ask for your prayers for this retreat—and I will ask these sisters to pray for all the readers of “Sunflower Seeds.” Thank you!
I searched the web for the Apostles’ Creed set to music. I found quite a few versions, but many of them I didn’t care for. But this version by Hillsong Worship appealed to me the most. The words are not exact. In fact, this version of the Creed actually addresses God and Jesus; for example, it says, “I believe in You…” Thus, this creed has been turned into a prayer. Let me know what you think of this version of the Creed as a hymn.
I welcome your comments below—especially hoping some of you will share a few of your answers to the questions posed at the end of the reflection. Thank you very much!
Ricard Rohr is one of my favorites! I have listened to his podcasts on The Universal Christ…as well as many other podcasts from the CAC.
I too find some parts of the Mass more meaningful than the creed.
Usually the songs, hymns, singing and/or instrumental music inspire and touch me. At tines the homily does as well.
The creed seems like a kind of rote recitation….I seldom give it much thought, though upon occasion I pay more attention to the words and their meaning especially if there is a non Catholic attending the Mass with me.
Good morning, Sr. Melannie…
Good morning, all…
Of the two Creeds, I prefer the Apostles’ Creed over the Nicene Creed for two reasons: One, the Apostles’ Creed doesn’t include the Latinate words, consubstantial and incarnate. I suppose those words are more linguistically accurate, but I just think “one in being” and “born of” were a lot more understandable. And then there’s the “for us men and our salvation” line in the Nicen Creed. My wife and I refuse to include “men” when reciting it. And, yes, I know “men” has long been regarded as gender inclusive, but, come on fellas, read the room!
For me the holiest part of Mass is when the presider raises the host and the cup (okay, chalice) at the consecration. It is during those acts that I raise my petitions to the Universal Christ!
I don’t find the creed particularly meaningful. I have fallen into “mindlessly reciting it“ along with everyone else. One part of the Mass that his most bothersome to me is before communion when we say “Lord I am not worthy…”. Why does our church impose on us that we are unworthy creatures? And since God loves us so much, it seems that would be heartbreaking to him that his children would see themselves (ourselves ) as unworthy of him. If I had small children and they thought themselves unworthy of me and my love, I would find that heartbreaking.
I change the words to ” Lord, I am worthy to receive you because You have said the word and I have been healed.” Changing the tenses of the verbs to declare that we are already made worthy makes all the difference.
That is a wonderful way to pray in response… thank you!
I say God’s holy food for God’s holy people
I discovered your thoughts today after reading your july 2 reflection in the Give us this Day today so I googled you. I never thought about the creed more than rote and ritual but lately as I say it at Mass I try to emphasize the I in “I believe. It helps to remind me how grateful I am to be at this Mass and this opportunity to cebrate
Thank you once again Melanie for a thoughtful reflection this morning. I know many folks who love Richard Rohr’s writing, but I have to admit I like your writing more than his (not that it’s a contest!).
The part of your thoughts that resonated with me today was what we do is more important that what we say. It reminds me of the phrase “actions speak louder than words.” Many people have good intentions, but it’s what they “do” that really demonstrates what’s important in their lives. Have a great day everyone
I agree with Rohr and your comments. At that point of the mass, it becomes like “rote.” Even dry. I feel like I’m in a catechism or dogma class. And in addition, I do not appreciate vocabulary that is hardly understandable and not used in any daily way in as much as it probably is the most accurate canon-wise. In addition it is sexist in language albeit “men/man” is supposed to be considered (at least by the church) as gender inclusive. It is definitely not a guide or source of inspiration for me.
We have a time of reflection before mass when persons share their thoughts on the day’s readings (usually on the gospel). I get my inspiration from that sharing and usually from the homily.
I thought the first two Councils were in Jerusalem not convened by an emperor.
Steve, I believe Rohr is referring to the 21 Ecumenical Councils in the Catholic Church recognized by both Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholics–the first being the first Council of Nicaea in 325. But you are right to call our attention to those important earlier “councils” (meetings) in our faith history. Thank you for your insight! Sr. Melannie
I’ve always liked the Gloria in Excelsis. I have the 1970 version memorized. And I like the Third Eucharistic Prayer as well.
I’ve encountered a prayer based on the Trisagion (Thrice-Holy) of Eastern Orthodoxy, a prayer by an Episcopal deacon that I find rather lovely. See Women’s Uncommon Prayers (Morehouse Publishing, 2000), p. 324 for the original version by Rev. Judith Ain. What follows is my adaptation:
Holy God, Holy Radiance, Holy Undying:
Have mercy on us.
Holy God, Holy Compassion, Holy Abundance:
Be mercy in us.
Holy God, Holy Grace, Holy Beauty:
Spread mercy through us.
If I believe in this Creed; then I am bound to learn what I must do.
Joyce, You make a good point. Believing can lead to doing. At the same time, doing can lead to believing… I think it was C.S. Lewis who speaks of “holy pretense.” He suggests we pretend we’re kinder than we are or more courageous or more thoughtful than we are. This pretense can actually help us to grow into really becoming who we are (at first) pretending we are… Thanks for your response! Sr. Melannie
Thank you for creating a new interest for me. Rohr’s work was hard for me to get into, But, now I am really interested in this work. LOVE.
The older I become, the less I believe, but deeper my faith.
Richard Rohr is a wonderful teacher. His insights are enlightening. I get his daily message which starts my day with good thinking. Thanks for sharing your insights. I appreciate them. The I Believe by Hillsong Worship is a great way to start my day. Thanks for your many good music selections each posting!
For me, the glorifying words of the Eucharistic Prayers, especially #I, with its nod to many of our holy saints and witnesses of our faith, are truly inspirational.
With that said though, the mass prayer I find most moving comes on the heels of our recitation of The Our Father. The celebrant prays to…”grant peace in our days, that, by the help of your mercy, we may be always free from sin and safe from all distress…”
This prayer awes me and strikes anew each and every time I hear it. How amazing that we, who live in the human condition, are given an invitation to consider the possibility to be “free from sin and safe from all distress.” Yet all is possible through God’s Mercy! It is possible to defeat our temptations and trust in Divine Mercy no matter what.
God bless all.
I value the Apostles Creed and recite it as articulately as I can not only as Mass but in times of doubt.. For me, it defines what I stand for as a member of the Catholic Church. It is not inspirational but gives me strength and is a reminder of why I belong to this flawed institution. It is not about Christ, per se, but about why I choose to be a Catholic: all are one, universally connected, in union with both the living and the dead, saints and sinners, fragile yet forgiven and someday, I hope to be united with the ALL. So be it!
We read Rohr every morning, plus up until COVID we went to church 2 or 3 times a week. When COVID hit our church closed. The bishops said don’t go to church. Now up till then I was told if I didn’t go to church on Sunday it was a mortal sin. Well, we found a church online that had a really great mass with a really great priest. Now I really missed the Eucharist but with the help of this priest I was able to get along. One of the things that drew me to this mass was that they used the apostles creed. I loved it. Now that we can go back to our church I can again receive communion again. But I still watch my other mass every weekend. I also no longer feel obligated to Sunday mass. Although I don’t miss going to communion at least once a week if not more.
My husband and I are both Richard Rohr fans. He reads (and we discuss) his daily meditations each morning while I swim. We have read several of his books, starting with “Falling Upwards” and last fall read and discussed “The Divine Dance” in our Zoom Book Club. The “Universal Christ” is definitely on our list.
We both prefer “The Apostle’s Creed” to the “Nicene Creed” which just feels too stilted and not at all like a prayer. We – and most people I believe – just recite it without thinking about what it even means. I doubt many actually pray it.
My favorite part of attending Mass in person is receiving the Eucharist. I can actually do everything else by watching on line which we do every week. I find that I pay more attention and pray better in the privacy of our home. Over this past year, we have been able to choose a parish as our second home that is over an hour away called Our Lady of Lourdes – Daytona Beach. We have known and loved Fr. Phil Egitto for over 30 years but only on occasion have been able to be part of his congregation. His emphasis is on Social Justice and the fact that “Everyone is Welcome” and that means everyone! He starts each Liturgy by opening the door to the church and inviting everyone in. My husband really likes the way he breaks the host into a form that resembles the Star of David. His homilies are teachings and tie the readings into action. (A recent one lasted 31 minutes!)
Covid has taught us that man made rules are not necessarily God’s rules and that our weekly mass does not actually have to be on Sunday. Our current spiritual life is more satisfying than it has ever been.
Intersting and new way for me to see the Creed. I am always inspired when I say the Creed — I really think about WHAT I do believe and what that means to my life. But, I agree it’s not the most inspirational part of Mass. I try to do that same thinking as the words of Consecration happen and the priest lifts the bread and cup for us. What does THAT mean – to me and to the Church/world. And of course, the music can be particularly inspirational (or not!) — good music enhances the Mass experience for me. When music is less than I hope for, I feel cheated somehow. It’s disappointing (just had this happen last weekend). So, the total experience is what is “the perfect world” — but examining the Creed this way fills in some gaps too. Thank you for sharing about the book.
THE UNIVERSAL CHRIST is one of my favorite books, with dozens of post-it notes in it for everything I feel needs emphasis and allows me to re-read or find parts especially important in a discussion.
The creed is important to me because it embodies everything and all we need to know to believe and to understand what Christianity is (to me, all else is window dressing to help each of us further define and use our faith in our own person relationship to God) and every point that I would make if asked what Christianity means to me. So the memorized repetition is helpful weekly as a reminder and enforcer of the words so that i do not need book or paper to remember them. The Eucharist is always #1 in importance.
I recite the Apostle’s Creed as a declaration, a reaffirming with my brothers and sisters in community as a Disciple. I actually like reciting it, although I do not use the word men, I use us and the word human. It re affirms the Word of God which teaches us and we go forward in grace inspired by the Holy Spirit, individually, to act what we have spoken that we believe with integrity and grace.
I so appreciate each of your SUNFLOWER PETALS! The creed for me also is anther response I have memorized, yet I do love proclaiming our beliefs. I also refer back to it when I am teaching my sixth graders about death…”the resurrection of the body and life everlasting.”
The Our Father has become one of my favorite parts of the Mass ever since I was preparing to go to Uganda. It helped me through stages of homesickness. I knew that
Mass was going on somewhere in the world all the time, so I would reflect that I was holding hands with all believers (which included family and friends who were SO FAR AWAY)!
Thank you for your response, Jane! I especially appreciated your comments about reciting the Our Father at Mass and how it eased your homesickness when you were ministering in Uganda… READERS: Sister Jane is one of our SND’s now in California who helped start a large elementary school in Buseesa, Uganda. I had the privilege of visiting there and I was SO impressed by the beautiful work our sisters and lay women and men were doing there for hundreds of children and their families! Sr. Melannie
As usual, I find all of your insights valuable and offer a chance to re-examine things.ie, the Creed.
I too prefer the Apostles Creed and it’s a necessary part but hard to stay awake to the meaning.
The Consecration and the Eucharist are the most meaningful for me. During Covid, I really missed receiving Jesus.
I too am a follower of Richard Rohr and reading the Universal Christ which for me is an opening to Love and Oneness.
Thank you for your work and may God continue to Bless You!!
Personally, I would rather say the “Glory to God in the highest” instead of singing it. Sometimes it sounds like everyone is still sleeping and is draggy….. when saying it, i can concentrate on the words more.
The book sounds so interesting.
Saying the creed at mass is more like a check-off list for me, rather than a prayer. I also wondered why more of Jesus’s life was not mentioned – the comma.
The readings and homily are what sets my mind on how to live my life. The consecration and communion – especially the words – I am not worthy that you should come under my roof – fill me with gratitude and humility that I can participate in this mystery. I sing in our choir. Hymns have always inspired me and filled me with joy.
I find Richard Rohr’s writings meaningful and understandable. I will get this book. “Sunflower seeds” always holds a special message for me. I have participated in one of your retreats but find my life too busy now. That is telling in itself. As I write this, I find myself wondering if my priorities are straight! Perhaps a change is due.
Thank you for this wonderful weekly blog. It is a breath of fresh air!
THANK YOU, as always, Sister, for your inspirational thoughts.
First, regarding the parts of the mass that move me:As a music minister, certainly everything we sing is especially meaningful. Also, the “source and summit” of the mass, the eucharist, is the exactly that for me. So often I feel the presence of God after receiving, and am so deeply grateful to feel Him and His presence.
Secondly, I love saying the creed and find it a true “profession of faith”. Not only do I profess it at mass, but often when I am taking my daily walks, I profess it aloud, and find tremendous meaning in digging into it. I prefer the Nicene Creed, since it has more detail; e.g., “Light from Light, True God from True God”, and covers all aspects of what we believe as Christians.
God bless you and all the work you do!
Thank you for your helpful comments on the Rohr book. I agee with the reader who prefers the Apostle’s creed and for the same reason. Though the creed is an essential part of our faith, we live our faith by living the words of Jesus. So I look forward to the Gospel and the homily and especially communion, which allows me to participate with the community in opening my heart to the life giving love of the Spirit.
When I was about 6 years old the Red Cross shipped me from Austria to Italy because Italy , as a winner in WW2 received food aid and Austria did not. To qualify you had to be undernourished and the oldest child in your family?
Maria &Elda Scrivanich took me in and for a full year educated and healed me. Maria was a medical doctor, rare profession fir a women in 1946 Trieste /Italy and very devout. She took me to mass at St Anthony nuovo and taught me to pay special attention when the priest elevated the host and simply pray: signor mio e dio mio. (The exclamation of the doubting Thomas) she also was the person who furst taught me the rosary ,,which we would pray whenever we took a trip into to country and finally helped me recite evening prayers.
This is a long way to describe how I became a person of faith/hope & ❤️ …….he creed is fine but cold.
Just remembering how the moment the priest elevates the host I was taught to pray : my lord and my god ……to thus day that’s the moment I feel closest to God.
Thank, Sr. Melannie! I think this makes a beautiful hymn for the Creed. I have also had a wonderful response when preparing kids, their Sponsors and Parents, for Confirmation with Creed by Brandon Heath and Third Day. It’s particularly moving when you know that background story, that Rich Mullins, the composer was preparing for entrance into the Catholic Church when he wrote it. He died before that could happen. This rendition is a tribute to him from his musical peers: Here’s the link: https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=creed+brandon+heath+and+third+day
I agree with any of the responses. I won’t sing the Gloria or say out loud the creeds. I am very sensitive about the Holy Spirit (only four words in the Gloria). I like the video. More conversation with the three persons of God. Also, I do have a problem with “I am not worthy before Communion.