Hey, Father! Why sometimes at Mass do we say the Apostles’ Creed instead of the Nicene Creed?

During Mass we sometimes say the Nicene Creed and sometimes the Apostles Creed. What determines which creed is to be said?

– Mary in Springfield

Dear Mary,

The General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) is the document that governs the celebration of the Mass and provides directives for how the Mass is to be celebrated and what parts are to be included. The Creed is required to be either sung or said on every Sunday and on every Solemnity (cf. GIRM, no. 68). The purpose of the Creed within the Mass…

“is that the whole gathered people may respond to the word of God proclaimed in the readings taken from Sacred Scripture and explained in the homily and that they may also call to mind and confess the great mysteries of the faith by reciting the rule of faith in a formula approved for liturgical use, before these mysteries are celebrated in the Eucharist” (GIRM, no. 67).

Because of its importance, the recitation or signing of the Creed may not be omitted when it is required.

The Roman Missal itself (the book containing the prayers of the Mass) allows the use of either the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed or the Apostles’ Creed. Ultimately, the choice of which one to use is up to the discretion of the celebrant. The Roman Missal offers him a little guidance: “Instead of the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed, especially during Lent and Easter Time, the baptismal Symbol of the Roman Church, known as the Apostles’ Creed, may be used” (no. 19).

While we are discussing the Creed, please allow me to note an important gesture that the laity are to do when reciting the Creed, one that is frequently overlooked. The GIRM directs that “a bow of the body, that is to say a profound bow” is made by everyone “in the Creed at the words Et incarnatus est (by the power of the Holy Spirit . . . and became man)” (no. 275b).

Fr. Daren Zehnle is pastor at St. Augustine in Ashland and is the director for the Office of Divine Worship and the Catechumenate for the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois.