In both the Anglican and Catholic Mass, the Liturgy of the Word (aka reading the lessons), begins with Scripture, includes a Homily, and then concludes with the recitation of one of the Creeds. Following the Liturgy of the Word, the Prayers of the People begin. This seems fairly consistent across many of the liturgical traditions. This order also helps to de-emphasize the sermon, emphasizing instead the Eucharist as the highlight of the service.

But, as a old-Baptist, I have to admit, this kind of annoys me. :)

In a Baptist liturgy, the sermon does take a more central place. Furthermore, the crux of the service - the emphasized highlight so to speak - is typically that sequence in which the sermon concludes forcefully, the preacher gives an altar call, and then everybody sings a song while someone "comes forward" after having made "a decision." (Okay, number of times someone has actually come down the aisle after making a spontaneous decision - Negilible - but that's the theory at least.)

Anyways, what I've always liked about the Baptist model is that the "altar call & song" provides a space in which the congregation can meditate on the message, internalizing and applying what was said. Something about singing an old hymn that you know by heart (you don't introduce a new song in that slot!) somehow seems to provide more of a space for reflection to me than saying a creed.

Now, the prayers of the people can also also afford that space (since the LEM is reading) - but there's still that Creed that sticks out like a sore thumb to me. So naturally, I wonder, why not say the Creed before we read the Word.

It would seem to me that saying the Creed before the Lessons and the Homily would signal an agreement of some kind - that we believe this Truth, and are therefore ready to be instructed in the Word of the Lord.

The question is, am I opening up a theological can of worms in altering the order of the mass? Is there an unintentional theological statement that would be made in changing this? Would such a thing be allowed in a Catholic service? (Episcopalians wouldn't care, so I ask about the Catholics). In short - what effect would altering this order have on the theological construct of the order of worship?

  • Offhand, without looking up any references, I'd be inclined to suspect that traditionally the Creed is actually the beginning of the Liturgy of the Eucharist, rather than the end of the Liturgy of the Word. In the older form of the Roman Rite anyway, the Liturgy of the Eucharist is known as the "Mass of the Faithful" -- in ancient days catechumens were dismissed before this began, and so it would make sense for the creed to begin this part of the mass. I could be way wrong on this though.
    – Ben Dunlap
    Commented Apr 24, 2013 at 22:13

2 Answers 2


am I opening up a theological can of worms in altering the order of the mass?

Yes. It's not just the change you're talking about, but any change at all. The Mass is the way it is for a reason (tradition). Here's a part of tradition that makes the teaching of Scripture the foundation for the central Eucharistic Celebration. Jesus meets two disciples on the Road to Emmaus. He interprets all the prophets, and they invite Him to stay with them:

Luke 24:29-31
29 But they urged him, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening and the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them. 30 And it happened that, while he was with them at table, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them. 31 With that their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he vanished from their sight.

Their eyes are not opened during the teaching, but as soon as Jesus says "the blessing" and they take the Eucharist, they recognize Him. The recognition of Jesus is central, not the teaching. If it helps, as a Catholic, it kind of annoys me that a sermon would ever be emphasized more than the Eucharist. Annoyance aside, the Mass for Catholics goes back a long way, so changes are pretty serious. Priests have to follow the rubrics, so no, they wouldn't be allowed to change it.

why not say the Creed before we read the Word ... what effect would altering this order have on the theological construct of the order of worship?

The Creed is a profession of Faith and a rejection of heresy. It was put in order after the Gospel because the Faith is based on the Gospel. The Creed is a response to what has been said, like a very detailed "Amen". Agreement isn't what you need before you hear something, it comes after. We are made "ready to be instructed" in part by the other Bible readings, because the words of the prophets make us ready for the words of Jesus.

In the Catholic liturgy, there's already a moment to meditate and internalize. After saying the Homily, the priest pauses and sits in silence (video). There is no singing of an old hymn (do you mean a psalm, or a contemporary song based on a psalm?). After this, Catholics, who would know these by heart, say the 1,632 year old Nicene Creed or the Apostles' Creed.

  • I do not believe that the sitting is in the GIRM officially, and I wouldn't be surprised if the pausing wasn't in their either. Both are good things, but they might only be liturgical good practice and not Church standard. Commented Apr 24, 2013 at 0:55
  • Per my comment on the OP I am wondering if the Creed is even formally part of the Liturgy of the Word (aka Mass of the Catechumens in the Extraordinary Form)
    – Ben Dunlap
    Commented Apr 24, 2013 at 22:15
  • "After the homily a brief period of silence is appropriately observed.". The sitting isn't exactly in there, but it is usually "fitting" (see section 45), and that's how the priest usually lets people know that the homily is over. This and the Creed are (and have been) set before the Liturgy of the Eucharist. Catechumens would be present.
    – Alypius
    Commented Apr 25, 2013 at 4:26

To be frank, I think this has far more to do with the role of the congregation vs. the role of the ministers. Much like the liturgy of the Eucharist, the Liturgy of the Word is a sacrifice, presented by the ministers on behalf of the people to which the people respond. Moving the creed to the center basically reverses this theological role.

Not only is placing intercession and creed together at the end a fulfillment of this theological act, but it is also more pragmatic: making people wait for two minutes after hearing the Gospel before they have a meditation or explanation is bad presentational flow.

Oh, and there is no reason that a priest could not decide to forgo the homily and say something during the bringing up of the gifts*, but in addition to the above, the rubrics suggest that he should do otherwise. But, if a priest really wanted to, he has that authority as celebrant.

*I say this based on 1. the homily is something which is optional, even on Sundays, though it is highly suggested, 2. the song after the intercessions (during the presentation of the gifts) is vaguely defined so that a priest could reinterpret it to be "give speech on what was just read", 3. a priest has the authority to make changes to the liturgy if he feels that they are pastorally appropriate. That said, placing the homily after intercessions would decidedly be "action which can fit within the letter but actively rebels against the spirit."

  • "There is to be a homily on Sundays and holy days of obligation at all Masses that are celebrated with the participation of a congregation; it may not be omitted without a serious reason." (GIRM66) The priest has no authority to change the liturgy, though he can adapt some parts but only "where it is indicated in the rubrics" (like during the Entrance chant). See sections 59, 31, 39 of Redemptionis Sacramentum
    – Alypius
    Commented Apr 25, 2013 at 4:56
  • @Alypius OTOH, GIRM #71 allows the priest to write his own prayer extemporaneously (meaning it could actually be a homily in disguise) and #74 does not provide substantial guidance on the content of the chants to exclude a long lecture (though it is implied that it would have to be an intoned lecture). Commented Apr 26, 2013 at 2:16

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