[This article first appeared in Catechumenate: A Journal of Christian Initiation 21/4 (July 1999):13-17.]
The presentations of the Creed and the Lordís Prayer show up at an inconvenient time and raise some puzzling questions. Are they for the elect only or also for candidates for reception? Why should they not be celebrated on a Sunday? When should they take place? Just how important are they? How exactly are the Creed and Lordís Prayer to be presented? Why is there a recitation of the Creed on Holy Saturday morning but not of the Lordís Prayer? Why should we do these rituals anyway when Lent is already plenty crowded with election, scrutinies, interviews, the adult education series, choir rehearsals, and fish fries?
The history of the presentations offers some answers. In the first few centuries of Christianity, the presentations do not appear at all. However, the Didache, a church order that probably originated around the turn of the second century in Syria, urged Christians to pray the Lordís Prayer three times a day (8). A later Syrian document, the Apostolic Constitutions (c. 380), says that the community recited the Lordís Prayer after baptism (7:42). In Jerusalem, the Mystagogic Catecheses (exactly contemporary, c. 380-390, and probably written by John the bishop who succeeded Cyril), states that the Lordís Prayer and communion followed baptism. So, in the early church, the Lordís Prayer had come to be identified as a prayer of the baptized.
Also in fourth-century Jerusalem the Creed was becoming part of formation for baptism. Interest in this approach probably followed the proclamation of the Creed by the Council of Nicaea in 325. Cyril of Jerusalem included the principal articles of the Creed in his teaching of those to be baptized (Catecheses 1-18, c. 348-350). Egeria, whose diary records her pilgrimage to the Holy Land (c. 381-384), says the bishop taught the catechumens the scriptures for five weeks and then they received the Creed (46). The bishop continued teaching on its contents for two more weeks before their baptism. At the beginning of Holy Week, the bishop sat in his chair in the church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, and the catechumens came to him accompanied by their godparents; one by one they recited the Creed back to him. No one wrote it down; the Creed was to be learned by heart. It was presented only amidst catechesis, for fear someone who received it any other way would misunderstand it and misrepresent it.
Ambrose (339-397) tells of a similar procedure in Milan. A presentation of the Creed took place on a Sunday just before Easter (Letter 76:4). Similarly, an explanation of its contents followed the presentation; the faithful memorized the words and never wrote them down.
Augustine (354-430) presented the Creed to those preparing for baptism a couple of weeks before Easter and then preached about its meaning while urging his hearers never to write it down. With help from the community, they memorized the Creed in a week. They then reported back and recited the Creed to Augustine one by one (Sermons 212-215). If they failed, Augustine gave them another chance the following Saturday, the morning of their baptism (Sermon 58:1).
Augustine also indicates that he presented the Lordís Prayer to the catechumens at this time. When they returned the Creed, he gave them this prayer by proclaiming the text from Matthewís gospel. His catechumens repeated the Lordís Prayer before the community of the faithful every day for a week (Sermons 58:1; 59:1)
Theodore of Mopsuestia (350-428) says the Creed was "placed upon the lips" of those to be baptized (12:25). His prebaptismal catechesis included ten homilies on the Creed and one on the Lordís Prayer.
So, in the patristic era, the Creed had become a solid part of baptismal formation. After its presentation shortly before Easter, the bishop explained its contents to the catechumens as they prepared for baptism. Apparently, the Lordís Prayer was beginning to be used as a similar catechetical tool.
By the sixth century, the prebaptismal liturgies had begun to evolve into a simpler format. John the Deacon says that catechumens in Rome received the Creed, and were thereafter known by the title "the elect" (4). Scrutinies followed -- but part of their purpose was to examine whether the elect had learned the Creed.
In sixth-century Gaul, Caesarius of Arles presented the Creed during Lent to those preparing for baptism so they might memorize it and recite it back. The Council of Agde, over which he presided in 506, established the Sunday before Easter as the regional day for this presentation (canon 13). He expected the childrenís godparents to teach them the Creed and the Lordís Prayer (Sermon 13:12).
Around 750, the Gelasian Sacramentary (34-36), probably drawing from the sixth- or seventh-century texts in Ordo XI (40-76), recorded elaborate versions of the presentation of the Creed and the Lordís Prayer. Both sources preceded these with a new presentation, that of the gospels. The rituals presume that the candidates for initiation are children. In presenting the gospels, four deacons entered the church, each bearing one of the books. The presbyter explained each of the gospels in turn, and the deacon proclaimed the opening sentences. (Remnants of this ritual exist in the presentation of scriptures to candidates in the Rite of Acceptance into the Order of Catechumens, and in the invitation to hear the word of God in the Rite of Baptism for Children.)
The presentation of the Creed followed. While an acolyte held the infant in his left arm, he placed his right hand upon the childís head. At the presbyterís invitation the acolyte then recited the Creed to the infant in the language of the parents. In presenting the Lordís Prayer, the presbyter proclaimed its meaning phrase by phrase. The Gelasian Sacramentary also called for the recitation of the Creed on Holy Saturday morning, but since infants could not perform this responsibility, the presbyter did it for them.
The Roman Germanic Pontifical (c. 950) called for the same sequence of events: three presentations and a ritual for Holy Saturday morning (99:126-157; 337-341). On that day, however, those who were old enough recited both the Creed and the Lordís Prayer. Godparents recited them for infants.
The thirteenth-century Pontifical of the Roman Curia collapsed these rites into one (a custom which was already developing). But the presentations had been reduced to a simple action. The godparents placed infants on the ground while they recited the Creed and the Lordís prayer on their behalf. On Holy Saturday the presbyter recited the Lordís prayer and the Creed before baptizing the infants (44:10-14).
By the sixteenth century the Creed and the Lordís prayer had become the backbone of catechesis. The catechism of the Council of Trent (1566) relied on both texts, and virtually all catechesis centered on them, whether instruction pertained to young children, candidates for first communion, or unevangelized adults in mission territories around the world.
The Roman Ritual of 1614 included the Creed and the Lordís Prayer as part of its elaborate rite of baptism, which combined motifs from all the disparate catechumenate rituals into one ceremony, from entrance into the catechumenate to election to scrutiny to baptism.
The Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (1972) restored the two oldest presentations, that of the Creed and that of the Lordís Prayer (157ff; 178ff). The framers of the ritual felt that Lent was becoming overcrowded with rituals and the period of the catechumenate seemed empty by comparison. For this reason they suggested that the presentations not take place on Sundays in Lent, days on which they had restored the scrutinies, but preferred that they be celebrated at Masses with the faithful (157; 178). By assigning the presentation of the Creed to the week following the first scrutiny, they sought to imitate the custom of the early church, in which the Creed was presented early enough to include some catechesis on it before baptism. They also wanted to keep the presentation of the Lordís Prayer near the end of Lent, in imitation of the early church; hence, its appearance on a weekday following the third scrutiny. Still, since Lent was top-heavy with rituals, they permitted these presentations to be anticipated if the catechumens were ready (21; 104). But they also permitted deferring the presentation of the Lordís Prayer until Holy Saturday morning (149; 185), having been influenced by Augustineís practice of presenting the Lordís Prayer on the day the catechumens recited the Creed.
The actual "presentation" takes place orally. The faithful recite the Creed; the presider proclaims the Lordís Prayer from the gospel. Although many parishes present a written formula to the elect on these occasions, the ritual never envisioned it. In fact, the early church would have resisted such an adaptation because it attached so much importance to the memorization of the Creed and the reception of catechesis upon hearing the text. The elect are still expected to commit the Creed to memory (148).
The recitation of the Creed takes place on Holy Saturday morning (193ff). The framers of the catechumenate decided against including a recitation of the Lordís Prayer. It was a late addition to the churchís tradition (tenth century), and the newly baptized would recite this most Christian prayer with the whole assembly during their baptismal Eucharist.
This historical survey offers these insights to the questions which puzzle people about the presentations: They are rituals designed for the unbaptized to summarize their catechetical formation and prepare them for Christian prayer. They are recommended for weekdays in order not to overburden the Sundays of lent. They may take place at Mass or another gathering of the faithful. They are important for handing on our faith to those who will be presenting themselves for baptism. They are presented orally -- in the proclamation of the Creed by the faithful and of the Lordís Prayer by the one who reads the gospel. Holy Saturday calls for the recitation of the Creed so that the faithful may be assured that those to be baptized have prepared themselves; the Lordís Prayer is actually returned to the faithful during the liturgy of the Eucharist at the Easter Vigil. If Lent is too crowded and if the catechumens are prepared, the presentations may be anticipated during the period of the catechumenate, outside the season of Lent.