The liturgies of the Easter Vigil and Easter Sunday are distinctive, among other reasons, for the renewal of our baptism promises. In the renewal, we respond that we believe in a number of simple affirmations of our faith, and are then sprinkled with the blessed water that reminds us of the day of our own baptism, when these affirmations of our faith were made for the first time. Indeed, each Sunday we make a formal profession of our faith as we recite together the creed.
The creed that we use in our liturgy is called the Nicene Creed, but it is really a summary of the faith as expressed in two church councils: the council of Nicea in 325 and the council of Constantinople in 381. This summary was ratified by the Council of Chalcedon in 451. By the eleventh century this creed had become a regular part of the Sunday liturgy.
The Nicene Creed is by no means the only creed in the Church’s heritage. One thinks, for example, of the Apostles’ Creed. This shorter summary of the faith is extremely simple and to the point, and for a long time it was thought to have been written by the Apostles themselves. Though this is highly unlikely, it is an ancient composition, mentioned for the first time in a letter sent to the synod of Milan in 390 to Pope Siricius. Because of its simplicity in content and in language, many today prefer this creed in the Sunday liturgy. In fact, recent rules allow for the recitation of this creed instead of the Nicene Creed, especially during the Easter season.
Sometimes people are curious about why there are a number of creeds, and not just one. Why would professions of faith differ from one another? For example, why does the Apostles’ Creed profess faith in the Communion of Saints, while the Nicene Creed does not? The answer is to be found in the purposes for which the creeds were composed. It is unlikely that any of them were written just to be used in the liturgy. They were written because certain Christian communities needed a formal statement of Catholic faith in order to protect themselves from erroneous teaching.
Thus if a certain group of Christians doubted the teaching about the Communion of Saints, or perhaps had never even heard of it, the Apostles’ Creed would be an excellent reminder of the doctrine, and would be a stimulus for learning and discussion. When the Nicene Creed was composed, other issues like the divinity of Christ were critical, and perhaps the authors of the creed felt it was not necessary to mention the Communion of Saints. After all, no creed, or even the Catechism of the Catholic Church, could thoroughly express everything that the Catholic Church believes, and thus every catechism and every creed is to some extent inadequate and incomplete. Written texts are the results of human effort, and thus always imperfect. Thus new creeds periodically appear (e.g., Pope Paul VI’s Credo of the People of God in 1968) and catechisms are periodically revised (the 1996 Catechism of the Catholic Church has since been replaced by a revised edition).