At the end of the Apostles' and Nicene creeds comes the pithy word "Amen." Most Catholic congregations I've attended ignore this Amen. It doesn't get said.
Curious about this, I checked the Sacramentary and found that while the Nicene Creed ends with Amen, the Apostles' Creeds -- the one used most frequently in Canadian churches -- does not.
Puzzled, I began asking around and learned that the Amen was dropped inadvertently. The new Sacramentary, to be issued in a couple of years, will put it back in its rightful place. Whether this will in turn spur Catholic congregations to end the prayer by actually saying "Amen" remains to be seen.
Perhaps this is all a miniscule concern, a matter even smaller than the tiny word itself. Our Amen, however, says a lot. The Creed begins with the words "I believe" (or "we believe"). The Amen reiterates that "I believe" at the end of the prayer. It's like a fist to the table simultaneous with a rousing shout of "Darn rights! And not only do I believe it, it's darn important too."
To say "Amen" is "to entrust oneself completely to him who is the 'Amen' of infinite love and perfect faithfulness," says the Catechism of the Catholic Church (no. 1064). "The Christian's everyday life will then be the 'Amen' to the 'I believe' of our baptismal profession of faith."
This ups the ante on the Amen issue a few notches. Saying "Amen" at the end of the Creed implies that by professing the Creed, I am turning my whole life over to God. I will live by the power of the invisible Holy Spirit and according to the precepts laid down by Jesus Christ. My worldly desires hold no power over me because my life is not ruled by mercurial whims of the flesh. There is something greater than me and I will bow before that "something greater" because it is sacred.
Psalm 1 points towards two ways of living. The person "whose delight is the law of the Lord" is happy. He ponders God's law night and day and ignores the advice of the wicked. Such a person "is like a tree that is planted beside the flowing waters, that yields its fruit in due season."
The wicked, however, are not planted. "They, like winnowed chaff, shall be driven away by the wind."
In today's Western world, being planted is a radical step. It says that I am not self-sufficient; I depend on the "flowing waters" for my life. To the extent that I give up my independence, I will bear fruit and my leaves will never fade.
But if I cling to my freedom, my individualism, I will be blown about like chaff in the wind. I will have my freedom but I will never bear fruit. My life will lead to doom.
By saying "Amen," I plant myself in the faith of the apostles. I proclaim that I believe all the details of the Creed including that God created earth and heaven, that Jesus, his only Son, died for our sins and rose from the dead, and that the Holy Spirit lives in the holy, catholic church.
This is belief which cannot help but shape the way one lives. It means living with one eye always turned towards eternity. It means always forgiving those who have done you wrong and always anticipating how one's thoughts and actions might affect others.
Yet, so many, especially today, live a rootless, unplanted existence. This is a false freedom which has no regard for truth. It makes self-indulgence its god. Pope John Paul notes that each person's soul has an aspect of rebellion "which leads him to reject the truth and the good in order to set himself up as an absolute principle unto himself" (The Splendor of Truth, 86).
True freedom, the pope says, is freedom "acquired in love, that is, the gift of self" (no. 87). Maybe we don't have the inner resources to rise from self-indulgence to love. But God will give us those resources if we rely on his power.
This does not mean turning ourselves into robots who stop thinking and feeling. It involves, as the pope says, "holding fast to the very person of Jesus, partaking of his life and his destiny, sharing in his free and loving obedience to the will of the Father" (no. 19).
Here, we can truly say "Amen." Here, we have an Amen which plants us by the flowing waters and which also gives us freedom, one rooted in love and which opens up to us the fullness of being. Amen may be a small word, but it is one which offers the possibility of a life lived with great depth.
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