Translating "Visibilium Omnium et Invisibilium"

And More on the Easter Candle

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ROME, MAY 31, 2011 ( Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.

Continuing our reflections on the new translation of the Roman Missal, we now turn to the creed. Last Sept. 28 we treated the meaning of «consubstantial» and why it is a better translation than «one in Being.»

Another novelty in the creed is the translation of «visibilium omnium et invisibilium» as «all things visible and invisible» rather than «all that is seen and unseen» as in the current translation.

The first point to be underlined is that the new translation uses the word «things» and not just the generic «all that.» This apparently slight adjustment does a better job of bringing out the fact that each and every creature, including ourselves in our concrete individual existence, is an object of God’s creative will and of his fatherly love. The expression «all that» is not necessarily inaccurate but could lead to a more abstract notion of creation and a more distant concept of the Creator.

I believe that the literal rendition «visible and invisible» is not only more accurate than «seen and unseen» but also better reflects the philosophical and theological history behind the use of these terms.

In Christian philosophy and theology an invisible creature pertains to the spiritual realm beyond physical reality.

In this sense, «invisible» is not synonymous with «unseen.» If I were to hide behind a curtain, I would be unseen, but I would certainly not be invisible. Even the fictional «Invisible Man» felt hot and cold and would bleed if he stepped on a nail.

We sometimes use the term «invisible» to refer to physical realities in the infrared or ultraviolet spectrum shielded from our normal vision, or to radiation, radio waves and all sorts of forces. All of these realities pertain to the physical world, and although they are unseen by our eyes they are detectable and measurable by specialized instruments. Hence, philosophically and theologically they might be unseen but are not invisible.

The new translation of the creed, in using the term «invisible,» affirms with greater clarity the reality of the spiritual realm beyond the physical. This reality is explained in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (even though this work obviously refers to the former translation of the creed).

«325. The Apostles’ Creed professes that God is ‘Creator of heaven and earth.’ The Nicene Creed makes it explicit that this profession includes ‘all that is, seen and unseen.’

«326. The Scriptural expression ‘heaven and earth’ means all that exists, creation in its entirety. It also indicates the bond, deep within creation, that both unites heaven and earth and distinguishes the one from the other: ‘the earth’ is the world of men, while ‘heaven’ or ‘the heavens’ can designate both the firmament and God’s own ‘place’ — ‘our Father in heaven’ and consequently the ‘heaven’ too which is eschatological glory. Finally, ‘heaven’ refers to the saints and the ‘place’ of the spiritual creatures, the angels, who surround God.

«327. The profession of faith of the Fourth Lateran Council (1215) affirms that God ‘from the beginning of time made at once (simul) out of nothing both orders of creatures, the spiritual and the corporeal, that is, the angelic and the earthly, and then (deinde) the human creature, who as it were shares in both orders, being composed of spirit and body.»

«328. The existence of the spiritual, non-corporeal beings that Sacred Scripture usually calls ‘angels’ is a truth of faith. The witness of Scripture is as clear as the unanimity of Tradition.»

It is to be hoped that future editions of the Catechism will incorporate the new and more accurate translation of the creed.

* * *

Follow-up: When to Extinguish the Easter Candle

In the wake of our May 17 column, several readers asked about the use of the Easter candle. A Welsh reader asked: «In the extraordinary form it is directed that, in Eastertide, the paschal candle must not be lit during exposition of the Blessed Sacrament. I can remember that, in pre-conciliar times, if exposition and Benediction followed immediately after vespers, a server would extinguish the paschal candle at the end of vespers. I can find no mention of this in the ordinary rite. Does this mean that the paschal candle should be lit when the Blessed Sacrament is exposed in Eastertide?»

The ordinary forms simply states that it is lit during solemn liturgical celebrations during the Easter season. Nothing is said regarding exposition.

As our reader says, the extraordinary form of the Roman rite does not allow the candle to be lit during exposition or Benediction. An exception to this rule is when solemn vespers are celebrated before the Blessed Sacrament exposed. If Benediction immediately follows the vespers, then the candle remains lit.

This overall criterion holds true for the ordinary form. If vespers, or some other solemn liturgical celebration, is carried out before the Blessed Sacrament exposed, then the candle could be lit. This could be done throughout the exposition even if the celebration does not take up the whole time of adoration.

However, since exposition by itself does not constitute a liturgical celebration then, as a general rule, the candle need not be lit. This would be especially true for prolonged exposition.

A California reader asked: «Is it permissible to light the paschal candle at confirmations which are celebrated outside of the Easter season? Also, would it be appropriate to sing the Litany of Saints at some point of the confirmation liturgy? In many places the widespread separation of confirmation from its traditional place among the other sacraments of initiation has led to much theological confusion. My thought is that these two liturgical actions, alongside the sprinkling rite and the renewal of baptismal promises, would better highlight the deep connection of the sacrament of confirmation to the sacrament of baptism.»

While these are not bad ideas, and could even be pastorally useful, it is not permissible to add to the approved rites.

Only a bishops’ conference is able to propose permanent adaptations to some of the rites for its country. These proposals have to be approved by the Holy See.

The process usually takes years, since it is necessary to reflect long and hard on any proposed changes; this often requires thinking in terms of possible effects over decades and centuries. Adjustments in rites eventually color the spiritual concepts behind them and the way they are lived and perceived.

Thus we would have to reflect whether the use of the Easter candle (probably along with other candles) might eventually put so much stress on the renewal of baptismal promises as to shift attention from the primary signs of the sacrament of confirmation. Likewise, since the Litany of Saints takes the place of the prayer of the faithful we would have to explore if the special general intercessions found in the ritual are not preferable to the litany.

Although this process is arduous, it is not impossible. For example, a few years ago the Italian bishops’ conference published a revised rite of marriage which included a Litany of Saints, especially of those who lived in holy matrimony.

* * *

Readers may send questions to Please put the word «Liturgy» in the subject field. The text should include your initials, your city and your state, province or country. Father McNamara can only answer a small selection of the great number of questions that arrive.

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