The Roman Missal: The Creed (Part III)

I think after a week or so, the dust has settled on “consubstantial”.  But our vocabulary lesson isn’t over, apparently, as just five lines later, we find ourselves stumbling over “incarnate”.  This is a term we’ve probably heard before (if from nothing else but Incarnate Word Academy), but once again, the translators of the Missal decided to take a little more direct approach, getting “incarnate” straight from “incarnatus”.

Most of us speak Latin anyway (right?) so we already know this, but the Latin word tells us sort of what the word “incarnate” means.  The Latin word “in” means “into” (there’s a shocker, right?), and the word “carnis”, means “flesh”.  Just think of a carnivore – a creature that eats meat or flesh – or even a carnation flower, with the pink color reminding us of the color of our skin (if you never go outside).  So if we put the two words together, we get “into flesh”.

But we have to be very careful in our understanding of what it means for Christ to be “in flesh”.  It isn’t like someone putting on a jacket, where they can just as easily take it off again whenever they want.  Nor is it like a normal baby who has been given some superhuman powers like out of a comic book.  Instead, when the Church says “incarnate of the Virgin Mary”, it means that the divine nature freely chose to take on human nature.  In other words, Jesus is 100% God and 100% human.

We might wonder what was wrong with the previous translation that it was replaced.  It wasn’t necessarily the wrong idea, but it could sometimes be misinterpreted that Mary just carried around a divine “thing” in her womb, a “thing” that only became a human being when it was born.  But “incarnate” gets straight to the point that the Son of God really took on human nature from the very first moment of conception in the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Now that we’ve covered the tough vocabulary terms in the creed, I challenge everyone to use the words “consubstantial” and “incarnate” in a sentence at least five times each this week.  Ok…maybe not.  But tune in next week when we finish off the Creed!

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