Slowly but surely, we are continuing our way through the five movements of Palestrina’s heavenly Pope Marcellus Mass with the third, and longest, movement, the Credo. Previously, I’ve posted the Kyrie (MIL #79) and the Gloria (MIL #396).

It is ironic that the work that is regarded as Palestrina’s greatest [which, for reference, would mean a 10 on the 1-to-10 scale, while the rest of his output would be in the 9.5 arena] was written in honor of a newly elected pope—Marcellus II—who reigned for a mere three weeks. Marcellus had a weak constitution and he succumbed to illness shortly after being named pope.

The texture of the entire mass—all five movements—is six voice polyphony. You may remember that Palestrina was THE musical voice of the Counter-Reformation. One of the paths the Catholic Church was taking in order to become a more real day-to-day part of parishioners’ lives was by making the texts of the musical portions of the mass more intelligible, more direct. Abandoning the melismatic weaving in and out of vocal lines, which had become traditional, in favor of a simpler homophonic declamatory text, Palestrina became the musical gateway for Catholics to hear and better understand what it was they professed to believe.

The centrally-located CREDO movement—always the third of a mass’s five movements—is most often also the longest movement. It is central because of the importance of its text to all Christians, and it is long because it includes the entire text of the Nicene Creed.

The Nicene Creed was a text that came out of the Second Ecumenical Council in 325 AD. In Nicea (in present day northwestern Turkey), this important meeting of church elders laid the foundations of Catholic belief for centuries to follow. Included in its deliberations was a universal statement of belief, which became known as the Nicene Creed. Here is that text:

We believe in one God,
the Father, the Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all that is, seen and unseen.

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
of one Being with the Father.

Through him all things were made.
For us and for our salvation
he came down from heaven:
by the power of the Holy Spirit
he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary,
and was made man.

For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered death and was buried.
On the third day he rose again
in accordance with the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,
and his kingdom will have no end.

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father and the Son.
With the Father and the Son he is worshiped and glorified.
He has spoken through the Prophets.
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.
We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come. Amen.


Certainly, the aural beauty of Palestrina’s writing—always aided by the acoustics of whatever church it is being performed in—can—and did—go a long way in simultaneously comforting and educating congregants. From a musician’s perspective, of course, the text could be anything. It is the music that is gorgeous.


Pics: Palestrina; Pope Marcellus II; St. Peter’s Square, Vatican; interior of Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore at the Vatican where Palestrina’s works would have been heard.