Incarnate and Consubstantial: First Try

8 Nov

Many of the changes in the words that you will pray in two weeks will be chanted, that is, sung in simple tones of a couple notes that will keep repeating themselves. This will make the transition to the new words easier than if the words were just spoken. There is one place in the Mass that we – you and the priest together – will speak the Creed, the Profession of Faith. There are two words in particular that might sound real new to the ears, unless your ears are as old as mine, in which case the new words will sound familiar, as if they were stored in our memory and have come back to mind and have reached the lips: incarnate and consubstantial. Let’s take a first try at those two words. I say “first” try, because I am going to write something without going to any books, articles or dictionaries. After I write what I write and have it published here, I may need to clarify something or may want to try to say it differently.


I was born. God was incarnate. God was not born like I was born. My parents were Roy and Isabelle. I was born on June 29, 1949. Before I was conceived in my mother’s womb, I did not exist. I came into existence when I was conceived in my mother’s womb. God always existed. God became man. God became flesh. Incarnate means “became flesh.” God did not just appear to be human. He was human. He did not just get inside a human body. He became a human being. Note, too, that God was “born” inBethlehem. God became “incarnate” inNazareth. The Incarnation took place inNazareth, when the angel appeared to Mary to tell her that she would conceive of the Holy Spirit, and, of course, when Mary agreed to accept God’s will.


This word is harder. My only comfort is that it took the Catholic Church a couple hundred years after the incarnation (see above) and the resurrection to come up with this word and to agree that this word was the best word that they could come up with to declare who Jesus Christ was and to explain the relationship between God the Father and God the Son. We can be humble enough to think that it might take us a couple tries to come up with the right words. For forty years we have said, “… one in being with the Father.” Now we will say, “… consubstantial with the Father.” It means that Jesus Christ is God, equal to God, the same as God.

consubstantial and incarnate

Jesus Christ is truly God and truly man. He is truly human and truly divine. He is God and man. He is human and divine. He is not either/or. He is both/and. These two words – consubstantial and incarnate – are the words that the Church has used over the centuries, and which we will use again anew on the First Sunday of Advent, November 27. Those words put us in touch with a long line of believers, and give us the assurance that we stand in line with what the Catholic Church believes, teaches and proclaims to be revealed by God.

As I go now to the stack of books and articles in which the experts give commentary on the new English translation of the Roman Missal, I simply say to you, “As your parish priest I love praying with you, as we pray the prayer and the prayers that the Roman Catholic Church gives us to pray at Mass.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: