NOTE: In order to make this examination of the changes in the people’s parts of Holy Mass easier to navigate, all of the text taken from the Missal will be in italics, while the newly translated text (where changes are found) will be in bold italics.
During the Introductory Rites when the priest says The Lord be with you, no longer will the people reply And also with you, but rather by saying, And with your spirit.
The Lord be with you... One just kind of expects a priest to say this sort of thing, no? But what on earth can we say about that response of ours? And with your spirit.
Something you’d never employ in an everyday situation? Entirely out of the ordinary? You bet it is, and for good reason! You see, qualities such as these are inherent to the sacred. But where does this expression come from and what exactly does it mean?
Well, the first thing you should know is that the response And with your spirit is documented as far back as the year 215 A.D. Share that with the grumblers back in your parish who are upset with the "newfangled" translation!
As for what it means, let’s turn to St. John Chrysostom for insight. In his "Homily on the Holy Pentecost" which dates to the end of the fourth century, he taught:
If the Holy Spirit were not in our Bishop when he gave the peace to all shortly before ascending to his holy sanctuary, you would not have replied to him all together, And with your spirit... You don't first partake of the offerings until he has prayed for you the grace from the Lord, and you have answered him, And with your spirit, reminding yourselves by this reply that he who is here does nothing of his own power, nor are the offered gifts the work of human nature, but is it the grace of the Spirit present and hovering over all things which prepared that mystic sacrifice.
St. John makes it pretty clear that the priest isn’t simply saying, "Greetings in Christ, everybody!" To which the people politely reply, "Same to you, Father!" Unfortunately, this is how most of us tend to view the matter, and why shouldn’t we? Solid liturgical instruction notwithstanding, the current translation does seem to lend itself to the perception that we’re simply exchanging holy pleasantries here, but as St. John’s homily indicates, this is no mere greeting.
The priest’s words are really more akin to a blessing imparted by the spirit of Christ at the hands of his ordained minister, and our response is far more than a simple "same to you." Rather, when we say And with your spirit, we are affirming our faith in the sacrament of Holy Orders; acknowledging aloud that we recognize the priest who leads us as one uniquely configured to Christ in such way as to act at Holy Mass in Persona Christi and most certainly not by his own resources.
Now I can assure you that some folks will read this and think, "It’s that pre-Vatican II clericalism all over again! Just 90 seconds into the Mass and already we’re tipping our hat to Father!" The truth, however, is just the opposite.
The response, And with your spirit, is not just important for what it says, it is timely for when we say it (a total of five times in all). We are acknowledging that Holy Mass and the various parts therein are not really about Father personally at all. It’s not his Mass; it is Christ’s Mass. Far from being a form of clericalism, our response is really best understood as a tangible expression of what St. John the Baptist said of himself; the priest must decrease so that the Lord Jesus Christ, the true High Priest, might increase.
All of this said, I think most of us realize that The Lord be with you isn’t exactly the typical way of blessing. For example, the priest blesses the people during the Concluding Rite using the far more familiar formula: May Almighty God Bless you, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
So the question is, why does the priest bless us throughout Holy Mass with such words as The Lord be with you, and The peace of the Lord be with you always? In other words, what makes this blessing so unique?
Its uniqueness lies in the fact that it is a liturgical blessing; one that is intended in a particular way for those incorporated into Christ’s Body through Baptism – the gateway through which the laity are enabled to participate in the sacred liturgy (cf CCC 1119).
You see, when the priest says The Lord be with you, he is urging the faithful to turn to, or to be with, the spirit of the Lord received in the waters of Baptism, that they may be personally conformed to his divine presence and properly disposed to unite themselves with the sacred action that is about to take place.
It is fitting that we should begin our union with Christ at Holy Mass by turning inward, for as the Church teaches, "Interior participation in the sacred liturgy is the most important; this consists in paying devout attention, and in lifting up the heart to God in prayer" (cf Musicam Sacram 22a).
Turning to the presence of Christ within, however, is not enough. Our desire to participate in the sacred liturgy also compels us to become "intimately joined with the High Priest" (ibid.) who makes Himself present in a unique way "in the person of the ordained minister" (cf SC 14), so that "together with Him, and through Him we may offer the Sacrifice, making ourselves one with Him" (Musicam Sacram 22a).
This is where the response, And with your spirit, takes on an additional layer of meaning.
One may have noticed that St. John employs a subtle interplay between the words "spirit" as in And with your spirit, and "Spirit" as in "Holy Spirit." This reveals something very important about our response as it relates to the identity of the priest.
The word "spirit" is often used in reference to one’s "inmost being." For example, we find in Sacred Scripture, "The spirit of man is the lamp of the Lord, searching his innermost parts" (Proverbs 20:27). This "spirit" of man is also directly related to our share in Christ’s priesthood and thus to our participation in the Sacrifice of the Mass.
"You too are living stones, built as an edifice of spirit, into a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ" (1 Pet 2:5).
Through Holy Orders, He who alone is able to offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is made present to us in a unique way in the "spirit" of the priest who stands before us. The priest, in other words, is configured to Christ in a profound ontological way; i.e. not evident simply by what he does, but made manifest by who he is, and our response affirms it.
Furthermore, when we say, And with your spirit, we are also consciously saying that we hereby join ourselves in a particular way to Christ who dwells within, and acts through, the priest. This nuance becomes a bit clearer if we imagine giving our response with stress placed on the word "your:" "The Lord be with you / And with your spirit" – the "spirit" of the priest who celebrates Holy Mass being that of Christ Jesus.
We might also consider our response on yet another level; as a prayer for the man who stands before us, that he be strengthened by God’s grace, in faith, so as to lose his identity in such way as to yield entirely to Christ to whom he is configured - he who alone is worthy to ascend to the altar of the Lord as both High Priest and Holy Sacrifice.
The corrected translation And with your spirit is a wonderful first step toward recovering a sense of the sacred at Holy Mass, and we’ve just gotten started! With so much rich theological significance recovered in just a handful of words, all of us should be genuinely excited about the faithful translation to come and the great blessing it is certain to be. I know I certainly am.
We will continue next week in Part Six with an examination of the Penitential Rite.
Author and speaker Louie Verrecchio was a columnist for Catholic News Agency from April 2009 to 2013. His work, which includes Year of Faith resources like the Harvesting the Fruit of Vatican II Faith Formation Series, has been endorsed by Cardinal George Pell of Sydney, Australia; Bishop Emeritus Patrick O’Donoghue of Lancaster, England; Bishop R. Walker Nickless of Sioux City, IA, USA and others. For more information please visit: www.harvestingthefruit.com