“And with Your Spirit” Revisited

Since I last wrote in this space about the exchange, The Lord be with you / And with your spirit, it occurred to me that it may be useful to reflect a little more deeply on its layers of meaning.

My previous examination relied rather heavily upon St. John Chrysostom’s Homily on the Holy Pentecost, in which he teaches us that the priestly invocation, “The Lord be with you,” should be understood as a “prayer for the grace from the Lord;” i.e., it is in essence a blessing.

Further, St. John tells us that our response, “And with your spirit,” is one through which we “remind ourselves that [the priest] does nothing of his own power, but is it the grace of the Spirit present and hovering over all things which prepared that mystic sacrifice;” i.e., it is an acknowledgement of the Lord’s unique presence in the ordained minister.

The Lord be with you.

I think it’s readily apparent to everyone that this is not the typical manner of blessing, even within the context of the Mass itself; e.g., the priest also blesses the congregation with the familiar words, “May Almighty God Bless you, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,” during the Concluding Rite.

One must wonder, therefore, why the priest blesses the people with such words as “The Lord be with you” and “The peace of the Lord be with you always” at various times throughout the sacred liturgy? What, we may ask, makes this blessing so unique?

Well, for one, as the priest so blesses he is speaking in a particular way to the baptized as they seek to enter ever more deeply into the Sacred Mysteries.

As the Catechism tells us, “It is through Baptism that the laity are enabled to celebrate the liturgy through their participation, while those who have received Holy Orders nourish the Church with the word and grace of God in the name of Christ” (cf CCC 1119).

The priest is speaking, in other words, to those who through Baptism share in the common priesthood of the faithful and are thereby called at Holy Mass to “offer the Immaculate Victim, not only through the hands of the priest, but also with him, as well as themselves; through Christ the Mediator” (cf SC 48).

This being the case, we should realize that St. John the Baptist’s words, “The Lord must increase, but I must decrease,” (John 3:30) apply every bit as much to the faithful at Holy Mass as they do to the priest. Why? Because it is only through the operative presence of Christ within each of us that we are able to co-operate with Him and thus to participate in the sacred rite.

At the sound of the words, “The Lord be with you, therefore, we must seek to join ourselves to the presence of the Lord in a “fully conscious” way, because it is only in Christ that “active participation” in Holy Mass is possible.

Pope Pius XII tells us, “The chief element of divine worship must be interior. For we must always live in Christ and give ourselves to Him completely, so that in Him, with Him and through Him the heavenly Father may be duly glorified” (Mediator Dei 24).

The Council Fathers expounded upon this teaching by describing the sacred liturgy – which is “above all things the worship of the divine Majesty” (SC 33) – as that through which “the human is directed and subordinated to the divine, the visible likewise to the invisible, and action to contemplation” (cf SC 2).

So where exactly does one find the Lord’s presence at Holy Mass that we might consciously give ourselves over to Him?

Well, the Council tells us that Christ is present in the Sacrifice of the Mass in four distinct ways: “most especially” in the Holy Eucharist, but also in Sacred Scripture, in the people assembled, and in the person of the ordained minister (cf SC 7).

Now let’s take a closer look at each one of these to consider how we might unite ourselves with Christ therein, beginning with the most self-evident.

To unite oneself with Christ in the Most Holy Eucharist, ideally speaking, entails receiving Him in Holy Communion while properly disposed in a state of grace. Profound for sure, but straight-forward enough.

To join oneself to Christ in His Holy Word, we must listen attentively for the voice of the Good Shepherd calling out to us personally in the readings “since it is He Himself who speaks when the Holy Scriptures are read in the Church” (SC 7). Again, a pretty straight-forward concept.

When we consider the Lord’s presence in the assembly and in the ordained minister, however, it is here that the deeper meaning of The Lord be with you / And with your spirit begins to come into sharper focus.

The Lord be with you.

When these words are spoken, directed as they are in a particular way to the baptized, our attention is first drawn inward to the presence of Christ within ourselves as Baptism is the gateway to participation in Holy Mass. (Blessing ourselves with Holy Water upon entering the sacred space should have already called this to mind.)

It is fitting, therefore, that we should begin our union with Christ in Holy Mass by turning inward; as Holy Mother 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 ourselves, however, is not enough. Our interior participation in the sacred liturgy also compels us to become “intimately joined with the High Priest,” whom the Council Fathers tell us is made present in a unique way in the person of the ordained minister, so that “together with Him, and through Him we may offer the Sacrifice, making ourselves one with Him” (ibid).

This is where the response, “And with your spirit,” takes on special meaning.

One may have noticed how St. John Chrysostom’s homily employs a cleverly presented interplay between the word “spirit” as in the case of “And with your spirit,” and “Spirit” as in the “Holy Spirit.” This implied connection reveals something important about our response that is worthy of closer consideration.

The word “spirit” (with a lowercase “s”) is often taken to refer 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 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).

Thanks to the sacrament of Holy Orders, the Eternal High Priest — He who alone is able to offer the Sacrifice of the Mass — is made present to us in a unique way in the “spirit” of the priest who says, “The Lord be with you.”

And so when we say, “And with your spirit,” not only are we plainly acknowledging Christ’s unique presence in the inmost being of the priest, we are also consciously saying that we hereby join ourselves in a particular way to Christ who dwells in the priest in such a profound way that he acts “in persona Christi” at Holy Mass.

This nuance becomes a bit clearer if we imagine giving our response with stress on the word “your:” And with your spirit.

Now let’s see if we can bring all of this together:

When the priest says “The Lord be with you,” he is blessing us while saying in essence, “Unite your hearts and minds with the Lord to whom you are configured in Baptism.”

To which we reply, “And with your spirit,” essentially asserting, “I recognize He who just blessed me through you, Father, and so I unite myself to the Lord within my own inmost being ‘and with your spirit’ as well.”

It is helpful to recall that the Second Vatican Council deliberately chose to speak of Lord’s presence in the Sacrifice of the Mass by naming the lay faithful and the ordained ministers separately. They did so in order to underscore the truth that Christ is present in both, but in a unique way.

How unique? Well, the Council Fathers tell us in the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church that the laity and the ordained priesthood actually “differ from one another in essence;” (LG 10) i.e., as it relates to who we are in our inmost being, or put another way, in our very “spirit.”

We acknowledge this in a particular way when we offer the response, “And with your spirit,” thereby indicating that we are moved to join ourselves to Christ who acts in a particularly profound way in the Sacrifice of the Mass through His ordained minister; the celebrant in whose spirit we encounter the Eternal High Priest.

The worshipping community, although composed of both laity and clergy, form but one body. As St. Paul says, “He who is joined to the Lord is one spirit” (1 Cor. 6:17).

This unity of “spirit” is necessary in order for us to worship as we ought at Holy Mass.

“But the hour cometh and now is, when the true adorers shall adore the Father in spirit and in truth. For the Father also seeketh such to adore him. God is a spirit: and they that adore him must adore him in spirit and in truth” (John 4:23-24).

And so we are moved to unite ourselves with Christ in all of the ways in which He deigns to come to us in the Sacrifice of the Mass: in the Most Holy Eucharist, in the Sacred Scriptures, in ourselves and one another, and in the person of the ordained minister to whom we say in faith, “And with your spirit.”

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  • Cooky642

    Thank you for a more profound understanding of this (coming) change in the liturgy. You have breached my resistance. Would you also take on the “reversion” at the presentation of the Body and Blood? That one disturbs me.

  • Cooky: not so much a change, as a restoration of what has been lost for some 40 years.

  • Hi Cooky,

    I’m glad to know your resistance is waning!

    Go to http://www.harvestingthefruit.com and look for “And with Your Spirit” – a booklet that covers the forthcoming changes to the people’s parts of Holy Mass. You can download a PDF version of the booklet there at no cost. Maybe this will answer your question.

  • elkabrikir

    This is the type of article that I really like to see on Catholic Exchange!!!

    I need the catechesis. My intellect helps strengthen my faith. I can hardly wait to get to mass…

    Thanks for expanding on the topic.

  • This is great stuff. My former resistance to the revisions in the Liturgy has been overcome and now I can’t wait for Advent 2011. I am webmaster for my parish, and we have begun posting a regular catechesis on the changes to prepare folks. I urge everyone to talk to his/her pastor to see that instruction begins quickly so that people are ready. We can’t just have all this dumped in everyone’s lap next December, or resistance will be very high.

  • Cooky642

    Thank you, Mr. Verrecchio, for your kind attention to my post. I did download your complete work, and will appreciate being able to go back to it repeatedly for verification and answers to the questions of others.

    However, I still have a problem with our response to the Agnus Dei (pg. 46): Our response will also change: Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.

    As a convert pre-Vatican II, I remember this response. It seemed then–and so much more now that I’ve grown in my faith and understanding–as “off-puting”. It feels (and yes, I know that’s dangerous)like a distancing from intimacy, instead of an increasing. I’m well aware that God is Other, but in the Eucharist, He deigns to join Himself to me–not only spiritually, but physically–in an intimacy that I don’t have the vocabulary to describe. That’s not a point in time when I’m looking for distance!

    I mean, I’ll do it–under obedience–but I don’t like it (which, I understand, is not the point). I presume my best option is to pray and let God change my understanding; but, if you have some Word of Encouragement (sorry, Mark) to offer, I’d love to hear it. Thank you.

  • Hi Cooky,
    Thank you for asking! I hope I can help in some way, but you are doing the best thing possible in praying.
    You’re clearly already on exactly the right track in your interior disposition; this is the lead up to an encounter of indescribable intimacy with the Lord. The question is whether or not the words that we say really are set in opposition to that intimacy, or as you said, are they truly “off-putting.”

    The first thing I would remind you is that these words are spoken in preparation for the incredible intimacy that you very rightly describe – they are not the moment of intimacy itself; rather they are intended to orient our thoughts in such way as to help us embrace the awe inspiring reality of what is about to happen. Note: about to happen… This is important!

    Secondly, this is language that is remote from every day speech for sure, it’s unusual and yes, even a bit uncomfortable. This is one of the characteristics of sacred language. Why? Because sacred things are unlike the every day, ordinary, secular things that are so commonplace, and its purpose is to call our hearts and minds beyond the ordinary and into sacred mystery.

    The fact that you sense a bit of “distancing” in these words is actually quite fitting when we consider what is about to take place, but I would prefer for you to contemplate instead how they might engender a sense of awe within you; not so much distance.

    Let’s go back once more to the Scriptural roots of these words in Matthew 8 where the Roman centurion approaches Jesus and asks that He heal his sick servant. I know this is familiar to you, but bear with me, because ultimately we will see if we can make the centurion’s words and sentiments our very own in such way as to inspire the awe that should accompany our intimacy with Christ. Let’s pick it up there:

    “And Jesus saith to him: I will come and heal him. And the centurion, making answer, said: Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldst enter under my roof; but only say the word, and my servant shall be healed. For I also am a man subject to authority, having under me soldiers; and I say to this, Go, and he goeth, and to another Come, and he cometh, and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth it.”

    What is the centurion saying? In saying, “I, like my servant, am a man under authority,” the centurion’s words suggest a few important things – one, he realizes that in Jesus’ presence he is really no more than a servant himself. His words also suggest that he recognizes that Jesus is more than just an ordinary man, but rather He is one with true authority.

    In describing how his own underlings obey him even though he is but a servant to another as well, the centurion is saying, “If those under me do what I command at my word, surely You who have ultimate authority can command anything – including something as incredible as the miracle of healing – by your word alone.”

    The end result?

    “And Jesus said to the centurion: Go, and as thou hast believed, so be it done to thee. And the servant was healed at the same hour.”

    Now let’s make these words our own.

    Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.

    Instead of “off-putting,” consider how fitting the sentiment we’re expressing truly is – we are telling Jesus that we recognize Him as Lord, and we really are NOT worthy of having the Him join Himself to us not only spiritually, but physically in an intimacy that we cannot describe. (You said this very well!)

    So even though this seems not to be a point in time when we should sense distance, it is truly a fitting time to express the degree to which we are awed by the very thought of such intimate union with our All Holy Lord. “Off putting” is not exactly the right description, but a sense of unworthiness certainly is: We are but creatures / He is the One through whom all things were made!

    Think of it this way; what if your bishop called and said, “Pope Benedict is coming to your house for a visit, he’ll be walking through the front door in 5 minutes.” How would you feel? In addition to being excited and thrilled you’d think, “Oh my God! Not me! Not now! I’m not prepared! The house isn’t clean enough, the furniture isn’t good enough, I’m not dressed well enough, etc.”

    So when we are preparing to receive Christ in an infinitely more profound encounter in the Most Holy Eucharist, it is absolutely right that we should take on similar sentiments, thrilled and excited at the prospect indeed, yet also with a sense that we are utterly unprepared for such a privileged encounter… The interior of our abode – our bodies – are not quite clean enough, our holiness is not refined enough, in the words of the centurion, we are not worthy.

    But the centurion didn’t stop there and neither do we. We recognize that because Jesus is Lord, all that it takes is His word and our souls – dwelling within our bodies, our inmost being – can be healed of our unworthiness such that He can, and will, enter. “But only say the word…”

    In our response at Holy Mass, we proclaim before God and one another that we truly are unworthy of the intimate union that is about to come (and who is?) but we then accept in faith that Jesus responds to us just as He did to the centurion, “As thou hast believed, so be it done to thee.” At this, we must accept that our souls are indeed healed in such way that we are now prepared for something the centurion couldn’t even begin to imagine; the gift of receiving the Lord in the most intimate of ways under the roof of our mouths, into our bodies, into our soul’s abode.

    So you see, the “distancing” that you feel at these words is not only real, it is actually quite fitting on the one hand, but know that it is meant to be fleeting in a sense on the other.

    There is indeed infinite “distance” between the Holy One of God and ourselves, but the Lord by His power and infinite love and mercy will breach that distance in response to our faith; a faith reflected in the words that we say:

    Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.

    This recognition of unworthiness and acceptance of the healing love of God that makes intimate union with Christ in the Eucharist possible is essential, because when this is lost we run the risk of losing an appropriate sense of awe and sacred mystery… Worst, some might even begin to grow a bit casual in their approach to the Eucharist. I think we need to be reminded at every Holy Mass – as this response does for those who consider its meaning – that we are about to receive something far more incredible than even an impromptu visit from the pope. : )

    I hope this helped a little. May God bless you in your efforts to prepare for the new prayers and responses at Holy Mass. They are, as is the liturgical instruction we’re engaging in, a tremendous gift. All glory and honor to Almighty god!

  • Cooky642

    WOW! I’m overwhelmed both by your kindness in giving me so much personal time and attention, and also by the profound depths you exposed in your teaching! I’m not used to going “that far down” except in prayer!

    So, we come back to Mary’s “do whatever He tells you”, huh? I can certainly appreciate that. I’ve worked for years on the premise: you don’t have to understand it, you just have to do it. And, often, some modicum of understanding follows the doing. What joy to have the understanding before the doing! Thank you.

    One last personal note, if I may. I’m a Secular Carmelite, and have been praying the Divine Office daily for 12 years. Spotted throughout the Psalm Prayers, I am always stopped dead in my tracks by some mention of being ‘worthy’ of everlasting life. I never fail to stop and remind God that I understand that in myself–as in, me/myself/I–can never be ‘worthy’ of anything but His eternal wrath, but that, in His Mercy, I hope for Mercy for myself. You “hit me” where I live.

    Thank you again.

  • You are most welcome, Cookie.

    I honestly believe that I’m the one who benefited most here. I can’t tell you how exhilarating it is to engage with someone who is sincerely and humbly seeking deeper entry into sacred mystery. You’re a shining example of what that means and I thank God for the opportunity to have this conversation with you.

    Ad Iesum per Mariam!


  • melissa7

    I hope you don’t mind but I linked this article, and the first one, in an article on my blog Yoga Insights. I am a yoga teacher and a Catholic and your article inspired me to explore some of the links between yoga and Christianity. Here’s the link:http://yogabymelissa.blogspot.com/2010/08/yoga-and-christianity-namaste.html