The Introductory Rites: No Mere Greeting

On April 28, 2010, Pope Benedict XVI received a hardbound copy of the recently approved English translation of the Roman Missal — 3rd Edition from members of the Vox Clara Committee — a group of English-speaking bishops who advise the Congregation for Divine Worship on matters of liturgical translation.

“Soon the fruits of your labors will be made available to English-speaking congregations everywhere,” the Holy Father said as he thanked the members of the Committee for their years of hard work.

The Holy Father struck a decidedly hopeful tone in his comments saying, “Through these sacred texts and the actions that accompany them, Christ will be made present and active in the midst of His people,” the clear implication being that the text being replaced left something to be desired with regard to fostering an encounter with the Divine at Holy Mass.

The prevailing opinion seems to be that the newly translated Missal will come into use in the United States beginning with the First Sunday of Advent 2011. Other commentators consider 2012 a bit more realistic, but regardless of when it is introduced for official use the intervening months must be treated as “an opportunity for catechesis; a time to prepare for the reception of the new translation,” according to the Holy Father.

 

With this in mind, I’d like to share a brief excerpt adapted from,  And with Your Spirit – Recovering a sense of the sacred in the English translation of the Roman Missal – 3rd Edition, a booklet that I prepared for pastors, DRE’s, catechists and any other Catholic interested in preparing themselves and others well for what’s to come.

Once the Mass begins, we won’t have to wait long to encounter our very first change in the text:

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.

I can almost imagine some of you cringing at the thought of one; saying it yourself, and two; trying to explain it to other people! This is a perfect example of the absolute necessity of engaging in the liturgical instruction that was urged by the Second Vatican Council as a key for promoting active participation. I think it’s fair to say we have some catching up to do in this regard.

In any event, this exchange between priest and people takes place a number of times throughout the Mass, starting with the Introductory Rites.

You mean the greeting?

No! I mean the Introductory Rites!

The Lord be with you.

One just kind of expects to hear this sort of thing from a priest, right? There’s nothing all that out of the ordinary about it, but our response; And with your spirit, what can we say about that?

Peculiar? Unusual? Remote from everyday speech? You bet it is! But what exactly does it mean?

Well, the first thing you should know is that this manner of speaking has ancient Christian roots; in fact, it has been 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!

One of the many great things about our Catholic faith is that it is rarely if ever necessary to reinvent the wheel. In the present case, for example, rather than attempting to explain And with your spirit to you myself, I’m going to let St. John Chrysostom do it.

In his “Homily on the Holy Pentecost” which dates to the end of the fourth century, St. John taught:

If the Holy Spirit were not in our Bishop [referring to Bishop Flavian of Antioch] 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. This is why you reply with this expression not only when he ascends to the sanctuary, nor when he preaches to you, nor when he prays for you, but when he stands at this holy altar, when he is about to offer this awesome sacrifice. 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.

Well, the first thing we might notice here is that this exchange took place during the Mass in St. John’s day at essentially the same times that it does in the Ordinary Form of Holy Mass today.

Secondly, St. John makes it pretty clear that we’re not simply exchanging pleasantries here; i.e., it’s not as though Father is saying, “Greetings in Christ, everybody!”

To which the people politely reply, “Same to you, Big Guy!”

I’m being a little facetious, of course, but isn’t this pretty much the way most people tend to view what is taking place?

Some well-meaning folks have even taken to making a gesture when saying “and also with you” that calls to mind the tossing of an imaginary beach ball; as if their body language is saying “Right back atcha, Father!”

Now I don’t say this to poke fun at these good people who are putting their all into the liturgy as best they know how. Enter liturgical instruction. Once the faithful realize what is truly taking place – once the new translation is well accepted for what it really means to say – I expect these kinds of gestures to naturally disappear.

The Lord be with you.

And with your spirit.

So if it’s not a “Holy how’d ya do,” what exactly is going on here?

Well, as St. John Chrysostom’s homily indicates, it’s not so much a greeting at all; rather it’s a prayer of blessing met with a profession of faith.

He tells us that when the bishop — or the priest who celebrates Holy Mass in his stead — says The Lord be with you, he is “praying for you the grace from the Lord,” and most importantly as it relates to our reply, St. John says that when we respond, And with your spirit, we are actually making a rather profound and timely profession of faith.

We’re acknowledging that the priest who stands before us is not just another member of the congregation. He’s not even just the “presider.” Rather, the priest who stands before us does so as one uniquely configured to Christ, present in this place to serve in Persona Christi – in the Person of Christand most certainly not by his own resources.

So when we say, And with your spirit, we are actually professing our faith in the sacrament of Holy Orders and the mark that is bourn on the soul of the ordained minister who leads us.

I can assure you that some folks will hear this and say to themselves (and maybe even to you), “Here we go again; it’s that pre-Vatican II clericalism coming back to haunt us. Here we are 90 seconds into the Mass and already we have to tip our hat to Father and tell him how special he is. It’s all about the hierarchy…”

The truth, however, is just the opposite.

The response, And with your spirit, is not just important for what it says, it also happens to be timely for when we say it. We’re acknowledging that Holy Mass and the parts therein are not really about Father Joe personally at all. It’s not his Mass; it is Christ’s Holy Mass.

The liturgy according to the Vatican II document Sacrosanctum Concilium is first and foremost an action of the one High Priest — Jesus Christ — to whom the priest standing before us is configured, and it is in recognizing Christ who acts in a profound way through the sacred minister that we are moved to say, And with your spirit.

And so this exchange –- The Lord be with you / And with your spirit — is not an act of clericalism at all; in fact, it’s a very tangible example 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.

In other words, when we say And with your spirit in response to The Lord be with you we are affirming that we have just received, not a priestly “Good Morning,” but rather a blessing imparted by the spirit of Christ at the hands of His ordained minister. And so we prepare our hearts and minds to see with the eyes of faith, imparted to us at Baptism, this very same spirit of Christ in action in the Sacrifice of the Mass as it is carried out in our midst, again, at the hands of His ordained minister.

This is why the Church understands that it is only proper for an ordained minister to offer in this way, “Dominus vobiscum, The Lord be with you,” because it is in fact an act of blessing that is reserved to those who are sacramentally configured to Christ through Holy Orders.

With all of this in mind, we should now be able to see why this exchange that takes place during the Introductory Rites is so much more than a mere greeting, and why such a view is so very deficient. It should also be apparent to us just how much treasure we stand to recover once the new Missal comes into use; provided of course we prepare for its coming through good liturgical instruction.

On that note, you can obtain a copy of the booklet, And with Your Spirit – Recovering a sense of the sacred in the English translation of the Roman Missal – 3rd Edition, at HarvestingTheFruit.com.

I would also suggest for those interested in a broader treatment of the Mass and the newly translated prayers, as well as an explanation of the gestures and postures that accompany our worship, a book entitled, Praying the Mass – The Prayers of the People, by Jeffrey Pinyan, available at PrayingTheMass.com.

However you choose to do it, be sure to take personal responsibility for your preparation in anticipation of the new Missal. Yes, your pastor should and probably will provide valuable instruction as well, but let’s be honest; sitting back and waiting for liturgical instruction hasn’t served anyone very well in the past. It’s time to take the bull by the horns.

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