by Father Bryan Babick, SL.L.
After the Introductory Rites of the Mass, “collected,” summarized, and concluded by the Collect, the Liturgy of the Word follows. Here we listen to God’s revelation and action throughout history. The only change to this part of the Mass in the forthcoming revised translation will be the response made to the greeting “the Lord be with you.”
The faith of the Church holds that when the Gospel is proclaimed it is Christ Himself who speaks. That is why only an ordained minister – Deacon, Priest, or Bishop – may proclaim it. This is also why we stand only for the proclamation of the Gospel and no other Readings.
Several months ago I wrote about the new response we will make each time we hear the greeting, “the Lord be with you.” Since it has been so long I thought we would revisit the topic as this is one of the most contentious and awkward of revisions we will experience.
The priest or deacon who says, “the Lord be with you” does so only at specific times in the Liturgy. It is always meant as a prayer that the Lord will be with each member in the assembly in an intimate way that enables them to enter more deeply into that part of the celebration. For instance the minister proclaiming the Gospel will say, “the Lord be with you,” before reading the text as a prayer that the assembly will listen closely and challenge themselves with the truths of the Gospel they hear.
As no prayer should go unreturned, when the assembly hears the priest or deacon give the greeting they will respond, “and with your spirit.” “Spirit” often evokes the thought of a ghostly presence, but the Liturgical use of “spirit” has nothing to do with ghosts. Instead it is a “back at ya” prayer that the priest or deacon who has called God’s presence down into the hearts of the people may themselves utilize the special graces God has given them to act on His behalf in the Liturgy.
Our spirit is determined by what aspect of our being we choose to live. If we pursue only that which gives us pleasure then we may say that out spirit is hedonistic. If we attempt always to walk in the ways of the Lord then our spirits may be called holy since to be holy is to be dedicated to the service of God.
The response, “and with your spirit” is controversial because it may sound clerical in the sense that it attributes to the minister, a cleric, some distinction that places him above everyone else. We all share in the gifts of the same Holy Spirit through the Sacraments. And yet not all of Christ’s disciples are empowered to act on behalf His people. This is the very essence of what being an ordained minister – priest, deacon, or bishop – is.
“And with your spirit” is nothing other than a prayer that the minister saying it may remain faithful to God’s presence given him in the Sacrament of Holy Orders. This is why it makes no sense for us to extend our hands back toward the minister who says “the Lord be with you.” “And with your spirit” refers to the character of the minister given and seen only by God.