Monday 5 September 2011

And with your spirit

The first of a series of twelve sermons on the Mass to coincide with the introduction of the new English translation of the Roman Missal.

Preached by Fr Joseph Welch on Sunday 4th September 2011.

"Today we begin a series of sermons spread over twelve weeks to coincide with the introduction throughout the English speaking world of the new translation of the Roman Missal, and all twelve of these sermons will be posted on our website. The new translation is more faithful to the Latin original and is designed to bring out more fully the beauty and the richness of the theology to be found in the words of the Mass itself. And each of these sermons will open up some aspect or other of that theology.

For example, why does the Latin say, Et cum spiritu tuo, "And with your spirit"?

For the most part we probably think that when the priest says, "The Lord be with you" we're simply responding politely with, "And the same to you, Father". But in fact this is not at all what we are saying. What we are actually doing is two things:

first, we are acknowledging the grace of Christ present and working in the spirit or soul of the priest in a unique way since his ordination;

and second, we are praying for the priest, asking Our Lord to be truly with him so that he may carry out the sacramental, the supernatural, work that he was called by God to undertake when he was ordained.

Like so much of the new translation this wording is more scriptural than the old response "And also with you". The new phrase can be found again and again, for example, in the letters of St Paul. In 2 Timothy 4:22 St Paul writes, "The Lord be with your spirit. Grace be with you". In Galatians 6:18 he writes, "The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brethren", and he concludes his letter to the Philippians with the words, "The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit" (4:23). In these passages the Apostle is not merely wishing his readers well. He is praying – as the priest at Mass prays every time he says, "The Lord be with you" – he is praying that Our Lord will especially bless those to whom he is speaking, and that He, Our Lord, will come and dwell, and act, and reign as King within them, and give them His most powerful help and assistance. He is praying that they may be blessed with all the blessings that come with having Our Lord Himself dwelling, truly living, within them in the form of sanctifying grace.

What a thought! The God of Heaven and earth, the Creator of all things, desires, more than anything else, to come and dwell within the hearts of us all and to make our hearts like unto His, and to draw each one of us more and more deeply into the intimate life of the Blessed Trinity Itself. "With desire," says Our Lord to His Apostles at the Last Supper, "with desire I have desired to eat this pasch with you." So great is that desire, and so intimate the union that He desires, that He gives Himself to us and comes to us in the form of Bread so that we may consume Him and receive Him directly into our hearts in Holy Communion.

And because none of us can do any lasting or supernatural good without the aid of God's grace, without His dwelling within us, we all stand in constant need of this grace, which is why the priest prays, "The Lord be with you" so often during the Mass and, in fact, in all the ceremonies of the Church's liturgy.

And the priest at the altar is able to make this prayer in a very special way because he, as a result of his ordination, has been consecrated and remoulded, as it were, and become an alter Christus, another Christ. The priest has become, like Christ, a mediator, a go-between, who acts as the means by which God the Father gives grace to the souls of His people. So when he prays, "The Lord be with you", the priest is, through his sacramental prayers and actions, actually pouring the grace and love of God into the hearts of the people for whom he is praying. And in order to help him do this day by day the people respond with their own prayer, that the Lord may be with his spirit as well.

Through their heartfelt prayer, God's people pray that the priest may continue to receive and be filled with grace because it is only by grace that the priest can do his work at all. As St John Chrysostom says:

By [the words, 'And with your spirit'] you are also reminded that he who is there does nothing, and that the right offering of the gifts is not a work of human nature, but that the mystic sacrifice is brought about by the grace of the Holy Spirit and His hovering over all. For he who is there is a man, but it is God who acts through him. Do not attend to the nature of the one you see, but understand the grace which is invisible (PG 50, 458-459).

Where there is a longing for the Lord, the Lord will bestow His grace. And that this longing might be fulfilled, the priest prays constantly for his people, "The Lord be with you". And in return we pray, "And with your spirit".