The Mass is not Changing. . .

August 14th, 2011  |  Published in New Roman Missal

One of the most notable changes in the response of the people happens when the priest or deacon says “The Lord be with you.” We currently say “And also with you.” In the revised translation we will say “And with your spirit.” Isn’t that just a more “high church” way of saying the same thing? No — read on…. Many hear this greeting and think it’s just the priest’s or deacon’s “church way” of saying hello and our way of saying hello back. If that were the case, it would be strange, because this dialogue occurs four times throughout in the Mass — once right before we leave. So, how can the new translation help us understand our faith more deeply?

First, we must realize that only a priest, deacon or bishop speaks that greeting during the Mass. In their ordination they are “ontologically changed” which is a theological way of saying they are changed at the core of who they are. How? The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that ordination “confers an indelible spiritual character” which “cannot be “repeated or conferred temporarily.” (CCC §1583) Does that make an ordained clergyman better than the rest of the assembly? No, but he is different — the priest stands in personaChristi, in the person of Christ, not through any merit of his own, but by the grace of the Sacrament of Holy Orders. When ordained, a deacon is no longer a lay person but he also is not a priest. Deacons are ordained to make present Christ the Servant.

Second, the times in the Mass when the priest or deacon extends the greeting tell us something too. We know that Christ is present in four ways in the Mass: 1) in the priest, 2) in the assembly, 3) in Word of God, and 4) in the Eucharist. The first time we hear the priest extend the greeting is at the beginning of Mass, as the people are assembled. The next time is before the gospel, in the greeting of the deacon or priest. Then, in the preface dialogue before the Eucharistic Prayer when bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ and finally at the end of Mass when we are sent to be the living Body of Christ in the world. Each time we hear “The Lord be with you” it signals a specific point in the Mass that Christ is made present! But we said that only a priest, deacon or bishop initiates this greeting, so does the priest, deacon or bishop “make” Christ present? No — and that is why we will soon respond “And with your spirit.” Saint John Chrysostom (c. 347-407) gave a homily on Pentecost, in which he explained that when the Bishop gave this greeting and the people responded, it was to remind him that the sacrifice to be offered was not accomplished by his own power, but by the power of the Holy Spirit penetrating his spirit. Wow! Reminding the deacon, priest or even the bishop that Christ becomes present not through their own power but by that of the Holy Spirit is a totally different understanding of this dialogue we hear four times during the Mass than just understanding it to be a simple “hello!”

This is just one example of one phrase of the new translation of the Mass and the richness to be unpacked! Our bishops tell us that the long term goal of the revised translation is to foster a deeper awareness and appreciation of the mysteries being celebrated in the Liturgy. The Latin phrase lex orandi, lex credendi — “what we pray is what we believe” — suggests that there is a direct relationship between the content of our prayers and the substance of our faith. Therefore, we should use the revised texts to deepen our prayer life. We’ll know we have succeeded in doing so if the axiom then concludes with lex vivendi — “how we live.” Will others more readily see Christ in us?