And Also With You

Author: Fr Edward McNamara


And Also With You

ROME, 15 JUNE 2004 (ZENIT)

Answered by Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical University.

Q: When the presider at Mass greets the assembly with the words "The Lord be with you" he extends his arms to all in a gesture of pouring out this wish and blessing. The assembly replies "And also with you" (which apparently is currently under review to reflect the exact Latin translation "And with your Spirit"). Is it liturgically incorrect or not permissible for the assembly, in their reciprocation, to extend their hands and arms similarly as they reply to the presider's greeting, as a gesture of returning the blessing? — M.C., Durban, South Africa

A: While your proposal is likely done with the best of intentions I do not believe that this change would be beneficial.

The use of this gesture by the congregation would probably actually reduce the specific presidential character of this greeting and gesture, which is traditionally somewhat more than just an act of social courtesy.

Certainly the greeting is very ancient. In the biblical Book of Ruth (2:4) Booz greets his reapers with "The Lord be with you." To which they replied, "The Lord bless you." Instead of this phrase the liturgy uses the "And with your spirit" which in its original Judeo-Christian context means the same as "And also with you."

However, from ancient times the expression "And with your spirit" received an added, more spiritual, meaning.

St. John Chrysostom (344-407) refers to the spirit of the greeting as the indwelling Spirit and as an allusion to the fact that the bishop performs the sacrifice by the power of the Holy Spirit.

For this reason the greeting "The Lord be with you" was from early on restricted to bishops, priests and deacons.

It is probably the spiritual theological interpretation of this dialogue, through which the faithful, in a way, are constituted as a liturgical assembly with and through the "spirit" of the priest that has moved the Holy See to insist on a more literal translation in future missals. This might initially cause some adjustment difficulties in countries (such as the English-speaking world and Brazilian Portuguese) which adopted non-literal translations.

The gesture which accompanies the dialogue of stretching out and closing the hands deepens more the utterance of a desire to be united with the assembly and to draw them together into the prayer which is about to begin.

In fact, during Mass, this gesture is reserved to the priest during the specific presidential moments in which he invites the assembly to pray or, in other words, to act as a liturgical assembly.

Thus if the whole assembly were to repeat this gesture it would in all likelihood weaken the expression of this theological and ecclesial rapport.

When the formula "The Lord be with you" is used in non-presidential moments, such as before the reading of the Gospel (which even when read by the celebrant is not considered a presidential act), the rubrics specify that the priest or deacon keeps his hands joined.

From another standpoint, introducing this gesture unilaterally would be an example of arbitrarily establishing a new liturgical movement which may not be done at the local level but is primarily reserved to the Holy See or proposed by the bishops' conference and ratified by the Holy See.

Even when new gestures are introduced by these bodies, they must be historically, theologically and pastorally justified and so are usually the fruit of painstaking study and reflection. ZE04061525

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Follow-up: "And Also With You" [from 06-29-2004]

A reader took issue with our June 15 column about the faithful opening and closing their hands when answering "And also with you."

"This isn't something being introduced," she writes. "This is something we've been doing for decades."

The reader adds some personal opinions regarding the importance given by some people to fidelity to the rubrics.

She continues: "If one is focused on what one THINKS is right rather than pure and simple worship of Our Lord, then something is horribly wrong.

"While our priests and liturgists are poring over the details of Mass in an exacting process, the parishioners are becoming more and more divided. ... We have become like the biblical Sadducees and Pharisees. So in love with our rules, we forget who we're worshipping."

Since our correspondent did not put her location in her message I don't know what archdiocese has been practicing this gesture for decades. But I have never observed it beforehand.

Although I believe that our correspondent is sincere in her belief and in her desire to seek the "pure worship of God," I beg to differ with her on one or two points.

First, I believe that most people who seek fidelity to liturgical laws do so out of an equally sincere love of God and the Church, and not out of pride or a pharisaic mentality.

Of course, I cannot exclude this possibility as I am unaware of my correspondents' spiritual state. But as a Christian my duty to presuppose the best and noblest of intentions in those who write to me.

Second, I beg to differ with my present reader on the importance of fidelity to liturgical norms.

If I interpret her correctly — and I apologize if I am wrong — she seems to be moving from a rather subjective presupposition that liturgical worship is above all something that we do rather than something we enter into and receive as a gift.

She desires the pure worship of God. Yet in reality that pure worship can only be attained through an act of submission to and participation in the forms that God has established, either directly by Christ or through his Church, as the means of offering him genuine worship in spirit and truth.

Much acrimony regarding liturgical law would have been avoided if there had been greater fidelity from the beginning.

To illustrate this point, we could take our cue from the great theologian Romano Guardini who wrote of the liturgy as "play," or a "game."

The act of liturgical worship can be considered as "play" under several conditions.

In one way it is play because like a game: It is not done for utilitarian purposes but from the sheer joy and desire to do so. It is done because "dignum et iustum est" — it is right and fitting to offer glory and praise to God.

Certainly the Sunday precept is obligatory but our act of worship as such is not founded on the precept.

In another way, liturgy is play because like any game it consists of a set of rules which must be followed by all if the game is to be possible. Nobody can play a game if the rules are being made up as we go along.

Nor for that matter has any player ever being inducted into his sport's Hall of Fame for having committed the greatest number of fouls and infractions. Rather, a player shows mettle, creativity and genius in the measure that he moves within the bounds of the rules of the game.

This is certainly true of liturgy. For only through respect and fidelity to the Church's norms is true worship, honor and glory offered to God, and the Christian faithful experience genuine spiritual progress and creativity. ZE04062921

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