[On the first Sunday of Advent, Nov. 27, 2011, we will begin using the third edition of the Roman Missal for Mass. In order to prepare for a proper reception of our new liturgical texts, I will be using this column in the weeks ahead to offer a catechesis on the words that the Church gives us to pray when we come together to celebrate the Liturgy.]
"The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you" (2 Cor 13:13).
When the priest greets the people at the beginning of Mass with these words, he is using the last words of St. Paul's second letter to the Church of Corinth. Since St. Paul refers to God the Father, simply as "God," this blessing is clearly Trinitarian. It expresses the Church's belief in one God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This is the longest blessing used by the Apostle to end any of his letters. And, it briefly sums up the very essence of the Christian life.
In this greeting, Paul does not follow the order in which we normally name the divine persons of the Trinity. Rather, he first mentions Jesus who is the Son before he names God the Father. This very unusual word order unlocks for us the theology of St. Paul about how we are saved.
Paul begins the greeting by saying "the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ." "Grace" is one of Paul's favorite words. He uses it to express the salvation event. Through the death and resurrection of Jesus, our sins are forgiven and we are reconciled with God. Thus, it is through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ that we come to the Father. As Jesus himself said, "No one comes to the Father except through me" (Jn 14:6).
Paul ends the greeting with the words "the communion of the Holy Spirit." In the new translation, "communion" will replace the word "fellowship." Unlike "fellowship," which may sound to some overly masculine, the word "communion" is gender-neutral. It translates the Greek word koinonia.
First of all, the expression "the communion of the Holy Spirit" reminds us of the intimate relationship that every believer has with the Holy Spirit. The Risen Lord pours out his Holy Spirit on each of us. It is because of the Holy Spirit dwelling within us that we can call Jesus "Lord" (1 Cor 12:4); and, it is in the power of the Holy Spirit that we call God "Father" (Gal 4:6).
Second, the expression "the communion of the Holy Spirit" also reminds us that the Holy Spirit gives to each of us different gifts for a purpose. Using these different gifts, we are to work together for the good of the whole Church and thus form one body, one communion of faith (1 Cor 12:7; Gal 5:22).
When the priest, therefore, says, "The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you," he is using one of the earliest expressions of our faith in God as a Trinity of three persons, equal and distinct, yet one God. This greeting reminds us that we have a relationship with each of the divine persons. It is through the Son that we come to the Father in the power of the Holy Spirit. Furthermore, this greeting draws our attention to the Trinitarian dimension of the Liturgy. In Liturgy, all three persons of the Trinity are taking us up into their life as the one God and forming us here on earth as the Body of Christ.
To be continued ...