After the Sign of the Cross at the beginning of Mass, the priest may choose to greet the people with the simple and familiar greeting “The Lord be with you.” He uses this same greeting before the reading of the gospel, at the beginning of the Preface and before the final blessing. However, when the new translation of the Roman Missal is introduced this Advent, the people will no longer respond, “And also with you.” Rather, they will answer by saying, “And with your spirit.” Before looking at the change in the people’s response, it is helpful to understand what the priest’s greeting actually means.
To Jacob (Gen 26:3; 31:3), to Moses (Ex 3:12), and to Moses’ successor Joshua (Jos 1:5; 3:7), God says, “I shall be with you.” God’s words are a divine promise. God will accompany his chosen ones in their mission for his people. His promise of continued presence reminds them that the work that they are undertaking is not something that they are to accomplish on their own. Called by God, they go about their mission with divine assistance. The greeting “The Lord be with you” harkens back to this promise and makes it a prayer from the lips of the one uttering these words.
This greeting “The Lord be with you” is found in a number of places in Sacred Scripture. At the period of the Judges in Israel, an angel appears to Gideon and greets him with these words: “The Lord be with you, O man of valor!” (Judg 6:12). The angel then tells Gideon that God is calling him to deliver the Israelites from the Midianites, their formidable foe. What an assurance for Gideon! From the very beginning of his mission, the Lord is with him.
Nonetheless, Gideon protests. Such a task is too great for him. He reminds the angel of his lowly family background and his personal unworthiness. To answer his objection, the Lord himself merely repeats the promise: “I shall be with you…” (Judg 6:16). Gideon need not worry. God is the one who will bring about the salvation of his people.
During the same period of the Judges, there was a great famine in the Promised Land. Elimelech, his wife Naomi and their sons Mahlon and Chilion left their native Bethlehem and went to the nearby country of Moab. When Elimelech and his sons die, Naomi returns to her ancestral home. Ruth, her Moabite daughter-in-law, goes with her. The two women are bound together by love and common sorrow. Naomi has lost her husband and her two sons, and Ruth has become widowed.
Poor and in great need, they return to Bethlehem. Ruth goes to the fields of Boaz, Naomi’s kinsman, to collect the grain that the gleaners leave behind for the poor. When Boaz comes to the field where they are, he says, “The Lord be with you!”(Ruth 2:4). His greeting is a special wish for God’s presence so that the workers provide enough bread for the hungry. Ruth is in the fields among the workers. She, too, is included in his greeting. For it is through Ruth that God will provide the Bread of Life to satisfy all those spiritually hungry.
Boaz not only notices Ruth, but he is very attracted by her beauty. He takes her for his wife. They have a son named Obed who then becomes the father of Jesse. And Jesse is the father of David. Truly, the Lord is with Ruth. He has chosen her to bring about the family of David. It is from David’s family that God will bring into the world Jesus, the Bread of Life, who will be born in Bethlehem, the House of Bread.
At the very moment when the birth of Jesus is announced to Mary, Gabriel also uses the greeting “the Lord be (is) with you” (Lk 1:28). The angel’s words are not merely the assurance of God’s assistance, but the proclamation of what God is accomplishing in and through Mary. For when Mary says “yes” to the will of God, the Son of God become incarnate in her womb and the Lord is truly with her. Through Mary, God himself is bringing about our salvation and satisfying our deepest hungers.
The simple greeting, therefore, “The Lord be with you” conveys a most profound truth. When the priest uses this greeting, the priest’s words remind us that we are in the presence of God. Our gathering is not something that we do on our own. God himself is calling us together. God is making himself present to us in Jesus, our Savior and Lord, our Bread for the journey, our Sacrifice and Communion.
As we can now see, the priest’s greeting “The Lord be with you” is thoroughly biblical. So too is our new response, “And with your spirit.” St. Paul ends four of his letters with this expression (Gal 6:18; Phil 4:23; 2 Tim 4:22; and Phlm 25). In Pauline theology, πνεÍμα or “spirit” is the spiritual part of the human person open to and directly influenced by the Holy Spirit. This response “And with your spirit” places before us the reality of what we are doing. We are entering the Liturgy where we are open to the action of God in our lives and where our relationship to each other is deeply spiritual.
How profound, therefore, are the simplest greeting and response used by priest and people at Mass! When the greeting is given in the Liturgy, “The Lord be with you” and the response “And with your spirit” is made, both priest and people are expressing our faith that God is active among us in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit.
To be continued…