"And with your spirit"

An explanation of the liturgical greeting as translated in the New English Missal

By Fr Peter Chimombe, Masvingo Diocese, Nyika

The Latin original of the texts of the Mass have been newly translated (New English Missal) by international cooperation, with Rome after corrections giving its approval,  so that the texts reflect more closely the original meaning of the words used in the Latin Liturgy which have deep theological significance and are closely tied  to the Gospels.

Many would say that the late Archbishop Lefebvre whose excommunication was revoked by Pope Benedict XVI has now been vindicated. The use of the new English translation of the Roman Missal came into effect on the first Sunday of Advent 27/11/11, in all Anglophone countries including Zimbabwe. Putting the translation into Shona and Ndebele will probably take some time as we experienced with the New Shona Bible.

‘And with your spirit’ is the new (and old)  literal translation of  “et cum spiritu tuo” , which itself is a translation from Greek. This phrase was quite strange to the early Christians. It appears in ancient Christian writings like the Didache. It forms part of greetings in Pauline epistles: “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit brethren. Amen”  (Gal  6 :18; Phil 4 ;23); “The Lord be with your spirit, grace be with you” (2 Tim 4: 22). Hence this is an ancient liturgical greeting used only by “followers of the Way “ who later became called Christians. The Didache says that at the Eucharist the ‘prophets’ should be allowed to give thanks as much as they desire. Thus when the assembled people replied to the president’s blessing, they prayed that the Lord would be with the charism he had received. By the end of the 4th century AD, this spontaneous prayer had been replaced by the use of written prayers. In the church of Antioch and Syria, preachers like St John Chrysostem and Theodore of Mopsuestia were saying that the word “spirit” in the response referred to the charism of the  grace of priesthood which Bishop or Presbyter had received. In saying “and with your spirit”, says Theodore, “They do not refer to his soul, but to the grace of the Holy Spirit by which his people believe that he is called to the priesthood” (cf. Baptismal Homilies 15:37). In the Syro-Malabar rite of the 5th century the greetings is translated , “with you and with your spirit”. By translating it in this way, the Semitic people whose language is closer to Aramic which was spoken by our Lord and his disciples made it clear that it meant more than a simple “and also with you”.

In the 5th century, Narsi of Nisibis explained thus; “The people answer the priest lovingly and say : with you, o priest and with that priestly spirit of yours.” They call ‘spirit’ not the soul of the priest, but the spirit which the priest has received by the laying on of hands. By the laying on of hands he receives the power of the Spirit so that he may be able to perform the divine mysteries. That grace the people call the spirit of the priest and they pray that he may attain peace with it” (cf.Exposition of the Mysterious Homily 17). St John Chrysostom in a Pentecost homily said,”If there was no holy spirit there would be no shepherds or teachers in the Church, for these come also through the Spirit.”  As St. Paul says: “In which flock the Holy Spirit has established you Shepherds and Bishops (Acts 20:28). Do you not see how this also comes about through the Spirit? For if the Holy Spirit was not in him when he went into the sanctuary and gave all of you peace, you would not all have answered, ‘And with your spirit’.  By this reply you are also reminded that he who is there does nothing, and that the right offering of the gifts is not 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, it is God who works through him. Do not attend to the nature of the one you see, but understand the grace which is invisible.

Fr Peter Chimombe is a diocesan priest (Masvingo) and a parish priest. He is a writer whose articles have appeared mostly in ‘Catholic Church News’.