One of changes made to the responses we will use at Mass will be the new response given by the people when the celebrant says, “the Lord be with you.” The revised translation will use the Biblical response, “and with your spirit.” This construction is found throughout the Old Testament and is frequent in the Letters of St. Paul.
For him, writing in Greek, pneuma, or spirit, is the divine element proper to each individual — his or her inspiration. Inspiration, a word Greeks use to indicate a “breathing into,” was literally the means by which the Creator made humans, by putting His breath into them.
Therefore, the word spirit corresponds neither to the body, nor to the soul exclusively. It indicates the sum total of the individual — the manifestation of how the body and soul work together to form the aggregate of the person. We often use the word personality to describe someone’s spirit.
To St. Paul, the human person is a body, a soul and a spirit. When he talks about the ways of the flesh and the ways of the Holy Spirit being opposed to one another in Galatians, he is making this distinction. The way of the flesh is the path that pursues what pleases the body; the way of the Holy Spirit is the pursuit of what delights the soul.
The spirit is determined by what aspect of one’s being a person chooses to live. If one lives by the flesh, it can be said that the spirit is hedonistic, constantly pursuing sensual pleasures. If one lives by the Holy Spirit, it can be said that the spirit is to be spiritual since the person considers the ways by which the soul can be nourished.
Every human is a body, soul and spirit, but the greeting for the people and response to the priest at Mass are different.
The early church fathers attempted to explain this. Theodore of Mopsuestia (c. 350-428) and St. John Chrysostum (c. 349-407) explained that the greeting “the Lord be with you” was a play on the invitation the archangel Gabriel gives to Mary: “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you.”
The liturgy alters the “is” to “be” because unlike Mary, we are not yet full of grace. The Lord is with Mary in a way diverse from us because she was conceived without original sin. The celebrant extends his arms when greeting the people to invite them into action, as Gabriel invited Mary to say yes.
The response, “and with your spirit,” refers to the special presence in the celebrant by virtue of his ordination.
Given our belief that the priest at Mass stands in re-presentation of Christ, the celebrant of the divine mysteries He inaugurated at the Last Supper, then it is logical to see why the people respond “and with your spirit.”
The congregation is asking that the Lord be with the whole being of the celebrant — his personality — since he has been ordered to be the voice of the faithful in the liturgy, as Christ is the voice of humanity before the Father.
The priest is the conduit for the people between the liturgy in heaven and that on earth. As such, the assembly prays that the Lord remain with the priest’s share in the Holy Spirit so that he can continue to bring Christ present among the believers during the liturgy.
We should note that “the Lord be with you” is given when the priest or deacon is asking the people to do something special. At the beginning of the Mass, the phrase invites them to enter the divine presence. Before the Gospel, it is a call to attention so that they listen and keep the Gospel always in their minds, on their lips, and in their hearts, which is why we trace the sign of the Cross in these places.
Most especially, the greeting is given before the priests asks “lift up your hearts.” The reply, “and with your spirit,” is to ask God to permit the priest to use his whole self to make present Christ’s body and blood.
This is why it makes no sense for the assembly to extend their hands toward the priest when saying, “and also with you.” They are not asking the Lord to be with the body of the priest, but with his role of service at specific times in the liturgy.
The priest and the deacon are people like anyone else. Like every one of us, they are also body, soul and spirit. “And with your spirit” is a clearer way of asking the Lord to continue to renew the graces given by their ordination to the whole being of these weak men, so that they can guide us to the Father as Christ did.
Father Bryan P. Babick, SL.L., is the vicar for Divine Worship and the Sacraments for the Diocese of Charleston.