And with Thy Spirit – Joseph Wood

  Let me start by admitting that the topic of this meditation is brought to you by happenstance, by a happy accident that occurred during lunch after we had finished prepping the school supplies for the Backpack Project. (A huge thank you again to all of the people who donated, shopped, sorted, or otherwise showed up for this moment in our parish’s ministry.) The topic of most recent English translation of the Roman Catholic Mass came up, which was the first one to be approved since Vatican II in the 1960s. A move away from what some Catholic authorities worried was the too conversational style of the earlier translations, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops unveiled the new one in 2008, and it’s supposedly a return to a more elevated tone proper to reverence. Among the changes was one that some Emmanuelites may recognize. Where the earlier version had the congregation responding to the celebrant’s “the Lord be with you” with “and also with you,” now the people are encouraged to answer back “and with your spirit.” Incidentally, the movement from “with you” to “with your spirit” is an almost exact reversal of the change that took place in Episcopal liturgies based upon the influence of the Liturgical Movement. In Rite I of our Book of Common Prayer, you can still find the rubrics prompting a (presumably reverential) “and with thy spirit” before the Collect of the Day and at the opening of the Eucharistic Prayer (BCP 325, 333). Meanwhile, the Rite II language that we regularly use here at Emmanuel follows the same pattern as the Vatican II translation, the congregation replying to the clerical salutation with “and also with you” (BCP 357, 361). The question is: why is there such debate over a seemingly simple phrase?

  At lunch, I didn’t have much of an answer to the other’s puzzlement, because I wasn’t sure myself what was at stake—beyond the usual anxiety over any ritual changes. All I could tell them is that “with your[/thy] spirit” is a closer translation of the Latin of the Roman Rite: et cum spiritu tuo. After a little more sleuthing, I can tell you that the two phrases seem to be reformulations of the end of greetings in several of the Pauline letters (emphasis mine):

·      “May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers and sisters. Amen.” (Galatians 6:18)
·      “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.” (Philippians 4:23)
·      “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.” (Philemon 25)
·      “The Lord be with your spirit. Grace be with you.” (2 Timothy 4:22)

Given the consistency of the examples, it may be the case that St. Paul was drawing upon an earlier tradition, but I wasn’t able to find any sources that spoken directly to such a precursor. It’s worth noting, though, that 2 Timothy is one of the letters that is now known as “of the Pauline School” or “Deutero-Pauline,” because there is a fair amount of scholarly consensus that they were not actually written by Paul—so at least some of the difference in our phrase can be chalked up to diverse authorship. In either case, the concern of translating shifts from Latin to New Testament Greek and the context and intentions behind those scriptural words.

  When we say spirit, are we talking about the individual spirit of the celebrant? Or the spirit of the community? And, in either case, is that spirit the Holy Spirit? Pages upon pages have been written throughout Christian history trying to come to some kind of definitive conclusion, and I won’t go into even a fraction of those arguments here. I will note that there is a real beauty to the possibility that the spirit mentioned in the response is the Holy Spirit, especially when paired with the opening of “the Lord be with you.” Then we have at least two members of the Trinity evoked in mere moments, inviting the people and the celebrant to share together in a Triune pattern as we worship. Even so, there is something striking about the idea of the people echoing that the Lord be “also with” their clergyperson, reminding us that even our most formulaic (and all too often clericalist) liturgy should be understood as a mutual act. Thus, I’m not going to try to tell you that either translation is a better one. Perhaps you find the conversational tone of the one or the elevation of the other more prayerful. Perhaps you even find the idea of a difference between the two a kind of holy nitpicking. Whatever the case, it’s extraordinary to think about how each line, each word of our prayers contains such an inheritance. Phrases that have become almost second nature to us bear the imprint of an untold number of hands and were born from an untold number of lips. So, the next time you find yourself immersed in our ritual language, notice what especially resonates with you—God only knows the overabundance of meaning behind that moment. It’s another way to enter into communion.