I have seen some posts on various blogs about a particular controversial – and major – change to the English translation of Holy Mass in the Ordinary Form: "And with your spirit … et cum spiritu tuo" as the response to "The Lord be with you".
I wrote about this issue in my columns in The Wanderer some time ago. Here is something of what I wrote in two articles which I have stitched together.
I give some history of the phrase, explain why the new translation is better, and make a proposal:
One of the most controversial changes the clergy and faithful will experience is the new and more accurately translated exchange of greetings made by the clergy and returned by the congregation. At key moments of Holy Mass the priest or bishop, and at times deacons, turn to the people and, with arms outstretched exclaim, “The Lord be with you … Dominus vobiscum” (or “Peace be with you… Pax vobis” in the case of a bishop). The people respond, “Et cum spiritu tuo”. From the point of view of Latin this literally means “And with your spirit.” For nearly three decades people have been saying “And also with you.” That is obviously not a literal translation of the Latin.
But does it accurately convey the meaning of “Et cum spiritu tuo”? How do we explain this change to people who will make this response? The day the new translation comes into force, this is the first change people will hear.
For help we turn to the scholar of liturgy Joseph A. Jungmann, SJ (+1975) and his The Mass of the Roman Rite: Its Origins and Development (originally in 1948 Missarum Sollemnia) reprinted in two paperback volumes by Christian Classics in 1986). Fr. Jungmann has some dense pages on this greeting and response (cf. Vol. 1, pp. 359-366).
Jungmann drills into the reason for this salutation and why it is repeated throughout Holy Mass, each time there is to be some special announcement. Is this a mere wish that God be near His people and that He accompany them as they pray?
One reason why we have this exchange is because it is rooted in the Judeo-Christian tradition. Jungmann points out that “both the greeting and the reply are ancient, their origins hid in pre-Christian times.” In Ruth 2:4 Booz greets the reapers with “Dominus vobiscum”. The salutation was a part of everyday life. We find it several times in Holy Scripture (Jungmann lists: 2 Timothy 4:22, Philemon 25, Galatians 6:18, Philippians 4:23). The reapers of Booz reply (in the Latin Vulgate of course) “Benedicat tibi Dominus… May the Lord bless you.” Jungmann offers that “we employ in its place a phrase which means almost the same thing: Et cum spiritu tuo, a formula which betrays its Hebrew origin and has many parallels in St. Paul”. Jungmann adds in a footnote (p. 363, n 16): “This is a Semitism: Spiritus tuus = your person = you.”
Jungmann points to the near equivalence of the Latin response of the reapers (in the Vulgate) and the Latin response “Et cum spiritu tuo”.
Today many people who object to the more literal translation now in preparation point to this very argument.
They make the claim – probably based in part on Jungmann’s standard reference work – that “And also with you” really is an accurate translation of “Et cum spiritu tuo”, and that therefore we should stick to “And also with you”, since “And with your spirit” will sound strange to people.
In response, we might suggest to those objectors that we read the whole page in Jungman’s explanation. Jungmann’s next footnote says, and I will leave in the author’s references for those who want to pry more deeply into this (my emphases):
Still it is to be remarked that even [St. John] Chrysostom, In II. Tim. hom., 10, 3 (PG, LXIII, 659 f.) had already referred ‘thy spirit’ to the indwelling Holy Spirit. In fact, in his first Whitsun (Pentecost) sermon, n. 4 (PG, L, 458 f.) he sees in the word ‘spirit’ in this counter-greeting an allusion to the fact that the bishop performs the sacrifice in the power of the Holy Spirit. That is the reason the Dominus vobiscum was even at an early age restricted to those endowed with major orders, bishops priests and deacons, and not given to subdeacons who were numbered among the higher orders only since the 13th century….
On the one hand, some argue in favor of the Semitism, the Hebrew view of “spirit” as simply being the person, “you”.
On the other hand, some argue in favor of the developing Christian understanding of the Eucharistic liturgy as Christ’s Sacrifice and of the significance of Holy Orders.
I suspect that if we were to quiz the first group, we would find a somewhat more “horizontal” theology, an emphasis on “liturgy” as “meal”, Eucharist as “thanksgiving” and perhaps a less sharp discernment of the roles of clergy and laity. I also suspect that these same sets of characteristics might also describe in general both those who have been fighting against the new translation, with its closer adherence to the Latin originals, and those who support the new translation. The second group would probably hold to a more “vertical” theology and stress the sacrificial dimension of Mass as well as a clearer distinction of roles of clergy and laity.
The debate surely reveals the differences of cultures within the Roman Church, as well as the problems involved with bringing that which is ancient, coming from a culture long gone, into the present in a way that isn’t entirely foreign.
When you open an Italian edition of the Missale Romanum you find “e con il tuo spirito”, which I probably don’t have to translate for you. In Spanish we find “y con tu espíritu”. In Catalan, “i amb el vostre esperit”. In French “et avec votre esprit”. German has “und mit deinem Geiste”, Russian “i so dukhom tvoim”, Polish “i z duchem twoim”. Croatian and Slovak have the equivalents. All mean “and with your spirit”. The Chinese say “ye yu nide xinling tongzai”. Guess what that means.
In pretty much every vernacular version for Holy Mass, people respond “and with your spirit”. They seem not to have any problem with this. The response doesn’t cause them to panic. They don’t become disoriented and faint or run out of church. Even though they refer to his “spirit”, they know they are responding to the celebrant or deacon.
In time to come when people are greeted and must subsequently respond in the manner Christians have used since the early centuries of the Church, and as they actually do today across the whole of the globe, I doubt we will encounter, as enemies of the new translation suggest, cases of the vapors or rebellion in the pews.
When you make your own explanation of “et cum spiritu tuo”, and you ought to be prepared to do so, you must recognize that “and also with you” is indeed correct in terms of a biblical, a scriptural approach to the Latin. Spiritus has its roots in Greek psyche, or bodily life force, and Hebrew nephesh, or life essence.
Recapping…. Jungmann correctly explained how “et cum spiritu tuo” harks to a Semitism: Latin spiritus, translating the Greek and Hebrew, effectively means the person, “you”. We all therefore admit that – NB: – when you have your Scripture scholar’s interpretive glasses on, “and also with you” is an accurate translation of “et cum spiritu tuo” even though it isn’t a literal translation of the Latin.
On the other hand, Biblical positivism is not the best approach in every case in translating a liturgical text, even one with its roots in Scripture.
Latin liturgical texts constitute their own legitimate theological source. The Latin must be respected. This is why the norms for translation laid down in the document Liturgiam authenticam require a closer adherence to the Latin original.
Translation of liturgical texts is not the equivalent of translation of Scripture, even when the liturgical text is taken from Scripture. Once a text is used in the Church’s liturgical worship, it begins to live a life of its own, even though it is never divorced from its origin. Joseph Ratzinger in his book Spirit of the Liturgy explained this in regard to a similarly controversial issue, the translation of “pro multis” in the consecration form for the Precious Blood.
Regarding our text of interest, “et cum spiritu tuo”, there is a deep tradition, attested to in the Fathers of the Church (e.g., the preaching of St. John Chrysostom – +407), whereby spiritus is identified as a characteristic which distinguishes the ordained from the laity.
This is not, as some might riposte, a kind of “clericalism”, an exaltation of the ordained over and against the non-ordained.
When the congregation (which might include clergy) say “and with your spirit”, they recognize the special role the bishop or priest (at times deacon) has in the sacred action. This is not an exaltation of the clergy. Spiritus is that characteristic which marks certain men for ministry in the interest of the whole Body of Christ, the Church.
This tradition is important enough, and old enough, that it simply cannot be overridden by a biblical positivistic approach, as if the aboriginal linguistic considerations evacuated the liturgical text of its own content.
In cases where there is a sharp conflict of interpretations, greater consideration can be given to weighing the merit of the biblicist’s approach. But we must not be biblical positivists and fall into the trap of thinking that Scripture alone is sufficient to settle every issue. To my mind, the “Semitic roots” element proposed by those who favor a more Scriptural approach is not strong enough to displace the millennium and a half tradition of the “role distinction” or “ecclesiological” element.
Nor is there a conflict between these two ways of interpreting “et cum spiritu tuo”. The two understandings of the response complement each other. They can both be explained so as to enrich the congregation’s understanding of what they are saying.
But the fact that the norms of Liturgiam authenticam require a closer adherence to the Latin original, the fact that the Latin original constitutes its own theological source, the fact of the centuries long tradition of interpretation of spiritus as marking the ordained, together outweigh – insofar as a liturgical translation is concerned – the positivistic approach of the biblical scholar or the argument that people are used to what we say now.
Let me take this in another direction.
“And also with you”, which – Semitism or not – is commonplace, doesn’t convey anything either very deep or even very interesting. You say it as a matter of routine. You move on without a second thought. “And with your spirit”, precisely because it is not commonplace, invites a person – and the priest who hears it – to be more engaged with the content of that response. Something unusual and meaningful has just been uttered.
Here is a proposal.
Let “and with your spirit” very quickly become for bishops, priests and deacons, an exhortation to humility and service.
Every time the ordained hear this response, let them take it as both a mark of support from the congregation in their ministry as well as a plea, nay rather, a goad to serve them well.
Lay people, when you begin saying “and with your spirit”, know that you are saying something profound about Christ’s will for Holy Church and your own role. It is by Christ’s own design that men are ordained to put order into the Church and to serve. They teach, govern and sanctify. Lay people expect from the ordained what they need to fulfill their vocation to shape the world.
I hope that “and with your spirit” will in time to come to be a part of a far more profound conversation than what takes place at present. It will underscore the relationship between the priest or deacon standing in the liturgical action for Christ the Head with Christ the Body, both together through ordination and baptism and therefore differing complementary roles being Christus Totus, the Eternal Priest raising prayers and praise with the Holy Spirit to the Father.
At this point you should be well-prepared to explain the why “et cum spiritu tuo” must be rendered as “and with your spirit”.