From the Catholic Herald, the UK’s best Catholic weekly, with my emphases and comments. I edit because of length. The author, Fr Milner died in December, [Stop now, dear reader, and say a prayer for the author.] a few months after writing this article.
Why ‘and with your spirit’ is right
Fr Austin J Milner OP explains the rationale for one of the most striking and controversial changes in the new English Mass translation
By Fr Austin J Milner OP
Perhaps one of the most difficult of the changes which people will be asked to make when the new translation of the Roman Missal comes into use will be that from “And also with you” to “And with your spirit”. People have got used to the former. It makes good sense. Why change it?
“And with your spirit” is the literal translation of et cum spiritu tuo, which itself is a literal translation from the Greek. This phrase, whether in Greek or in Latin, was quite strange to the ancient world. It appears only in Christian writings. It already forms part of greetings at the end of some of the Pauline Epistles: “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit brethren. Amen” (Gal 6:18; cf Phil 4:23; Philemon 25); “The Lord be with your spirit. Grace be with you” (2 Tim 4:22). [It is also in the Hebrew Old Testament in Ruth 2:4.]
Some today object that such an interpretation of the response gives too much emphasis to the priesthood of the one who presides to the detriment to the priesthood of the whole assembly. But this was certainly not the intention of Theodore of Mopsuestia or St John Chrysostom.
The former says in the homily already quoted: “It is in this sense that the phrase ‘And with your spirit’ is addressed to the priest by the congregation according to the regulations found in the Church from the beginning. The reason for it being that when the conduct of the priest is good it is a gain for the whole body of the Church, and when the conduct of the priest is unholy it is a loss to all. All of them pray that through peace the grace of the Holy Spirit may be accorded to him, so that he may strive to perform his service to the public suitably.”
And St John Chrysostom in a homily on Pentecost says: “If there was no Holy Spirit there would be no shepherds or teachers in the Church, for these also come 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 the common father and teacher when just now he went up into the sanctuary and gave all of you the peace, you would not all have answered: ‘And with your Spirit.’
“For this reason, not only when he goes up into the sanctuary and when he addresses you and when he prays for you do you shout this answer, but when he stands at the sacred table and when he begins to offer the awe-inspiring sacrifice – the initiates will understand what I say – he does not touch the offerings before he himself has begged for you the grace of the Lord and you cry in answer to him: ‘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 a work 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 though him. Do not attend to the nature of the one you see, but understand the grace which is invisible. Nothing human takes place in this sacred sanctuary. If the spirit was not present there would be no Church assisting, but if the Church stands round it is clear that the Spirit is present” (PG 50,458-459).
This Syrian interpretation of “And with your spirit” is by no means the only one to be found in the various commentators on the liturgy, both eastern and western. But the fact that from the end of the fourth century this reply was only made to those in major orders confirms that it was a very widespread understanding.
So to conclude, when we begin again to say “And with your Spirit” instead of the banal “And also with you”, we should understand that we are not referring to the soul of the priest as distinct from his bodily existence. We are making reference to the awe-inspiring mystery of our common redemption and healing through the Holy Spirit whom the resurrected Jesus has sent into our hearts. In particular we are referring to the special grace gift of the Spirit by which men are made priests, praying that that grace will continue to enable them to perform all their duties in holiness in the service of the priestly people of God, and reminding ourselves that, as St John Chrysostom puts it, the minister at the altar “does nothing, and that the right offering of the gifts is not a work of human nature, but that the mystic sacrifice is brought about by the grace of the Holy Spirit and his hovering over all.”