For those of you interested in the changes in the new Mass, beyond those explained by Anthony Esolen in Restoring the Words (November), my friend Mike Aquilina has written a popular article on “And with your spirit”, just published by The Priest. The experts have picked out the restoration of “spirit” as a significant change, he notes:
The U.S. bishop most intensely involved with the promotion of the new translation, Cardinal Francis George, has singled out this response as somehow illustrative of the whole project. But that’s not all. The American hierarch who has been most critical of the new translation, Bishop Donald Trautman of Erie, has tagged this particular change as problematic — and illustrative of the problems he had with the entire project.
That one additional word, Mike argues, for example, conveys a more developed and explicit understanding of what the priest is doing and the role of the laity in the Mass.
One of those fourth-century preachers, Theodore of Mopsuestia, a Syrian bishop, spoke often of the exchange because it recurred frequently in his liturgy. He spoke of it as a sort of epiclesis, an invocation of the Holy Spirit to come down in blessing upon the priest and his people, just as the Spirit comes down upon the offering of bread and wine.
The greeting, then, is more than a “Hi, how are ya?” It’s an important moment highlighting the Spirit’s power to transform not only the elements offered in the Mass, but also the communicants who partake of the sacrament. Theodore’s interpretation seems to require the presence of the word “spirit.”
Theodore’s friend and classmate, St. John Chrysostom, went still further in analyzing the exchange. He held that the congregation’s response, “And with your spirit,” is an implicit profession of faith in the power of the sacrament of holy orders. Chrysostom’s claims demand our closest attention:
If the Holy Spirit were not in this your common father and teacher, you would not, just now, when he ascended this holy chair and wished you all peace, have cried out with one accord, ‘And with your spirit.’
Thus you cry out to him, not only when he ascends his throne and when he speaks to you and prays for you, but also when he stands at this holy altar to offer the sacrifice. He does not touch that which lies on the altar before wishing you the grace of our Lord, and before you have replied to him, ‘And with your spirit.’
By this cry, you are reminded that he who stands at the altar does nothing, and that the gifts that repose there are not the merits of a man; but that the grace of the Holy Spirit is present and, descending on all, accomplishes this mysterious sacrifice. We indeed see a man, but it is God who acts through him. Nothing human takes place at this holy altar.
Speaking of popular explanations, this gives me a chance to commend an excellent but mostly forgotten book on the Mass, Ronald Knox’s The Mass in Slow Motion. It’s a collection of sermons on the Mass preached when he was chaplain of a girl’s school during World War II. He makes a point of saying that he is sharing his own thoughts about the Mass, but being Knox’s thoughts, they’re very illuminating. He is dealing, of course, with the Tridentine Mass, now called the Extraordinary Form, but with a little thought one can translate the insights to the Novus Ordo or Ordinary Form Mass.
Knox’s The Creed in Slow Motion is even better, I think. I haven’t read his The Gospel is Slow Motion but I can’t imagine it’s not good as well.