We are about three months into the New Translation of the Liturgy. But you may not have been given an explanation as the meaning of the peoples response to the greeting of the priest; that response being, “And with your spirit.” Few of us know that this liturgical response goes back to the first century to the Liturgy of St. James. As we shall see, this expression particularly emphasizes the anointing a priest receives through the Sacrament of Holy Orders. And through his proclamation of the Gospel and the Eucharistic Sacrifice, we are made Christ-bearers to an unbelieving world.
But before we go out into the world to proclaim the Gospel, we look to our spiritual leaders to help us in this pursuit. The spiritual leader in each Catholic parish is the priest. He is not only an icon of Christ to the congregation; he also mediates on their behalf by offering spiritual sacrifices at the altar. With that said, the New Translation casts the priest in a new light. He greets the congregation of the faithful by saying, “The Lord be with you.” The faithful respond, “And also with you.” With this, we are to look at the priest from a more traditional vantage point. It recovers the Jewish and early Christian context in the following Semitic response: “And with your spirit.” “Spirit,” in this expression, does not only reference the human spirit of the priest but also, and most especially, the Holy Spirit who dwells in the priest.
At his ordination the Holy Spirit endows the priest with a unique spiritual leadership. His hands were consecrated to offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, to bless, to forgive and retain sins, and to cast out evil spirits. His hands and his voice becomes the voice of Christ; an extension of the Incarnate Word. Here the congregation acknowledges the priest as the leader under whose leadership they will approach almighty God.
As we said, the response, "And with your spirit" goes back to the first century. We find it in the liturgy of St. James. Several Church Fathers had made use of this ancient liturgy as well. For instance, St. John Chrysostom, Father and Doctor of the Church (400’s), said that this liturgical response is a profession of faith in the power of the Sacrament of Holy Orders. St. John adds the following:
"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.’
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.”
This is why the Catholic Church proclaims the solemn obligation to assist at Mass on the Lord’s Day. Contrary to Protestant worship, what happens in the sanctuary cannot be duplicated at home or anywhere else. St. Ignatius of Antioch, a disciple of St. Peter and St. John, attested to this truth in his Epistle to the Smyrnaeans, (110 A.D). He said, “Let that Eucharist be held valid which is offered by the bishop or by the one to whom the bishop has committed this charge. Wherever the bishop appears, there let the people be; as wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church.” Through the Spirit of the priest and through this Sacrifice at the altar, the power and unity of God is communicated to the assembly of believers so that they may become Christ-bearers to the world.
Below is an excerpt of the ancient liturgy of St. James. After one of the opening prayers below, you will see that the liturgical response, “And with your spirit,” was used just as we use it today.
The Liturgy of St. James:
The Priest says this prayer from the gates to the altar:
"God Almighty, Lord great in glory, who hast given to us an entrance into the Holy of Holies [note: the Holy of Holies was the innermost, holiest room in the Jewish temple. Only the High Priest was permitted to enter once a year for the feast of Yom Kippur], through the sojourning among men of Your only-begotten Son, our Lord, and God, and Saviour Jesus Christ, we supplicate and invoke Your goodness, since we are fearful and trembling when about to stand at Your holy altar; send forth upon us, O God, Your good grace, and sanctify our souls, and bodies, and spirits, and turn our thoughts to piety, in order that with a pure conscience we may bring unto You gifts, offerings, and fruits for the remission of our transgressions, and for the propitiation of all Your people, by the grace and mercies and loving-kindness of Your only-begotten Son, with whom You are blessed to all eternity. Amen..."
Then he says aloud:
"The love of the Lord and Father, the grace of the Lord and Son, and the fellowship and the gift of the Holy Spirit, be with us all."
"And with your spirit."
"Let us lift up our minds and our hearts."
"It is becoming and right."
Then the Priest prays:
"Verily it is becoming and right, proper and due to praise You, to sing of You, to bless You, to worship You, to glorify You, to give You thanks, Maker of every creature visible and invisible, the treasure of eternal good things, the fountain of life and immortality, God and Lord of all:
Whom the heavens of heavens praise, and all the host of them; the sun, and the moon, and all the choir of the stars; earth, sea, and all that is in them; Jerusalem, the heavenly assembly, and church of the first-born that are written in heaven; spirits of just men and of prophets; souls of martyrs and of apostles; angels, archangels, thrones, dominions, principalities, and authorities, and dread powers; and the many-eyed cherubim, and the six-winged seraphim, which cover their faces with two wings, their feet with two, and with two they fly, crying one to another with unresting lips, with unceasing praises..."