New translations acknowledge priest’s special gifts

Father John A. Kiley

The Vatican has approved a new English translation of some of the frequently used prayers of the Mass, prayers that are “common” to most Masses.

Probably the most notable change will be the people’s response to the priest’s greeting: “The Lord be with you!” For 40 years, the English-speaking world has been responding, “And also with you!” To most minds, this exchange was a pleasant greeting between the priest and his parishioners that drew attention to the prayer about to be offered. The brief dialogue was not that much different from the invitation: “Let us pray!”

But all of this is about to change (“about” meaning sometime in the next decade). The response of the congregation will become, “And with your spirit.” These words reflect the old, historic Latin, “Et cum spiritu tuo.” Since the 40-year response has become so automatic, pastorally this small change might be the most difficult to effect. Some might well ask why Rome is insisting on such a minor adjustment in terminology.

Apparently all those years that older Catholic congregations were reading in their missals, “Et cum spiritu tuo,” they were viewing words much richer than a pleasant greeting. As Francis Cardinal George, OMI, of Chicago recently wrote: “Our current translation might seem more personal and friendly, but that’s the problem. The spirit referred to in the Latin is the spirit of Christ who comes to a priest when he is ordained, as St. Paul explained to Timothy. In other words, the people are saying in their response that Christ, as head of the Church, is the head of the liturgical assembly, no matter who the particular priest celebrant may be. That is a statement of faith, a statement distorted by transforming it into an exchange of personal greetings.”

St. Paul happily participated in the priestly ordination of St. Timothy, a third generation Christian. In his letters to the young St. Timothy, St. Paul refers at least twice to the “gift,” the spiritual priestly gift, that Timothy received through the imposition of hands: “Do not neglect the gift you have, which was conferred on you through the prophetic word with the imposition of hands of the presbyterate.” And again, “For this reason, I remind you to stir into flame the gift of God that you have through the imposition of my hands.

For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but rather one that is strong, loving and wise.” The gift of the priesthood, the character of the priesthood, the “spirit” of the priesthood was received at ordination and was bestowed to ensure the priest’s effective leadership of the community. In the brief liturgical dialogue, the priest first prays that the power of God be present within the assembled people. “The Lord be with you!” the priest prays. He is praying that his congregation will be filled with the Spirit of Jesus first made present in them through their baptism. He is praying that the graces of their baptism will be ready, active, and effective during the celebration of the Mass.

The people in turn offer their prayer for the priest: “And with your spirit!” The people here are praying that the special gifts of Holy Orders which the priest has received through ordination will be equally ready, active and effective during Mass. They are praying that the priest’s unique gifts of leadership, preaching, intercession, consecrating and nourishing may be alive and well. As Cardinal George noted, the people are praying that Christ himself might preside at their assembly through the gifts bestowed on their parish priest. They are recognizing that the priest is not there before them simply sharing his own talents and charisma. He is there before them “in persona Christi,” in the person of Christ, ready to share with them the special Christ-like graces he has received through ordination. Thus the whole Mass is raised from the level of a neighborhood meeting to a heavenly assembly, a gathering focused on Christ, riveted on Christ, centered on Christ who is made effective, real and present through the ministry of the ordained priest.

Many worshippers will be stumbling for months, maybe years, over the transfer from “And also with you,” to “And with your spirit.” Yet, this terse prayer is an act of faith in the pivotal role of the priest in Catholic worship. The faithful briefly but pointedly acknowledge the priest’s special gifts as they commence, continue and conclude their worship.