So here we are using the new English translation of the Mass, and immediately I suspect that you have found the hardest thing to get right is the response “And with your spirit” every time the priest or deacon says “The Lord be with you”. So why has it been changed? The first answer is one that those of you who speak another European language will understand only too well. In other languages they have always been saying “And with your spirit”; it is we English speakers who have been using a faulty translation for the last 40 years. “Ok” you might grumble (as I bet some of you will) “But it’s not that different, so why bother now?
I think we should look first at what that word “spirit” means here. We use this word in English when we want to talk about something that is deeper than the surface. So in sport we talk about developing team spirit, and in the business community etc they often use that sporting analogy when they want to get better results from their staff. Others will use the phrase “the spirit of the age” when they want to give a fuller and deeper picture of a period in history – like the 60’s of the 20th Century for example. We might encourage someone who is struggling to walk again after an accident by saying “Go on. That’s the spirit!”So using this word at Mass has more meaning than we might have realized. It indicates, you see, that our greeting to one another is not just a surface Hello. If it were, the priest might as well say “Hiya folks” and you might as well reply “Hiya to you too mate!”
At this point, things will become a bit clearer, if we look at when we use this greeting during Mass; because it’s not just at the beginning is it? We use it just before we hear the Gospel; we use it at the beginning of the great Eucharistic Prayer that consecrates the bread and wine; we use it at the Peace just before we receive Communion; and finally we use it just before the priest gives the Blessing. As soon as we list all these places in the Mass, we can see more clearly that this phrase is more than just a “Hiya folks” kind of greeting. Each is a place of some solemnity, a special moment of prayer, and an affirmation of the presence of God among us.
So what this greeting and response is saying is that we are the Church, linked to one another at a very deep level indeed; that we are the Christian people, praying in a mysterious and unified way; that we are not just a collection of individual people, but are a like a team, united by something far deeper than just being in the same place together. That is surely what Jesus says to us in today’s Gospel? (Matt 18:15-20) “Where two or three meet in my name, I shall be there with them.” Or as St Paul puts it – “You are the body of Christ”. (1 Cor 12:27) Often we forget this don’t we? So we get people saying “I come to Mass when I feel like it”. Notice that! It’s all “I”.. and what “I feel”. Actually we come to Mass for God and for one another, we come to be God’s holy people, to celebrate together all that God has done and is doing for us and for the world we live in.
I was in conversation with a man the other day in the swimming pool changing room who suddenly said something I had to disagree with even in a changing room only half dressed! He said “Everyone needs to look after themselves first”. “Oh no.” I said. “Everyone should look after other people first, because if we all did that the world would be a better place.” After some conversation we agreed that perhaps he meant that people should “stand up for themselves” which I certainly agree with, but that is very different from saying that we should put ourselves first.
We, as the Church, must always remember that we are called by God to be a pattern for the whole of humanity. We do not exist just for ourselves. Our unity in and through God, our recognition of one another as more than just a collection of individuals, our calling to care for one another and to warn each other when things are going wrong, all of this we try to live out, in order that this may expand beyond us to become a natural part of every human community whether Christian or not. Remember the words from John Donne? “No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main”. So what we do here at Mass matters, not just for us but for the whole world.
So it is, that this little change that all English speaking Catholics are having to get used to, this wording that those in other languages say without thinking much about it, is actually much much more significant than we could have ever realized. It is an essential part of being the holy people of God.