Friday, September 30, 2011

Homily 2: 'and with your Spirit'

As you know, we’re doing a series of homilies on the new translation of the Mass.

If you pick up the red booklets in your pews,
we can take a look at one of the changes that everyone will notice—
and which we may stumble over at first.

It’s right on page 1. The priest says, “The Lord be with you”;
and the people respond: “And with your spirit.”

Why the change? Well, there’s a lot to this.

First, of course, this is straight from the Latin, which some of you remember:
Dominus vobiscum. Et cum spiritu tuo. “And with your spirit.”

OK, but why did they say this in Latin? It comes from the early church.

We aren’t sure where they got it;
however, it is a phrase that St. Paul uses several times in the New Testament.
For example, in his second letter to St. Timothy,
he said: “The Lord be with your spirit.”

We do know what they thought it meant.

St. John Chrysostom said this:

“If the Holy Spirit were not in this your common father and teacher,
you would not, just now, when he”—the priest—
“ascended this holy chair and wished you all peace,
have cried out with one accord, ‘And with your spirit.'”

In other words, what this is all about is God acting here:
the priest acknowledges the Lord in you;
and you acknowledge the Holy Spirit in the priest.

St. John makes the same point
when the priest approaches the altar—
you’ll see this on page 10.
At the altar, the priest sings or says, “the Lord be with you.”

Here’s what he said:
when the priest “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.'”

And, then, on page 15,
the people and the priest exchange these words once more,
at the end of Mass, before the blessing.
The point is made again: when the priest gives the blessing,
it is Christ himself who blesses.*

This is part of what the Lord means when he says,
call no one father or master or teacher.
Now, let’s first explain what this is NOT about.

It’s not about whether a title is good or bad.
Jesus did not object to calling your teacher, “teacher”;
he didn’t object to calling your dad—or your priest—“father.”

No, the Lord is telling us not to focus on the human being;
and not to accept that focus.

Let’s look at one more change that goes along with this.

On page 9, right in the middle,
you’ll see what the priest says to you,
right after the bread and wine come to the altar.
The change is that the priest will say,
“my sacrifice and yours”—instead of “our” sacrifice.

Again, why the change?

It makes the point once more:
the priest approaches the altar not on his own steam,
but because he was ordained to be a priest for Christ and for you.

When the priest says, “my” sacrifice, it reflects this.
And because being a priest means
being united to Christ in a particular way,
it is Jesus himself who says, “my sacrifice.”

Then the priest says, “your” sacrifice.

It’s what our Lord told us about the Cross.
He took up the Cross in a unique way—
dying for us so we could live forever.
But then he says to us: “take up your cross.”
He invites us to bring all our troubles, our trials,
yes even things very unworthy—
but when we give them to him, he will make them of infinite value!

We often talk about “participation” in Mass,
but there is sometimes a misunderstanding.

Sometimes we talk as though what really counts
is whether we’re doing something:
singing, reading, bringing the gifts forward, and so forth.

As good as these things are,
they don’t determine whether people are truly “participating.”
Folks who sit silently—but intently—are surely participating too.
They may even be participating better than any of us. Who can say?

Because the key participation is right here in this prayer:
joining our hearts and lives—warts and all—in the sacrifice;
offering them as our personal sacrifice.

That moment of the Mass—which will happen shortly—
is an excellent time to do just that:
in prayer, lay on the altar all the cares and troubles,
all the people you pray for, all the sins that trip you up.
Don’t be afraid of offering anything as part of your sacrifice.
Jesus takes it all!

* I am indebted to Mike Aquilina's article, “‘And with Your Spirit’: The big difference in a little phrase,” June 1, 2011; I consulted it September 22, 2011.

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