By Father Roch Kereszty
Special to The Texas Catholic
“Why start the Mass with a ritual greeting?” we sometimes hear. “This sets a stiff, official tone to the entire celebration. Why not start with an informal greeting like ‘Good Morning,’ which would promote a more congenial/familial mood, more in style for the beginning of a meal?”
This would, indeed, be the right approach if the Mass were nothing more than a family feast, but, in reality, it is the feast of the family of God. Let us try to unpack the meaning of the most solemn greeting from among the three alternatives: The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
The text comes from 2 Cor 13:13. In the original Greek the word “be” is missing, so it can be understood both as a statement of fact and as a wish. It speaks about the love of the father who has called together his children into this church and who has sent his son so that by his sacrifice we may be gathered into a communion whose inspirer and unifier is the Holy Spirit.
We have heard so many times that we are God’s children that we became deaf to the meaning. We take for granted the enormous gift that God treats us not as mere creatures and servants but invites us into the same relationship with himself that his only-begotten son has enjoyed from all eternity, he who is light from light, true God from true God. This father has loved us so much that, as the deacon sings in praise of the Easter Candle during the Easter Vigil: “You gave up the Son to redeem the slave.” The son, in turn, has revealed his love for us by enduring the death that we have deserved and thus he bought by his own blood the entrance ticket for each one of us to the eucharistic celebration. The Holy Spirit’s role is to mold us into the likeness of the son and so unite us into an intimate community. The community is so special that we must use a special term for it: koinonia, communion. As long as we are in the state of sanctifying grace, the Holy Spirit loves and prays in each one of us, and inspires our good thoughts and actions. He is the bond to make us into the one Body of Christ.
Thus, the priest’s greeting condenses the entire Trinitarian mystery and shows its role within us. But, as we said above, this is not only a declaration of fact, but also a wish: may the Holy Trinity intensify and consummate his presence and operation within us. St. Ambrose expresses this mystery when he comments on the scene of the burning bush in the desert (Ex 3: 1-22). He says that we, the church assembly, are the burning bush of the New Covenant since the Trinitarian God is present within us and manifests himself through us. St. Ambrose then paraphrases God’s words for us:
Indeed, I appeared to you in the Church as once in the burning bush. You are the bush; I am the fire. Like the fire in the bush I am in your flesh. I am fire to enlighten you; to burn away the thorns of your sins, to give you the favor of my grace.
So, if we are the burning bush in whom the Triune God is present, what would you have said if Moses had addressed us by “Good morning?”
We have lost the sense of awe in front of God’s majesty and holiness. We cannot even use the word “awe” since it has become trivialized to the point that we say of a friend or a movie or even a dip of ice cream, Awesome! If we become aware again that God’s majesty and holiness is present within the assembly, our desire for an intimate family experience in the Eucharist will be enriched by a healthy dose of ‘fear and trembling.’