By Father Roch Kereszty
Special to The Texas Catholic
Like the longer greeting we looked at last time, the shortest greeting the priest can choose for the beginning of the Mass also originates in the Bible.
With these words, the angel greets Gideon whom God has chosen to liberate Israel from its enemies (Judges 6:12). King Saul sends David with these words to combat Goliath (1 Sm 17:37), and the work of the world’s redemption begins as archangel Gabriel addresses Mary with the same greeting: “The Lord (be) with you” (Lk 1:28). In each of these texts the greeting expresses both a promise and a wish: the promise of God’s powerful presence and help to carry out a mission of liberation, and the wish that God will fulfill his promise. The first two liberations are only the anticipation of the definitive rescue and redemption by the Son of the Virgin Mary.
The presence and help of God reaches its fullest intensity and universality in the case of Mary when God not only pledges his assistance to her but enters her womb and sanctifies her entire being so that the eternal son of the father becomes the son of Mary. And Mary is sent not to defeat Midian or Goliath but to bear the son who will crush the head of the ancient serpent and lead all the children of God to eternal life.
Against this background we can begin to grasp the immense privilege of being addressed with the same powerful divine words at the beginning of the Mass.
By the greeting we are designated as the ones to carry Jesus in our hearts and to defeat with his help the works of Satan in our lives. The words express also the wish that we may become more like Mary, so that Christ may be shaped and formed in us and that we may more successfully defeat the wiles and power of Satan (Cf. Gal 4:19).
Contrary to the popular assumption, in the response “And with your spirit” the word “spirit” does not mean the soul as opposed to the body, and does not deny that the body must also become a dwelling place for the Lord.
The word “spirit” translates the word “pneuma,” a key term in the Greek New Testament. Its meaning ranges from the person of the Holy Spirit, to his manifold gifts within us, to the highest faculty of our own souls (Cf. 1 Th 5:23).
Our “spirit” is like our inner “radio antenna,” the very “top” of our selves, through which the Holy Spirit enters us so that He may transform our souls and our bodies (Cf. 1 Th 5:23).
Thus, when we return the priest’s greeting by saying, “And with your spirit,” we mean his whole self, body and soul insofar as it is to be ruled and sanctified by the Holy Spirit (Cf. 1 Cor 5:5, Gal 6:18).
We also wish that the Lord’s Spirit may be even more intensely present in him so as to rekindle in him the spirit of courage, love and self-control, the chief virtues of the minister according to Paul (2 Tim 1:7. Cf. also 4:22).
It is amazing to discover the rich meaning of what is condensed in this short greeting. While it both anticipates and summarizes the entire mystery of the Eucharistic celebration, it invites us to rise above our petty preoccupations and distractions to become aware of the transforming action of Christ and the Spirit on the altar and in our hearts.