A Catholic Monthly Magazine

And With Your Spirit


Fr Merv Duffy sm

Fr Merv Duffy sm

In the last Messenger I concluded my reflection with the questions:  What are we saying? What do we mean by it? Why do we want the Lord to be with the spirit of the celebrant?

Your editor, Fr Brian O’Connell, asked for my answer to those questions, hence this follow-up.
Firstly a warning – the verse and response are so ancient and so fundamental to the liturgy that there are many answers to those questions. They are somewhat mysterious phrases, and like any good symbol open to multiple correct interpretations.
All three persons of the Trinity are addressed as ‘Lord’ in the liturgy. Most of our liturgical prayers are directed to the “Lord God” which means God the Father because our liturgy is the Church sharing in the offering of Christ to his Father. Proclaiming “Jesus as Lord” is one of the earliest statements of the Christian faith in the divinity of Jesus. The Holy Spirit, too,  is referred to as “Lord and giver of life” in the Nicene Creed.

The Lord being referred to in the presider’s utterance is almost certainly the Lord Jesus, because of the promise of Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel (18:19-20)
“Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them."

The oft-repeated phrase of the presider is to assert the presence of the Lord Jesus among the congregation – making them the Church rather than merely an audience. The response of the congregation alludes to the last verse of St Paul’s second letter to Timothy “The Lord be with your spirit. Grace be with you.” (2 Tim 4:22) Endings and beginnings are often linked by biblical authors, they return to the idea that began their letter as they finish it. This letter has at the beginning the exhortation “I remind you to stir into flame the gift of God bestowed when my hands were laid on you.” (2 Tim 1:6) We don’t know if St Paul is referring to the laying on of hands of Baptism/Confirmation or of ordination – it could be both.

I therefore understand the congregational response to be affirming and blessing the ministry that the presider (Bishop, Priest or Deacon) is exercising. He encourages the congregation to recognize the presence of Christ among themselves as the assembly and they encourage him to recognize Christ working through him, through his baptism and ordination.

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