At the beginning of every Mass, we make the sign of the cross. Following that, is the first greeting. There are several different options for the priest to greet the people: “The Lord be with you,” or “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ,” or “The grace of our Lord, Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”
These greetings are not merely creations of the priest at the moment. Rather, they come directly from the Bible. St. Paul, in his letters, often begins with a salutation, similar to the beginning of our letters today when we write, “Dear So-and-so.” However, if we pay attention to the greetings of St. Paul, they are not simply a way to say “hello” to one another, they are a theological statement.
St. Paul wants his readers to recognize that even in their greeting they are living in the grace of God. St. Paul was so connected to Jesus Christ, that he would not forget about Jesus, even when writing to others. It was Jesus Christ who taught him how to treat his neighbors, how to treat the Romans and the Ephesians; how to love the Corinthians and the Thessalonians. It was Jesus Christ who shaped everything in his life, including his friendships.
And so, at the beginning of each Mass that we Catholics celebrate, we greet each other, not as mere acquaintances, but as people who have been baptized into the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. As a result, when we begin our Mass, we do not merely say “hello” to each other, but rather, we greet one another in the grace of Jesus. This type of greeting ought to remind us why we are gathered together each Sunday morning. We are not a social club, but a people who know that God loves us and that we are gathering to give God worship, praise, and honor.
And so, the priest greets the people in the grace of God and the people respond, “And with your spirit.” This is a rather recent re-translation of the Mass and its meaning is much more obvious than in the previous translation. When the people say “spirit,” we are acknowledging that we are entering into a spiritual reality, a spiritual encounter with the true and living God. We are preparing for a moment of grace as we celebrate the Mass together.
So at the beginning of Mass, let us all pay attention to the words we are using to greet one another and let us see that we gather as a people prepared to encounter the grace of the divine.
Fr Nathan LaLiberte