Vol. XVII, No. 5
The Greeting at Mass
A Welcome into the Very Life of God
by Bishop Arthur Serratelli
In order to prepare for a proper reception of the new English texts of the Roman Missal, Bishop Arthur Serratelli has used his column on the Paterson diocesan web site (patersondiocese.org) to offer catechesis on the words that the Church gives us to pray when we celebrate the Sacred Liturgy. Following are the bishop’s columns on the three forms of the Greeting at Mass, slightly edited, and published here with his kind permission.
“The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you”. — II Corinthians 13:13
When the priest greets the people at the beginning of Mass with these words, he is using the last words of Saint Paul’s second letter to the Church of Corinth. Since Saint Paul refers to God the Father simply as “God”, this blessing is clearly Trinitarian. It expresses the Church’s belief in one God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This is the longest blessing used by the Apostle to end any of his letters. And, it briefly sums up the very essence of the Christian life.
In this greeting, Paul does not follow the order in which we normally name the divine persons of the Trinity. Rather, he first mentions Jesus who is the Son before he names God the Father. This very unusual word order unlocks for us the theology of Saint Paul about how we are saved.
Paul begins the greeting by saying “the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ”. “Grace” is one of Paul’s favorite words. He uses it to express the salvation event. Through the death and resurrection of Jesus, our sins are forgiven and we are reconciled with God. Thus, it is through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ that we come to the Father. As Jesus Himself said, “No one comes to the Father except through me” (Jn 14:6).
Paul ends the greeting with the words “the communion of the Holy Spirit”. In the new translation, “communion” will replace the word “fellowship”. It translates the Greek word koinonia.
First of all, the expression “the communion of the Holy Spirit” reminds us of the intimate relationship that every believer has with the Holy Spirit. The Risen Lord pours out His Holy Spirit on each of us. It is because of the Holy Spirit dwelling within us that we can call Jesus “Lord” (I Cor 12:4); and, it is in the power of the Holy Spirit that we call God “Father” (Gal 4:6).
Second, the expression “the communion of the Holy Spirit” also reminds us that the Holy Spirit gives to each of us different gifts for a purpose. Using these different gifts, we are to work together for the good of the whole Church and thus form one body, one communion of faith (I Cor 12:7; Gal 5:22).
When the priest, therefore, says, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you”, he is using one of the earliest expressions of our faith in God as a Trinity of three persons, equal and distinct, yet one God. This greeting reminds us that we have a relationship with each of the divine persons. It is through the Son that we come to the Father in the power of the Holy Spirit. Furthermore, this greeting draws our attention to the Trinitarian dimension of the Liturgy. In Liturgy, all three persons of the Trinity are taking us up into their life as the one God and forming us here on earth as the Body of Christ.
The Greeting as Mass Begins: More than a Casual Welcome
“Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 1:7, inter alia)
Americans meeting each other on the street will typically begin their encounter with a friendly “hello”, a word probably derived from a German word used to hail a ferryman. But, in other language groups, different greetings are used. Italians greet each other cheerfully with “ciao”. Both Jews and Arabs greet one another with “peace”. Albanians say “long life”. The people in Bhutan ask, “is your body well?” In Taiwan, the traditional greeting is, “have you eaten?” In fact, if you wanted to say “hello” in all the different languages, you would probably have to learn at least 2,796 greetings.
Each language has its own way of greeting to begin a conversation. So no surprise, therefore, that when we begin Mass, there is a greeting. After all, the Mass is a conversation. God speaks to us in His Word and we respond. However, the greeting at the beginning of Mass is ritualized. It is not left to the priest simply to begin by saying “hello” or “good morning”. And this is for an important reason.
When someone comes into the presence of the Queen of England, a slight bow or curtsy is expected along with the proper address, “Your Majesty”. When someone meets the governor of any state in this country, a handshake along with the proper address — “Governor”, or “Your Excellency” — is used. Civilized people observe proper etiquette. These are formal occasions and they require a ritualized greeting. So too at Mass, for we are coming into the presence of God.
The Mass is not an informal gathering of a group of people. It is a sacred moment before God. This is why the Missal gives the formal, stylized greeting that the priest is expected to use. There are three options available. Each option highlights the special nature of our gathering for Mass.
After the sign of the Cross, the priest may greet the people with the words “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” This greeting is thoroughly Pauline. Paul begins eight of his letters with this expression (Rom 1:7; I Cor 1:3; II Cor 1:2; Gal 1:3; Eph 1:2; Phil 1:2; II Thess 1:2; Philem 3).
This biblical greeting places God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ in parallel positions. From a literary point of view, the greeting gives equality to the Father and the Son. Thus, there is affirmed the Church’s unbroken belief in the divinity of Christ. Jesus, who suffered, died and rose for our salvation, is truly man and truly God. He is one divine person with two natures. When we use this expression in Mass, we unite ourselves with all Christians who, from the birth of the Church to our present day, confess, with Thomas, that Jesus is our Lord and God (cf Jn 20:28).
Furthermore, the greeting uses the title “Father” for God. Thus, it echoes the constant and distinctive way that Jesus Himself spoke of God. While the Old Testament did teach the fatherhood of God (e.g. Dt 32:6; Ps 68:5; Is 63:16), the idea of the fatherhood of God comes to full bloom in Jesus. In the gospels, most especially in John’s gospel, Jesus speaks not only of God as Father, but also of His Father in a unique way.
After His resurrection, Jesus says to Mary Magdalene, “I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God” (Jn 20:17). Jesus’ relationship to the Father is not the same as ours. Jesus is the eternal Son of the Father. We are the adopted sons and daughters of God. Through Baptism, God becomes our Father and we become His children. In the Liturgy, this relationship becomes more intense as we come to share more deeply God’s own life. Thus, the greeting “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” makes us aware of the mystery of God’s own life made present to us in every Eucharist.
A Simple Greeting: a Most Profound Statement
“The Lord be with you”
After the Sign of the Cross at the beginning of Mass, the priest may choose to greet the people with the simple and familiar greeting “The Lord be with you”. He uses this same greeting before the reading of the gospel, at the beginning of the preface and before the final blessing. However, when the new translation of the Roman Missal is introduced this year, the people will no longer respond, “And also with you”. Rather, they will answer by saying, “And with your spirit”. Before looking at the change in the people’s response, it is helpful to understand what the priest’s greeting actually means.
To Jacob (Gen 26:3; 31:3), to Moses (Ex 3:12), and to Moses’ successor Joshua (Jos 1:5; 3:7), God says, “I shall be with you”. God’s words are a divine promise. God will accompany His chosen ones in their mission for His people. His promise of continued presence reminds them that the work that they are undertaking is not something that they are to accomplish on their own. Called by God, they go about their mission with divine assistance. The greeting “The Lord be with you” harkens back to this promise and makes it a prayer from the lips of the one uttering these words.
This greeting “The Lord be with you” is found in a number of places in Sacred Scripture. At the period of the Judges in Israel, an angel appears to Gideon and greets him with these words: “The Lord be with you, O man of valor!” (Judges 6:12). The angel then tells Gideon that God is calling him to deliver the Israelites from the Midianites, their formidable foe. What an assurance for Gideon! From the very beginning of his mission, the Lord is with him.
Nonetheless, Gideon protests. Such a task is too great for him. He reminds the angel of his lowly family background and his personal unworthiness. To answer his objection, the Lord Himself merely repeats the promise: “I shall be with you…” (Judges 6:16). Gideon need not worry. God is the one who will bring about the salvation of His people.
During the same period of the Judges, there was a great famine in the Promised Land. Elimelech, his wife Naomi and their sons Mahlon and Chilion left their native Bethlehem and went to the nearby country of Moab. When Elimelech and his sons die, Naomi returns to her ancestral home. Ruth, her Moabite daughter-in-law, goes with her. The two women are bound together by love and common sorrow. Naomi has lost her husband and her two sons, and Ruth has become widowed.
Poor and in great need, they return to Bethlehem. Ruth goes to the fields of Boaz, Naomi’s kinsman, to collect the grain that the gleaners leave behind for the poor. When Boaz comes to the field where they are, he says, “The Lord be with you!” (Ruth 2:4). His greeting is a special wish for God’s presence so that the workers provide enough bread for the hungry. Ruth is in the fields among the workers. She, too, is included in his greeting. For it is through Ruth that God will provide the Bread of Life to satisfy all those spiritually hungry.
Boaz not only notices Ruth, but he is very attracted by her beauty. He takes her for his wife. They have a son named Obed who then becomes the father of Jesse. And Jesse is the father of David. Truly, the Lord is with Ruth. He has chosen her to bring about the family of David. It is from David’s family that God will bring into the world Jesus, the Bread of Life, who will be born in Bethlehem, the House of Bread.
At the very moment when the birth of Jesus is announced to Mary, Gabriel also uses the greeting “the Lord be (is) with you” (Lk 1:28). The angel’s words are not merely the assurance of God’s assistance, but the proclamation of what God is accomplishing in and through Mary. For when Mary says “yes” to the will of God, the Son of God becomes incarnate in her womb and the Lord is truly with her. Through Mary, God Himself is bringing about our salvation and satisfying our deepest hungers.
The simple greeting, therefore, “The Lord be with you” conveys a most profound truth. When the priest uses this greeting, the priest’s words remind us that we are in the presence of God. Our gathering is not something that we do on our own. God Himself is calling us together. God is making Himself present to us in Jesus, our Savior and Lord, our Bread for the journey, our Sacrifice and Communion.
As we can now see, the priest’s greeting “The Lord be with you” is thoroughly biblical. So too is our new response, “And with your spirit”. Saint Paul ends four of his letters with this expression (Gal 6:18; Phil 4:23; II Tim 4:22; and Philem 25). In Pauline theology, πvevµa (pneuma) or “spirit” is the spiritual part of the human person open to and directly influenced by the Holy Spirit. This response “And with your spirit” places before us the reality of what we are doing. We are entering the Liturgy where we are open to the action of God in our lives and where our relationship to each other is deeply spiritual.
How profound, therefore, are the simplest greeting and response used by priest and people at Mass! When the greeting is given in the Liturgy, “The Lord be with you” and the response “And with your spirit” is made, both priest and people are expressing our faith that God is active among us in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit.
The Greeting at the Beginning of Mass
from the new ICEL translation of the Missal
When the Entrance Chant is concluded, the priest and the faithful, standing, sign themselves with the Sign of the Cross, while the priest, facing the people, says:
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
The people reply:
Then the priest, extending his hands, greets the people, saying:
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
The Lord be with you.
The people reply:
And with your spirit.
© International Commission on English in the Liturgy. Web: icelweb.org
Bishop Arthur Serratelli has served as bishop of the Diocese of Paterson, New Jersey, since 2004. In November he concluded his term as Chairman of the US Bishops’ Committee on Divine Worship. In October 2016 he was appointed by Pope Francis as a member of the Holy See’s Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. At present, he is the Chairman of the International Committee on English in the Liturgy (ICEL). He is a member of the Vatican’s Vox Clara Commission.