In college, I majored in American Literature but took acting classes because I enjoyed the immediacy of theater. On stage everything happens in the moment. On a recent Sunday I was celebrating Mass and began the ceremony with the sign of the cross and then extended my hands to deliver the greeting: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
This was the first time I used this form of the greeting with my congregation. The response? Silence. What was that I heard, crickets? Very faintly, “And also—with your spirit!”
I felt like a comic onstage whose opening monologue has just bombed. A real Southwest Airline moment. “Want to get away?” Was it something I said? Something I didn’t say? Regarding the revised Missal, the priest is apt to make a mistake when members of the assembly miss their cue, and vice versa. Like actors on stage and the chorus the players draw their inspiration from one another and the tempo of the performance happens better when everybody knows their lines.
For me it was back to the drawing board, or, precisely, back to the book. The Missal is four-hundred pages heavier than its predecessor the sacramentary with its groovy graphics. The book is a real juggernaut, demanding to be delved into, a tome to be pored over like Thomas crammed in his cell with books asunder and parchment strewn. Timing in liturgy is as important as preparation. Continuing education is urgent as the new rubrics unfold day by day, season by season, but lapses and false starts are guaranteed. Experience is the best teacher and it will take time and commitment, focus, patience, and prayer to fully implement the revisions throughout the liturgical year.
Where to begin? In the beginning, of course….
Much of these kinks have been covered with my parishes in workshops and catechetical sermons detailing the throes and joy associated with the greatest changes in the Church since the 1960s. Yet it occurred to me as implementation day neared that people likely would have more questions after the revised Missal too effect than when it remained in draft form or in the planning stages. Perhaps it is better that way, for now these issues can be addressed immediately and then worked out live, onstage, when the lights, the chorus, the ballet, and the orchestra are in the same hall and can get into harmony and follow together, more or less in line.
This update offers three forms of greeting to be delivered by the celebrant at the introduction, prompting the assembly to respond, “And with your spirit.” All greetings are direct citations from the letters of Saint Paul.
A. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you (2 Corinthians 13:13);
B. Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ (Philippians 1:2; 2 Corinthians 1:2; Romans 1:7);
C. The Lord be with you (2 Thess 3:1).
A great benefit to the revisions is that they draw out the rich scriptural heritage of the Catholic liturgy. From the sign of the cross to the final blessing worships are led through the biblical landscape that shapes and undergirds the Mass, a sound argument against the criticism that claims Catholics don’t know the Bible. Version A of the introduction draws expresses the love that lives among the Trinity from which we are created. In version B, Paul’s standard greeting in his letters imparts upon the hearers the gift of grace and peace, a blessing within a blessing. The Lord be with you is a standard liturgical and paraliturgical greeting and never falls out of fashion. In a new format where even one adjective can throw you off, it always works in a pinch.
Paul wrote much about the liturgy and prayer. The conclusion of his Letter to the Romans, the second reading on this fourth and final Sunday of Advent, is but two verses, short enough to memorize, but is packed with salvation theology in a seventy-word run-on sentence. One hundred percent pure Paul.
To him who can strengthen you, according to my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery kept secret for long ages but now manifested through the prophetic writings and, according to the command of the eternal God, made known to all nations to bring about the obedience of faith, to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ be glory forever and ever. Amen. (Romans 16:25-27)
Paul received “his” gospel directly from the Lord through a revelation of Jesus Christ (Gal 1:11-12). In an instant the Paul received a grace that humanity has been unpacking for eons. “In his goodness and wisdom, God chose to reveal himself and to make known to us the hidden purpose of his will” (Dei Verbum No. 2). Paul’s life was a mystery, even to himself, and Christ was the totality of the Father’s revelation that the Apostle shared with the world through his preaching and through his letters for centuries, the fruits of which we enjoy each time we pray the Mass. The third edition of the Missal brings the beauty and power of Paul’s prose to surface like fresh-rained roses opening their petals to the sun.
Learning isn’t easy but now the real work has begun. On the First Sunday of Advent we as a Church crossed the threshold from the 2oth-Century sacramentary to the 21st-Century Missal, crafted from truths long ago hidden and then revealed when God took on Flesh and was born of the Virgin Mary. Liturgical reform is like a cosmic telescope that allows us to see further into outer space. The new language of the Mass is more scriptural, more Pauline, affirming the importance of the Apostle’s legacy in the Church.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.