The Greeting at Mass

In the August edition of Adoremus, Bishop Arthur Serratelli offers a little catechesis on the Greeting of the Mass.


  1. There is much to be admired in the Bishop’s biblical teaching; the following should be eliminated because they treat people as unwashed and illiterate:

    1. More than a Casual Welcome
    2. The Mass is a conversation
    3. The greeting at the beginning of Mass is ritualized
    4. When someone comes into the presence of the Queen of England, a slight bow or curtsy is expected along with the proper address
    5. The Mass is not an informal gathering of a group of people It is a sacred moment before God.
    6. 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.

    These notions could have been dealt with indirectly if the bishop had dealt only with the Bible, which most people respect but admit they do not know much about and want to know more.

    The bishop should have limited his passages and developed them more.

    For example, I liked his explanation of the translation of “communion” rather than “fellowship.” Indeed if he had developed that notion (that our unity is based upon the interior presence of the Holy Spirit, not merely external fellowship) he might have been able to deal with the six items listed above in better way. He should have deepened our understanding of greeting rather than contrasted sacred and profane greeting.

    Another example: He should have concentrated on the Book of Ruth. His example occurs in a field of grain, at harvest time, outside Bethlehem (the House of Bread) and it all relates to David and Christ. The Book of Ruth is very much about God’s teaching, plan and providence in daily life. The narration takes place at a “secular” level of ordinary life, but with many implicit references to salvation history for people who know the Bible. The liturgical invocations scattered throughout explicitly reveal God’s presence, transforming our understanding of ordinary life in the light of divine teaching and salvation history.

    1. Jack, I agree with your positive comments, and it occurs to me I could have done more to develop the connection to Ruth in my own catechesis on that greeting. Noted for the second edition!

      Here’s a link to my own catechesis on the four greetings of the Mass. I linger on the change from “fellowship” to “communion”, along the lines (I think) of your commentary.

      As for the six things that “should be eliminated because they treat people as unwashed and illiterate,” maybe he’s trying to reach a wider audience, even those who are washed and literate but haven’t read or thought that hard about the liturgy.

  2. All four biblical references for the expression “and with your spirit” are closings of letters of Paul. Matthew Henry’s commentary expands on the first one: The apostle calls the Galatians his brethren, … and takes his leave of them with this very serious and affectionate prayer, that the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ may be with their spirit. This was a usual farewell wish of the apostle’s.

    Biblically, our new response is Paul’s farewell wish, then!

    Searching for the exact sequence “with your spirit” in the bible brings up exactly 5 instances. The only one that is not quoted here is 1 Cor 14:15, and ironically, Matthew Henry’s commentary for that section is: the apostle goes on to show how vain a thing the ostentation of speaking unknown and unintelligible language must be.

    1. Claire, it’s not our ‘new response’. Et cum spiritu tuo, et avec votre esprit, und mit deinem Geiste, etc etc. It’s in the Byzantine liturgy as well, and I would quote it if my keyboard could do Cyrillics. Anglicans have used ‘and with thy spirit’ for well over 400 years.

    1. What does that have to do with catechesis on the new language?

      The language isn’t new enough? The language isn’t an example of how Lit. Auth. was a bad document? It’s not an example of how V.C. mangled the 2008 text?

  3. JP – really, there are many ways that the liturgy could choose as a response to “the Lord be with you”….if you study the research and decision making of the original ICEL group and subsequent decision, there were very good reasons to choose – “and also with you”.

    As Todd says, the excuses we hear are: more scriptural (found five times – none in the gospels); it aligns with the latin as do some other romance languages (this is connected to why LA is a poor document and process). Yet, any expert translator will talk about the “context” and “cultural” meaning that go into a “literal” translation – with your spirit is not only a change but will be a pastoral challenge (again, connected to LA which posits literal as the norm – most experts would disagree on this point); not sure that catechesis alone can solve this (and is that really where we need to spend our time given poor ars celebrandi, poor preaching, etc. currently); and when you get down to it, it really is just a judgment call – so, why?

    1. Bill & Todd (and your excellent adventure) — I’m confused now.

      First, Todd mentioned MR2, but I don’t know why. I thought he was saying that the 1998 English translation already had these altered translations of the greetings, but now that I’ve checked, it doesn’t.

      Second, Bill brought up “And also with you / And with your spirit” in response (?) to my comment, but I didn’t mention it at all. I don’t particularly care to go over that issue again — it’s been done too many times, and clearly no one’s changing anyone else’s mind. But since you’ve brought it up, I have a question about this remark:

      more scriptural (found five times – none in the gospels)

      Because it’s not found in the gospels means what, exactly? Only the greetings “The Lord be with you” and “Peace be with [to] you” are found in the gospels. The other two greetings are only found in Paul.

    2. JN, what is your source for this? It is not what published accounts by the players themselves tell us. Keep in mind, this isn’t an ICEL text, it’s from the ecumenical ICET.

  4. Jeffrey, I thought it was in MR2. I knew a lot of priests who were already referring to the “communion of the Holy Spirit” in the 80’s because of the sexist overtones of “fellowship.”

    1. The PDFs I have of the 1998 translation don’t show a change in translation for the greetings, as far as I can tell. This is the PDF that’s often linked by someone… Graham, I think.

      I suppose there’s sexism in everything. I just think “communion” is a better word than “fellowship”. It has a lot of theological weight behind it.

  5. 1) “to collect the grain that the gleaners leave behind for the poor.”

    Actually, the reapers leave some grain behind for the poor who are then the gleaners of that grain.

    20 Why “communion” of the HS and not “community”?

    Can anyone here give the etymology of koinonia which would explain?

    3) “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.”

    Are we coming into the presence of God or are the people of God coming together? It seems to me that we are always in God’s presence. The quotation speaks of a royal court as the way the bishop understands liturgy. That is a cultural aberration of the imperial and feudal eras and inappropriate for much of modern society. The idea of Eucharist as meeting formally in a royal court does not match how Eucharist is described in Scripture. The rest of his argument crashes on this rock.

    It reads as if this bishop is hung up on the same desire for European high culture as B16 instead of understanding that liturgy is the people of God come together for nourishment from Scripture and Eucharist.

  6. “I do find problematic about a lot of the liberals who post on this blog is that they are too quick to assume that any dissent from their received opinion must result from either ignorance or objective disorder.”

    I would find it problematic, too. However, there is a definitive lack of expertise among some traditionalists and conservatives, though certainly not all.

    I suspect the dynamic is partly due to the Vatican’s own ambivalence about expertise, especially in liturgy. People are appointed to head the CDWDS, for example, who are trained in disciplines other than in liturgy. The Church has a lot of people who feel passionate about liturgy. But it has fewer experts.

    I can say that when I was in graduate studies, I was urged to prepare my papers, my thesis, and my oral comps with rigor. I wasn’t going to be given a pass because I was pious, ordained, had mentors in high places, or that I tried to live a holy life.

    I see in some reform2 music circles, a curious disinterest in liturgy, and at times an outright unwillingness to engage the rites as the framework and context of the musical arts. Ars celebrandi seems rooted less in the Paschal Mystery and more in what celebrities say and do in their own (sometimes uninformed) music ministry.

  7. My interpretation of the phrase “The Lord be with you” is along lines similar to the Rabbi who taught me a course on the Book of Ruth.

    He saw the greeting of Boaz as an affirmation that “we are a people of the covenant.” The contextual meaning in Ruth is that they are about to act as people of the covenant under his leadership, by letting Ruth, the alien among them (indeed the despised Moabite!) glean not simply according to the letter of the law but abundantly and thereby support the widow Noami, not simply in her need according to the letter of the law but abundantly.

    These appear to me much better reasons for the multiple “Dominus Vobiscum” in our liturgy, namely reminding us that we are a people of the New Covenant and we are about to act that out.

    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.

    None of these words of the bishop affirm that we are the Body of Christ and that we are about to enact more deeply and express more fully that reality. All of these comments seem to imply that God is elsewhere than in us (even though when the bishop talks about “communion” he affirms that the Spirit dwells in us! He does not connect the dots!) Rather the bishop talks down to us as if we were unwashed (not recognizing our baptism) and uneducated as I said above.

    The Rabbi’s interpretation is a better rationale for restricting this greeting to the ordained. Boaz greeting is an act of leadership. He is the head of a family and a household (both used in the NT as images of the Church). Clearly, Boaz is not only locating his community within the Covenant in word and theory he is leading them as they fulfill in full and overflowing measure that covenant in deeds.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *