Introductory rite and greeting biblically based

 

Why do we start Mass (and all prayers) with the sign of the cross?

Catholics begin and end all prayers by signing themselves in the shape of the cross. While this is something that often distinguishes Catholic Christians from non-Catholic Christians, it is biblically based. At the end of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus gives his followers the great command to make disciples of all peoples. He said, “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19).

In the same way that blessing ourselves with holy water is a reminder of our baptism, making the sign of the cross is a reminder not only of our baptism, but also of our salvation won for us on the cross.

This act, which unfortunately can become routine, is a profession of faith in the Trinity that reminds us that everything comes from God and ends with God. One way to help avoid the routine is consciously to make the sign of the cross slowly, remembering that as we pray we are invoking each person of the Trinity. After making the sign of the cross, all respond “Amen” as a declaration of our belief in the Trinity.

What is the greeting? 

The greeting takes place immediately after the sign of the cross when the priest, while extending his hands, addresses the people by saying one of three expressions. The first option, “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all,” comes from 2 Corinthians 13:13. The second option, “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ,” comes from multiple places in the Bible, but primarily from Romans 1:7. The third and most common greeting, “The Lord be with you,” comes from Ruth 2:4.

When a bishop is the main celebrant of a Mass, he will greet the people by saying, “Peace be with you,” which comes from John 20:19, and reminds us of Jesus’ greeting to his apostles in the upper room after his resurrection.

Why do we now respond, “And with your spirit”?

To each of the greetings, the community responds by saying “ And with your spirit.” Prior to the publication of the “Third Edition of the Roman Missal,” the people would respond, “And also with you.” The translation was changed for a number of reasons. First, “And with your spirit” is a more faithful translation of the original Latin phrase “et cum spiritu tuo.” Another reason for the change was to retain the spiritual reference often used by St. Paul in his letters. For example, in 2 Timothy 4:22, he writes, “The Lord be with your spirit” and in Galatians 6:18, he writes, “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers.” A final reason for the change is to bring the English-speaking countries in line with all the other countries throughout the world who pray, “And with your spirit.” For example, Spanish-speaking countries respond, “Y con tu espiritu.” Prior to the change, the English-speaking countries were the only ones who said, “And also with you.” This change helps unite Catholics around the world in a truly “catholic” or universal way.

Why does the congregation respond, “And with your spirit” several times during Mass?

Over the course of the liturgy, the congregation will respond to the celebrant, “And with your spirit” five times: at the beginning during the Introductory Rite (option C), before the proclamation of the Gospel, before the Preface, before offering the sign of peace and during the Concluding Rite. This dialogue exchange takes place as a reminder for the people as well as for the priest. The dialogue first reminds the faithful who have been baptized that they have the Spirit of God within them. This is the Spirit received at the time of baptism. The dialogue also reminds the priest that he has received the Holy Spirit in ordination to priesthood and that it is in this Spirit that the priest acts at the Mass. It should serve as a reminder to the priest that he acts in the place of Christ and that he should not get in the way of people encountering Christ.

What is the purpose of the greeting?

In Matthew 18:20, Jesus promises, “For wherever two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” The greeting serves as a reminder of this promise and signifies the promised presence of the Lord to the community. Through the greeting and the people’s response, the gathered assembly forms a community of faith that is ready to celebrate the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist.

Why do some priests start talking after the greeting?

After the greeting, the priest has the option to offer a brief introduction for the faithful to the Mass of the day. This allows the priest to help direct the congregation to the focus of that particular liturgy. For example, if the parish is celebrating First Communion, the priest might welcome the first communicants and their families and help them appreciate the theme of the liturgy. Because this is not meant to be time for a mini-homily, the key to this option is to make the introductory comments brief, but appropriate and sincere.

After placing our act of worship in the perspective of the Trinity and our salvation, we move to the penitential act. In this act, we acknowledge the ways in which we have failed to live as we should and ask God’s pardon and mercy.

Tim Hedrick is a second-year theologian studying for the Archdiocese of New Orleans at Notre Dame Seminary. He can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 

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