And with your spirit

From Cor ad Cor
Jump to navigation Jump to search
2010-11-14 107.JPG

The new translation of the Mass uses "And with your spirit" in place of "And also with you" in response to the celebrant's greeting, "The Lord be with you."

Soul and Spirit

Five key moments in the liturgy

The response "And with your spirit" appears five times in the Mass:

  • Introductory Rite.
  • Before the Gospel.
  • In the Preface to the Eucharistic Prayer.
  • Kiss of Peace ("The peace of the Lord be with you always" instead of "The Lord be with you").
  • Dismissal.

Origin of "Dominus vobiscum"

Old Testament

"Boaz himself came from Bethlehem and said to the harvesters, 'The LORD be with you!' and they replied, 'The LORD bless you!'" (Ruth 2:4).

The Greek original says nothing about "and with your spirit."

"κυριος μεθ υμων!" και ειπον αυτω, "ευλογησαι σε κυριος!"

Dominus vobiscum is a thoroughly literal translation of "κυριος μεθ υμων." A completely literal English translation would be, "Lord with you." There is no "the" in the Greek; the Latin language has no "the" in it at all. Neither the Greek nor the Latin have a verb in the expression. The translators are supplying the verb "be" as an interpretation of what the original phrase meant. They are also using English word order instead of the Latin word order. A truly literal translation, preserving the Latin word order, would be "Lord you with."

I wouldn't mind the interpretative insertion of "the" and "be" so much if our translators hadn't lectured us so severely about the need not to smooth out "The word of the Lord," "The gospel of the Lord," and "The mystery of faith" by supplying helping verbs in English.

"Lord with you" actually suggests another possible origin for this blessing: Immanu-El (Emmanuel) in Hebrew means "with us God."

Dt 31:6
Be strong and steadfast; have no fear or dread of them, for it is the LORD, your God, who marches with you; he will never fail you or forsake you.
1 Kings 8:57-60

57 May the LORD, our God, be with us as he was with our ancestors and may he not forsake us nor cast us off.

58 May he draw our hearts to himself, that we may walk in his ways and keep the commands, statutes, and ordinances that he enjoined on our ancestors.

59 May these words of mine, the petition I have offered before the LORD, our God, be present to the LORD our God day and night, that he may uphold the cause of his servant and the cause of his people Israel as each day requires,

60 so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the LORD is God and there is no other.

Hebrew Liturgy

"Christians probably took these formulas over directly from the synagogue. There is clear evidence, for example, in St. Justin Martyr (100-165) that Christians spoke these answers from the very beginning.

"The fact that from the earliest times Christians conserved these phrases in their original form, in spite of their being foreign to both Greek and Latin mentalities, is a good argument to keep them intact in our current translations. In this way, we maintain a living connection with Christianity's historical origins just as we do with the conservation of other Hebrew forms and expressions such as Amen, Alleluia and Hosanna.

"The formula 'be with you' is considered as a greeting, of benevolence and of recognition of a reality: The Lord is present. The Semitic response, 'And with your spirit,' literally means 'And also with you,' as 'your spirit' literally means 'your person.' Therefore the current English translation could be considered as an accurate rendering of the Hebrew background."[1]

New Testament

The Angelic Salutation

"And coming to her, he said, "Hail, favored one! The Lord is with you" (Lk 1:28).

Greek Latin English
Χαῖρε κεχαριτωμένη ὁ Κύριος μετὰ σοῦ. Ave Maria, gratia plena, Dominus tecum. "Hail, Mary, full of grace. The Lord is with you."

The definite article ("the") is in the Greek.

Latin has no definite article.

Both the Latin and the Greek lack a verb. In the "Hail Mary," we translate "Lord you with" as "The Lord is with you," but in the Liturgy, we provide a different verb: "The Lord be with you."

The difference between the two translations is utterly a matter of interpretation, not of grammar. In the "Hail Mary," we presume that the angel is saying that Mary is "full of grace" (κεχαριτωμένη) because the Lord is with her. In the Liturgy, we presume that the priest is praying for a grace that the congregation does not yet possess fully: May the Lord be with you."

Grammatically, either way of translating the phrase "[the] Lord with you" is allowable; neither is mandated. English requires that a choice be made; the ambiguous sentence fragments "Lord with you" or "Lord you with" are not acceptable.

The one grammatical difference between the two phrases is that "you" is in the singular in the Angelic Salutation while it is in the plural in the Liturgy.

"I am with you"

Mt 1:23
“Behold, the virgin shall be with child and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means “God is with us.”
Matthew 28:20
"Behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age."

Pauline variation: "With your spirit"

If these passages stand behind the tradition of "et cum spiritu tuo," they do not fit the theory that the spirit is a ministerial, sacramental spirit. Paul, the apostle of the Lord, greets the community. In the liturgy, "et cum spiritu tuo" is a response by the congregation to a blessing given by a minister. I suspect that the early Church forgot why this phrase was used and later generations filled in the blanks according to their taste and temperament.

"The Lord be with your spirit. Grace be with you" (2 Timothy 4:22).

ο κυριος ιησους χριστος μετα του πνευματος σου. η χαρις μεθ υμων.

"The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers. Amen" (Galatians 6:18).

η χαρις του κυριου ημων ιησου χριστου μετα του πνευματος υμων αδελφοι. αμην.

"The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen" (Philippians 4:23).

There seem to be two Greek variants for this passage.
η χαρις του κυριου ημων ιησου χριστου μετα παντων υμων. αμην.
η χαρις του κυριου ημων ιησου χριστου μετα του πνευματος. αμην.

"The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit" (Philemon 1:25).

η χαρις του κυριου ημων ιησου χριστου μετα πνευματος υμων. αμην.

Here is an example of "Grace be with you" without any mention of "your spirit":

"I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand. Remember my chains. Grace be with you" Colossians (4:18).
η χαρις μεθ υμων. αμην.
Summary of variations
2 Tim 4:22

Col 4:18

μεθ υμων "with you [plural]"
2 Tim 4:22 μετα του πνευματος σου "with the spirit of thine [singular]"
Gal 6:18 μετα του πνευματος υμων "with the spirit of yours [plural]"
Phil 4:23 μετα του πνευματος "with the spirit" [no "of thine" or "of yours" expressed]
Phmn 1:25 μετα πνευματος υμων "with your [plural] spirit" [no "the" expressed]

Why the variation in Paul's letters?

Austin Millner, "Why 'and with your spirit' is right":
"Most of the Pauline letters end with the wish that the grace of Christ may be with those to whom he has written: 'The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all' (2 Cor 13:13) or 'The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you' (1 Cor 16:23; 1 Thess 5:28; 2 Thess 3:18) or simply 'Grace be with you' (Col 4:18; 1 Tim. 6:21; Titus 3:15; cf Eph 6:13)[2] Why then, in the four Epistles mentioned above, does he express the wish that the grace of Christ may be with their spirit. What, if anything, does this add to his greeting?
"It would seem that St Paul always regards the human spirit as a God-given spirit. For the Christian it is a new thing, which, though a created part of the Christian's nature, is received from God, set in the believer by God: 'For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the spirit of sonship. When we cry 'Abba! Father!' it is the Spirit himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God' (Rm 8:15-16; cf 1 Thess 5:23). Fundamentally there is for St Paul only one Spirit of God imparted severally to individuals (cf Rm 1:9; 2 Cor 11:4). It would seem then that in the four cases in which St Paul changes the 'with you' of his final greeting to 'with your spirit' he wants to do two things: he wants to remind his readers of the special human participation in the Spirit of God which they have received, and because he speaks of 'your (plural) spirit' he seems to be referring to something that exists in, or has been received in common by, the whole church to which he is writing."[3]

Paul does not mean "Spirit of Ministry"

The appeal to Paul's letters cannot be made by those who interpret the "spirit" in question as "the spirit God has given you to minister to us in this Mass." Paul is not writing to those who are about to minister to him in the liturgy. He is writing to those to whom he ministers.

Reverence for the Ministering Spirit

The Greek word for spirit, pneuma, is never used in the Old Testament to render nephesh, but only when translating ruah. Thus, it seems clear that the use of 'spirit' in the liturgy is not intended merely as a euphemism for 'you' but bears some other special theological significance. ... The 'spirit' mentioned here refers specifically to the spirit received in ordination. It is an affirmation by the assembly that the ordained minister has received the appropriate anointing with the spirit to make him the leader in sacramental ministry. This usage has a special beauty: it is less about the person of the priest than about the office of the priesthood, which is supported and guaranteed by the Spirit of God given in ordination. Early Church Fathers, such as John Chrysostom, Theodore of Mopsuestia, Narsai of Nisibis, and Abraham bar Lipheh explicitly back this interpretation.
One scriptural usage may be set in objection to this interpretation: Galatians 6:18, Philippians 4:23, and Philemon 25 all use 'spirit' in a more general sense as addressed to the whole Church: 'The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.' Saint Paul is not referring here to the particular gifts of the Spirit possessed by each member of the local Church, because 'spirit' is in the singular. Rather, he is referring to that gift of the Spirit which each local Church possesses in so far as it is a unity in Christ for the worship of the Father (Milner, p. 206).
What do the people mean when they respond 'and with your spirit'? The expression et cum spiritu tuo is only addressed to an ordained minister. Some scholars have suggested that spiritu refers to the gift of the spirit he received at ordination. In their response, the people assure the priest of the same divine assistance of God's spirit and, more specifically, help for the priest to use the charismatic gifts given to him in ordination and in so doing to fulfill his prophetic function in the Church.

Towards an alternative view

Although I respect the sanctity of the fathers and antiquity of their view that the congregation asks God to be present within the ministerial spirit of the celebrant, I don't find it a persuasive or appealing interpretation of the words being used. The personal dimension of "your spirit" seems to disappear under this strained interpretation:

"The Lord be with you."
"And may the Lord be with the ministering spirit that He has given to you, which you are exercising on our behalf in this liturgy."


We routinely and instinctively use synechdoche in our ordinary speech, allowing some part of a complex reality to stand for the whole.

  • "I've got to get new wheels" can mean "I need a new car."
  • "Lift up your hearts" does not mean to climb a ladder or jump up in the air but to turn our attention heavenward.
  • Mount Zion, a hilltop in Jerusalem, is used to stand for the whole of the city and the whole of the Holy Land.
  • "I asked her father for her hand in marriage."
  • "I pledge allegiance to the flag."

The spiritual dimension of the human soul is only part of our whole being, but it is the power that makes us God-like (Gen 1:26-27) by giving us intelligence and freedom. I believe that the translators were correct in their decision that "and with your spirit" just meant "and with you." The priest blesses the people by praying that God will be with them; the people bless the priest in return, asking that he, too, will have that same blessing.

There is nothing torturous about this interpretation. It is simple and natural.

Elegant variation

Since it is clear from the variations in Paul's greetings that he is not following any dogmatic formula, the best explanation that I can see for the range of expressions he uses, from a simple "with you" to "with your (singular) spirit (singular)" to "with your (plural) spirit (singular)", is that he felt like saying different things at different times. There is no doubt that in Latin, "et cum spiritu tuo" has a nice ring to it and is fun to say or sing. It may be that the same was true in Greek, which is arguably the original liturgical language of Christianity. The longer line is simply more poetic than the shorter line. Sound may trump sense here.

"Dominus vobiscum" (six syllables).
"Et cum spiritu tuo" (seven syllables).

"The Greeks never use the salution 'Dominus vobiscum,' but always say in its stead 'Eirene pasi,' that is, 'Peace to all': to which is responded 'Kai to pneumati sou.' 'And to thy spirit.'"[4]

"Eirene pasi" (five syllables).
"Kai to pneumati sou" (six syllables).

It is small-minded literalism to think that if they have changed the words, they must have changed the meaning. Part of the beauty of language is that we can say exactly the same thing in many different ways; the change of words is pleasant, even striking at times, but the meaning is the same.

Having said that, I don't find the beat of the more literal translation more satisfactory than the rhythm of the current paraphrased version.

"The Lord be with you" (five syllables).
"And also with you" (five syllables).
"The Lord be with you" (five syllables).
"And with your spirit" (five syllables).

I find the "you" in the final syllable of the paraphrased response more powerful than the unaccented "it" in the literal translation.

I will obey the authority of the Church, which has the power to dictate the script for the liturgy. No liturgist can compel me to believe that the literal translation is better poetry than the paraphrased translation. I love the sound of the Latin response; I do not love the sound of the slavish English translation of it. "Et cum spiritu tuo" ends with a long, open, breathy vowel sound after the stacatto "-tu tu-" that immediately precedes it. The English word "spirit" doesn't allow that kind of exhalation.

Strengthening the spirit

"I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete" (Jn 15:11).

If we must go beyond synechdoche and elegant variation in our quest to understand St. Paul and the liturgy, then I would prefer to begin from a consideration of what "your spirit" might mean in the simplest and most natural sense. I suggest that "spirit" refers to our innermost and highest dimension of our lives, the throne-room of our hearts where we encounter God dwelling within us. "Spirit" also has the connotation of a dynamic energy within us, as in "the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak" (Mt 26:41) or "my spirit rejoices in God, my savior" (Lk 1:47). Our human spirit is created by God within us at the moment of our conception. It is atman, our true self, the deepest principle of identity, that which makes us unique children of God.

From this standpoint, the congregation is simply praying that God will be present to, comfort, and strengthen the priest's spirit.

"The Lord be with you."
  • "And may the Lord dwell within your inmost being."
  • "And may He breathe within you."
  • "And may He dwell in your heart."
  • "May God occupy the throneroom of your heart."
  • "May God be enthroned within you."

This approach harmonizes the liturgical usage with Paul's prayer that God would be "with the spirit" of those to whom he is writing. In this interpretation, the same words, "with the spirit", are being given the same meaning in the liturgy as in the Scriptures.

Pattern matching

The liturgical dialogue is elliptical--both phrases leave out words.

"Dominus vobiscum" literally means "Lord you-with." We fill in the blanks in English to smooth it out. We supply the missing pieces: The Lord be with you.

"Et cum spiritu tuo" literally means "and with spirit your." This is an incomplete sentence. To complete the meaning, we have to borrow material from the celebrant's greeting:

Celebrant: "The Lord be with you."
Congregation: "And [the Lord be] with your spirit."

However we interpret "with your spirit," it must fit in with the implicit subject and predicate of the sentence, "the Lord be ..."

Taking "spirit" in its most natural sense as that which causes each one of us to be human beings, the dialogue makes perfect sense:

Celebrant: "The Lord be with you."
Congregation: "And [the Lord be] with your [inmost being]."

Taking "spirit" in the extended sense as "what God has given you to use to serve us" leads to a most bizarre situation:

Celebrant: "The Lord be with you."
Congregation: "And [the Lord be] with [what He has given you to use on our behalf]."

May the Lord be with His Spirit

Monsignor James P. Moroney translates the dialogue entirely into hierarchical terms.

In what we are about to do: "The Lord be with you"
"May the Lord who has baptised you into a royal priesthood be with you as we begin this important action."
In what we are about to do: "And with your Spirit."
"May that same Lord be with that spirit of sanctifying, prophesying and shepherding which you received in ordination as we begin this important action."

Moroney is quite clear that, in his view, we are asking God to be with His own spirit, not with the spirit of the priest. I find that an extremely strange and unsatisfying translation of "And with your spirit."

This isn't "formal equivalence." It isn't even "dynamic equivalence." It is a complete replacement of one thought with an entirely different thought.

Knocking Down Straw Men

The advocates of the tortured interpretation of "and with your spirit" make it sound as though there are only two choices: either assert that we are asking the Lord to be with His Spirit or lapse into a vulgar and trivial "You, too!" that degrades the sacred mysteries.

This is a false dichotomy.

In saying, "The Lord be with you," the priest asks for God's choicest blessing to be given to the People. In responding, "And with your spirit," the people ask that the priest participate in this same grace of abiding in God's presence.


  1. Edward McNamara, "And with Your Spirit.'
  2. MXM: Note that Paul's blessings that do not refer to the spirit of the recipients are eight in number, while there are only four times that he adds some version of "your spirit" to the greeting.
  3. Emphasis added.
  4. "Liturgies of the Eastern Church."


56. Certain expressions that belong to the heritage of the whole or of a great part of the ancient Church, as well as others that have become part of the general human patrimony, are to be respected by a translation that is as literal as possible, as for example the words of the people's response Et cum spiritu tuo, or the expression mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa in the Act of Penance of the Order of Mass.