Q: When the presider at Mass greets the assembly with the words "The Lord be with you" he extends his arms to all in a gesture of pouring out this wish and blessing. The assembly replies "And also with you" (which apparently is currently under review to reflect the exact Latin translation "And with your Spirit"). Is it liturgically incorrect or not permissible for the assembly, in their reciprocation, to extend their hands and arms similarly as they reply to the presider's greeting, as a gesture of returning the blessing? -- M.C., Durban, South Africa
A: While your proposal is likely done with the best of intentions I do not believe that this change would be beneficial.
The use of this gesture by the congregation would probably actually reduce the specific presidential character of this greeting and gesture, which is traditionally somewhat more than just an act of social courtesy.
Certainly the greeting is very ancient. In the biblical Book of Ruth (2:4) Booz greets his reapers with "The Lord be with you." To which they replied, "The Lord bless you." Instead of this phrase the liturgy uses the "And with your spirit" which in its original Judeo-Christian context means the same as "And also with you."
However, from ancient times the expression "And with your spirit" received an added, more spiritual, meaning.
St. John Chrysostom (344-407) refers to the spirit of the greeting as the indwelling Spirit and as an allusion to the fact that the bishop performs the sacrifice by the power of the Holy Spirit.
For this reason the greeting "The Lord be with you" was from early on restricted to bishops, priests and deacons.
It is probably the spiritual theological interpretation of this dialogue, through which the faithful, in a way, are constituted as a liturgical assembly with and through the "spirit" of the priest that has moved the Holy See to insist on a more literal translation in future missals. This might initially cause some adjustment difficulties in countries (such as the English-speaking world and Brazilian Portuguese) which adopted non-literal translations.
The gesture which accompanies the dialogue of stretching out and closing the hands deepens more the utterance of a desire to be united with the assembly and to draw them together into the prayer which is about to begin.
In fact, during Mass, this gesture is reserved to the priest during the specific presidential moments in which he invites the assembly to pray or, in other words, to act as a liturgical assembly.
Thus if the whole assembly were to repeat this gesture it would in all likelihood weaken the expression of this theological and ecclesial rapport.
When the formula "The Lord be with you" is used in non-presidential moments, such as before the reading of the Gospel (which even when read by the celebrant is not considered a presidential act), the rubrics specify that the priest or deacon keeps his hands joined.
From another standpoint, introducing this gesture unilaterally would be an example of arbitrarily establishing a new liturgical movement which may not be done at the local level but is primarily reserved to the Holy See or proposed by the bishops' conference and ratified by the Holy See.
Even when new gestures are introduced by these bodies, they must be historically, theologically and pastorally justified and so are usually the fruit of painstaking study and reflection.
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Follow-up: Crucifixes and Bows
As always our attentive readers see gaps in my replies. I will try to clear up any doubts. Regarding the June 1 column, a reader asked if the bows toward the altar when crossing the sanctuary applied to servers as well as priests, or should they bow toward the crucifix.
These bows should be made by all to the altar whenever crossing in front of it, except in those cases when one is moving in procession.
The reason that the altar has preference over the crucifix is because the symbolic value of the altar as representative of Christ is theologically far stronger than that of the crucifix.
This symbolism was felt far more strongly in ancient times, before it became customary to venerate the tabernacle and place the crucifix upon or near the altar. But the altar conserves its central role as symbol of Christ himself, present in the midst of the assembly as victim and as food from heaven.
St. Ambrose of Milan says "For what is the altar of Christ if not the image of the Body of Christ" and elsewhere "the Altar represents the Body (of Christ) and the Body of Christ is on the altar" (see Catechism, No. 1383).
Some Fathers even hazard to say that the altar "is" Christ, a statement which is true in a sense but which today needs to be nuanced so as to avoid causing an erroneous parallel between the symbolic presence in the altar and the substantial presence of Christ in the Eucharist.
This is why the gesture of respect for the altar differs from that of the tabernacle, for as indicated by the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, No. 274-275, "A genuflection indicates adoration ... while a bow signifies reverence and honor shown to the persons themselves or to the signs that represent them."
At the same time, the genuflection toward the tabernacle is made at the beginning and end of Mass only if the tabernacle is within the precincts of the sanctuary. If the tabernacle is within an adoration chapel, then only the bow toward the altar is made at the beginning and end of Mass.
Several readers asked if the different bows indicated in GIRM No. 275 were for everybody or only the priest. The text states:
"There are two kinds of bows: a bow of the head and a bow of the body.
"a. A bow of the head is made when the three Divine Persons are named together and at the names of Jesus, of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and of the Saint in whose honor Mass is being celebrated.
"b. A bow of the body, that is to say a profound bow, is made to the altar; during the prayers 'Munda cor meum' (Almighty God, cleanse my heart) and 'In spiritu humilitatis' (Lord God, we ask you to receive); in the Creed at the words 'Et incarnatus est' (by the power of the Holy Spirit ... made man); in the Roman Canon at the words 'Supplices te rogamus' (Almighty God, we pray that your angel). The same kind of bow is made by the deacon when he asks for a blessing before the proclamation of the Gospel. In addition, the priest bows slightly as he speaks the words of the Lord at the consecration."
Taking a cue from several questions I remark the following.
The bows mentioned in this number are made by whoever recites the prayer to which the gesture is attached. Thus, in those prayers recited only by the priest, only he makes a bow at this moment.
In prayers said in common all bow at the indicated moments. Thus, for example, everybody should make a bow of the head during the Gloria at both mentions of the name Jesus Christ but not when the priest mentions the name during the presidential prayers.
The GIRM however is not exhaustive and it is not necessarily true that everything not specifically mandated is therefore forbidden.
There are some bows which are either not explicitly stipulated, or are stipulated only for bishops but are customarily extended to the priest.
For example, it is a common practice for servers to bow toward the priest after they bring the missal to the chair, when they bring the water and wine, and then again after the washing of the hands. While not obligatory these customs may be continued.
Likewise those Catholics who have the custom of bowing the head on hearing the name of Jesus may continue to do so even though this gesture is not mandated in the liturgy. For here we are dealing with a pious custom, not a liturgical act.
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