Wednesday, August 3, 2011

"And with your spirit."

My "Desktop offering for this weekend's parish bulletin.

“And with your spirit.” This will be the first change that people will notice when the new English translation of the Mass comes into effect in Advent. Why the change?
First of all, because the new text is the correct translation of the Latin: “Et cum spiritu tuo.” The Latin for “And also with you” would be something like: “Et etiam tecum.” But that is not what it says. Why not?
For some time there was a movement to diminish in the minds of the faithful the distinction between the common priesthood of all the faithful and the ministerial priesthood of the priest. When he is ordained, the priest receives an indelible “seal” upon his soul which makes him “a priest forever” (cf. Psalm 109 [110]). We call this an “ontological change”, i.e. a change at the heart of one’s being. He becomes something he was not before. As the Second Vatican Council teaches, the priesthood of the ordained differs not just in degree but in essence from the common priesthood of the faithful. This means that the priest is not simply more of a priest than the lay person. He is a different kind of priest. Whereas we are all members of Christ’s mystical body (and if we are members of Christ, we all share in the priesthood of Christ), the ordained priest is identified with Christ the Head of the Church at once serving (sanctifying) and directing (teaching and shepherding) the operations of the members of the body. The ordained priest’s priesthood is at the service of the common priesthood of all the faithful. Their (your) priesthood depends on the ministry of the ordained priest.
You will notice that, even in the revised translation, the priest will never refer to your spirit. He will never say: “The Lord be with your spirit.” He will continue to say: “The Lord be with you.” But you will respond: “And with your spirit.” So there must be a difference between you the lay person (or indeed the priest who may be attending or concelebrating at Mass) and the one who is celebrating the Mass. When you return the greeting “And with your spirit”, you are expressing a prayer that the Lord will be with the celebrant in his priestly spirit as he carries out his triple function of sanctifying, teaching and shepherding the flock: that he be able to offer the Holy Sacrifice in a manner that contributes to the sanctification of the people present and that of the whole Church; that he be able to exercise his prophetic ministry in proclaiming and breaking open God’s Word (which is why the priest or deacon also says “The Lord be with you” and all respond “And with your spirit” before the Gospel is proclaimed); and that he be truly identified with Christ the Good Shepherd in whose Name he gathers the flock together around the altar of sacrifice.
A little word about gestures: when the celebrant says “The Lord be with you” he is directed to extend his hands. He is not extending his hands towards the faithful but rather extending them in the priestly fashion of raising a priestly prayer to God the Father. There is no direction given to the faithful to extend or do anything at all with their hands. So there is no need for the faithful to extend their hands towards the priest as they return the greeting. I shall address the question of gestures and postures in another edition of “Desktop.” There are gestures and postures which unite us as one people, but there are also those that distinguish the priest/celebrant from the rest, and it is important that, at Mass, we make only those gestures that the Church directs and avoid the introduction of gestures that confuse our distinctive identities in the People of God.
May the Lord God be truly with you and all your loved ones this coming week. May we all be aware of His never-failing presence among us.
Fr John


  1. 'The new text is the correct translation of the Latin: “Et cum spiritu tuo.”' The problem with this statement is that the Latin word spiritus is not simply equivalent to the English word spirit. The Latin word is a metonym for the human person, so that 'and also with you,' though not perhaps elegant English, is in fact a correct and accurate translation of the Latin, while 'and with your spirit' is not. Insofar as the latter conveys anything at all to English speakers it is not what the Latin means. This is the whole trouble with the new version of the mass. For the most part it is not a true translation, but a clumsy paraphrase into schoolboy translationese, as any Latin teacher would immediately recognise.

  2. Thank you Father. This has enlightened me better than other things I have read. I look forward to hearing about gestures.

  3. Ignatius, I must of course defer to a Latinist, but would you say that Italian ("E con il tuo spirito"), Spanish ("Y con tu espiritu") and French ("Et avec votre esprit") are different in this regard? They don't respond "E anche con te" or "Tambien contigo" or "Et avec vous". Could you throw some light on this?

  4. Beautifully expressed. Thank you, Father.

  5. 'Ignatius, I must of course defer to a Latinist, but would you say that Italian ("E con il tuo spirito"), Spanish ("Y con tu espiritu") and French ("Et avec votre esprit") are different in this regard? They don't respond "E anche con te" or "Tambien contigo" or "Et avec vous". Could you throw some light on this?'

    I can only suggest that all these languages are different, express different cultures, ways of understanding etc. (every human language is a unique window on the world) and therefore their words have different connotations. Of those I know I believe French l'esprit and German der Geist like Latin spiritus are not simply equivalent to English spirit. This is what accurate translation must take account of.

  6. I can't say I'm convinced. All people's missals used to render the response "And with thy spirit."

  7. What are you not convinced by? As a response to 'Dominus vobiscum' it seems fairly clear that 'et cum spiritu tuo' is only a typically Latinate expansion of 'et tecum,' i.e. 'and also with you,' in which no particular significance is attached to 'spiritus.' (Romance languages such as French and Italian have retained an affinity to Latin, which may be why they remain closer in this regard). In novels of Thomas Hardy rustic characters sometimes address each other as 'Souls,' i.e. people, folk (who have souls), but this is hardly a current idiom. English speakers today are unlikely to attach any specific meaning to 'and with your spirit.' The old missals, I imagine gave parallel English texts as a guide to the Latin, in much the same way as old school cribs for works like the 'Aeneid.' 'Arma virumque cano,' its first words, might be rendered: Arma - weapons; virumque - and the man; cano - I sing, but one would hardly say in English 'weapons and the man I sing'! Translation demands rather more than that.

  8. Ignatius,

    Please forgive this rather long response to your comments.

    1. Can you cite some examples from Latin literature where spiritus is used as a metonym for "person"?

    I am familiar with it meaning "breath" or "breeze". I am also used to it meaning "soul" or "mind" (especially in later Christian Latin). But I can't think of any texts where it would best be translated as "person" (or something similar).

    2. I think that the background to this expression is more complicated than you suggest. It seems to have pre-Latin roots. It occurs several times in the Greek of the New Testament (both in the plural "μετὰ τοῦ πνεύματος ὑμῶν" and the singular "μετὰ τοῦ πνεύματός σου"). Rather like the Latin spiritus, the Greek πνεῦμα has a broad field of meaning which includes "breath", "wind" or "spirit". My knowledge of NT Greek is pretty basic but I've never seen it suggested that πνεῦμα ought to be translated as "person". A quick check of a dozen translations of 2 Tim 4:22 shows that Biblical translators are almost universally comfortable with "and with your spirit".

    3. As far as I can tell, the use of "your spirit" as a way of expressing "your person" is probably from Semitic expressions rather than a natural feature of Latin or Greek. Nonetheless, Greek and Latin authors have consistently preserved the expression literally.

    4. It quickly became a formulaic greeting in Christian usage (e.g. the Epistle of Barnabas 21:9 and the Apostolic Constitutions). It has been preserved in this form in Greek and Latin liturgies. That is a heavy weight of tradition to depart from lightly.

    5. From about the 4th century, this response has been addressed only to the clergy. This development was accompanied with various mystical meanings attached to the words. Thus St John Chrysostom, commenting on its Biblical use, considers it a reference not to the person but to the gift of the Holy Spirit: "The Lord will be with you. And he says, not with you, but with your spirit. Thus there is a twofold assistance, the grace of the Spirit, and God helping it." Such later traditions, while historically secondary, remain significant.

    6. Almost all vernacular translations have preserved a literal rendering of this expression. The English "And also with you" was an innovation.

    7. I can't speak for all of the romance languages but the Spanish espíritu has pretty much the same connotations as the English "spirit". "And with your spirit" corresponds perfectly with "Y con tu espíritu" and I've never known a Spanish speaker use this expression (or anything like it) outside the liturgy. It is not an idiomatic expression. If the new English translation is defective, so is the Spanish.

    8. Translators were specifically directed by the Holy See to translate this expression (and a few others) literally because they "belong to the heritage of the whole or of a great part of the ancient Church" and have "become part of the general human patrimony" (see Liturgiam authenticam 56).

    So, while I'm sure that many people will find the change puzzling, I think that the translators have made the right call. It certainly seems unfair to call this an example of schoolboy translationese!

  9. Your point 3 may be the critical one. As a liturgical expression 'et cum spiritu tuo' probably derives from Biblical expressions such as Paul's "the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit" (end of Philippians). I hold no brief for 'and also with you,' but now that it is well established and familiar one must ask, what is the point of reinstating an archaic formula or other features of the new version, such as preserving in English complex Latin sentence structures with several subordinate clauses (even imitating the ablative absolute - that really is a schoolboy gaffe)? Will it help people to worship and pray better? That surely is the criterion of good translation of the liturgy. But how can anyone judge? My fear is that by re-imposing an unnatural antique style of diction, our rulers will alienate people from their prayer and worship and from their Church. I will be glad to be proved wrong.


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