Thomas McKenzie
by grace alone
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And With Your Spirit

Beginning on Sunday morning, December first, the First Sunday of Advent, our congregation will start responding to the words “the Lord be with you" with the phrase “and with your spirit.”  Until now, we have said, “and also with you.”

This change comes at the request of our bishop, the Most Reverend Robert Duncan, and puts us in greater alignment with the rest of Anglican Church, the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches, and with the ancient Church as a whole.

Some of you may want to know the history of this change, so I’ll tell you. Others of you may want to move on to something else. Like Pinterest or whatever.

The call and response “the Lord be with you, and with your spirit” is grounded in several Bible verses such as "
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit." (Philemon 1:25, see also Galatians 6:18, Philippians 4:23, 2 Timothy 4:22)

In the early Church, this call and response were a normal part of the liturgy. It was seen as a prayer. The person leading the prayer (often a priest, but not always) would pray that the Lord would be with the congregation. In other words, that the congregation would have God’s grace and peace.

The congregation would pray that the Lord would be with the leader’s spirit. This is a way of blessing the leader. More than that, it is a prayer that God’s Holy Spirit, rather than the spirit of the leader, would guide the liturgy. One Church Father, St. John Chrysostom, said that the people are praying that the work to follow would not come from the soul of the priest, but from the Spirit he had been given at his ordination. So when a priest celebrates Communion (which begins with this simple prayer) the congregation sees a normal human being, “but it is God who acts through him. Nothing human takes place at this holy altar.”

The phrase endured for centuries, until the 1960s. At that time, the Roman Catholic Church, at a crucial meeting called Vatican II, translated the Latin Mass into modern languages. Every other translation of the Mass got a version of “and with your spirit,” but the English speakers were given “and also with you.” Some argued that there was no reason to separate “spirit” from the rest of the human self in the prayer, and that this change simplified the language. Others argued that now the prayer had become a greeting, a way of saying “hello.”

The Episcopal Church in the United States followed the example of the Roman Catholics, and started using “and also with you” in the 1970s. The Eastern Orthodox Church never changed, but continued to use “and with your spirit.”

The argument never went away. Traditionally minded Catholics and Anglicans kept trying to bring the old language back. A few years ago, the Roman Catholic Church changed back. Now the Anglican Church in North America is making the same change.

This is going to be a little weird at first. I grew up in the Anglican tradition, so I’ve said “and also with you” since I was nine years old. Some of us won’t like the change.

However, we are not a congregationalist church. We are Anglicans, a member of a global fellowship of 80 million people, and part of the great tradition of Christian orthodoxy.  This small change will bring us just a bit more into alignment with our brothers and sisters around the world, and throughout time. Besides that our bishop asked us to do it. Maybe best of all, we’ll turn a greeting into a prayer. Seems like a win-win to me.

May the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.

Church, LiturgyThomas McKenzie