Catholic Prayers for the New Evangelization

"Catholic Prayers for the New Evangelization"

Check out the revised edition of this exciting and unique prayer book, filled with prayers that are sure to nourish the soul as we undertake the New Evangelization.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Dominus vobiscum

While I enjoy watching the seven Star Wars movies, and while they each contain something to chew on in spiritual reflection – themes such as good vs evil, justice, surrender to a power greater than oneself, the struggle inside us to discover our identity and remain true to what is good – there remains a fatal flaw in the films.  The power that governs the universe in Star Wars is an impersonal force.  The gift of Christianity to the world is the knowledge that the universe is created, redeemed and sanctified by a personal God who loves us – one God who is a communion of three divine persons in a loving relationship. 


When the priest says “The Lord be with you” at Mass, the Church intends a variety of meanings: that the Lord would bless you, guide you, show you the way to holiness, protect you, give you strength to meet the challenges of daily life and ultimately lead you to the glory of Heaven.  As Christians we desire for ourselves and for each other a deeply personal communion with God both now and in eternity.  We believe in a God who not only made us to be in His image but is personally involved in our lives daily helping us to become more like Him.  May we always be mindful of the significance of the words that we speak and hear at Holy Mass.  It is the Lord whose presence directs the course of the world and our individual paths to holiness.  Without Him we are nothing. 


In the Mass, there are four times when we pray the greeting “The Lord be with you” and its response “And with your spirit:” at the Introductory Rites, before the proclamation of the Gospel, in the Preface to the Eucharistic Prayer and at the Final Blessing.  These four instances correspond to and shine light upon the four modes of the presence of Christ in the liturgical celebration: in the person of the priest, in the gathered assembly, in the Word proclaimed and most especially the Eucharistic species.  (Sacrosanctum Concilium, no. 10)  Even as we pray for Christ to be with us in the greetings of the liturgy, He is indeed among us in these four significant ways. 


1. The Introductory Rites.  As Mass begins, the priest and people together sign themselves with the sign of Christ's Cross – the instrument of our salvation and the mark of our identity as members of His Mystical Body.  The priest then extends the greeting “The Lord be with you” and the people respond “And with your spirit.”  This first instance of the liturgical greeting is most often heard in its expanded form, which includes mention of all three persons in the Trinity, whereas the terse form is used at the other times during the Mass.  We pray that the love of the Father, the grace of the Son and the communion of the Spirit be with each member of Christ’s Body who is present for the sacred synaxis. 


Note carefully that we do not say “The Lord is with you” because this phrasing would neglect the desire for continuing conversion and would assume a deeper relationship with the Lord for each member of the congregation than any priest could know.  While the Lord is omnipresent, the meaning of the prayer is to ask the Lord to be with us in an ever-increasingly personal and intimate way.  It is that divine presence that bestows the peace and strength we all need to face life’s trials and appreciate its triumphs. 


Why do the people respond “And with your spirit” and not simply “you”?  Because there is far more present than meets the eye.  The priest is conformed to Christ in a unique way as alter Christus (another Christ) and in his ministry – despite his individual sinfulness – we see and hear Jesus.  Remember that the priest says the words of consecration (“This is my Body” and “This is my Blood”) and the words of absolution (“I absolve you…”) in the first person.  We hear the voice of Jesus in the liturgical words of the priest.  We experience the effects of Jesus’ saving actions in the ministry of the priest.  The priest stands before the people in persona Christi capitis (in the person of Christ the Head [of the Mystical Body]) as the celebrant of the liturgical celebration, the shepherd of the parish community and the representative of Christ to God's people.  Christ remains the true celebrant of the sacraments, the Mediator before the Father’s throne and the judge of all.  Therefore, the use of the word “spirit” emphasizes the spiritual dimension of the human person – the soul – and in particular reminds us of the priest’s unique role and the grace of his ordination, which indelibly marks his soul.  The Fathers of the Church understood this well when they taught that “spirit” designates a unique characteristic of ordained ministers.  The Holy Spirit calls men to their vocations and is bestowed through the laying on of hands to bishops, priests and deacons at their ordination so that the act in the power of the Spirit when performing their sacred duties.  In the Mass especially, it is a divine work that is taking place: by the power of the Spirit descending like the dewfall the ordinary elements become the living Christ.  Therefore, when the people say “And with your spirit,” the Church intends that they are acknowledging the “priestly spirit” of their shepherd, praying for the priest to have an ever deeper experience of the Lord's presence in his unique role as a priest, as well as for him to minister faithfully through an increase of the grace of ordination within him.  In short, they are praying for him to be a holy priest.  (For more on this as well as the history and meaning of the other liturgical responses, see It Is Right and Just by Father John M. Cunningham, O.P.)  Thus, only the ordained can initiate the liturgical greeting. 


Considering the rich meaning of these uniquely liturgical words, how much more beautiful a greeting from the priest is this than something as trivial as pedestrian as “Good morning.”  In fact, in ancient times Christians greeted one another even in the streets with sacred language. While “Good morning” is a kind thing to say, they recognized that having Jesus with them was far better.  Praying for him to be with one's neighbor is a great act of kindness far surpassing the hope to simply have a nice day.  So, they would use a call and response in greeting one another or welcoming one another into their homes, for example, “Christ is Among Us!  He is now and always will be!”) 


This first instance of the greeting reveals two of the four modes of the presence of Christ in the Eucharist: in the gathered assembly and in the person of the priest.  Note an important distinction here.  Christ is present to all of us because of our Baptism and we are marked forever as His very own.  Yet, liturgically speaking, He is present as the assembly gathers in numbers – just as He promised that “where two or three” (or thousands) “are gathered in my name, there I am in the midst of them” but the liturgical presence of Christ in the priest exists in the individual priest and not only when a group of priests are gathered or a congregation is present.  There is something unique about a priest.  God has chosen him to live and minster in the person of Christ – a humbling reality indeed. 


2. Before the proclamation of the Gospel.  The Gospel is unique among the elements of the Liturgy of the Word because in it are found the words of Jesus Himself.  Therefore, liturgically it is treated in a special way: only the Book of the Gospels can be carried in procession, accompanied by candles, and incensed.  It is read or chanted only by an ordained minister who introduces it with the liturgical greeting. 


Christ is present in His Word as it is proclaimed, not in the static reality of the book containing the words but in the dynamic events of speaking the words, preaching on their meaning and application, and making them come alive in daily life.  It is the prayer of the Church that the Word of God would sink deeply into the minds and hearts of the faithful, so that the power of its lessons would take root in word and deed.  Wherever the Word is spoken, expounded and acted upon – there Christ lives.  Jesus is the Word incarnate.  Therefore, “the Word made flesh” is the person of Jesus, not simply the words He spoke.  May He always be with us as we do our best to live in accord with His holy Word. 


3. The Preface to the Eucharistic Prayer.  Whichever of the nine Eucharistic Prayers are selected by the priest-celebrant, there is always a preface, which presents the theme of the season or of the day’s celebration.  The preface opens with a three-fold dialogue, beginning with the short liturgical greeting. 


In the Eucharistic Prayer, the Mass reaches its apex.  All that we have done before points to Jesus becoming present on the altar and all that happens after allows us to experience the fruits of what He has done.  This dynamic corresponds to the place of the Lord’s Passion in salvation history.  All of God’s work on behalf of His people before the Cross was a preparation for this most significant event and any experience of God thereafter is the fruit of His redeeming sacrifice.  As that sacrifice is re-presented on the altar, we long to consume our Lord as thirsty travelers yearn for an oasis in the desert. 


Here, in the consecration, the Lord is indeed with is in the most profound way possible this side of heaven.  In the Eucharist, Christ is truly present and this Real Presence remains as long as the consecrated species are present.  While the other modes of Christ’s presence in the liturgy – priest, assembly gathered, Word proclaimed – are “real,” that is, not artificial, the substance of the person of Jesus Christ is only present in the Blessed Sacrament.


It is the earnest prayer of the Church that, through a worthy reception of the Eucharist (the communicant having confessed mortal sin and fasted prior to Mass), the faithful would come to rejoice in having Jesus within them and would share that holy presence with all whom they encounter.


4. The Final Blessing.  The English word “Mass” is derived from the Latin verb missa, meaning “sent.”  The Mass is a dynamic reality, signified by the origin of the name in a verb.  We are sent forth to bear the fruits of the Mass to the world.  The faithful are called to sanctify the world in which they live through the faith they share and the example of holiness they provide.  Thus, before they are sent forth by God’s blessing, the priest greets them one final time to remind us all that we need to continually ask Christ to be with us in our Christian mission to transform the world by introducing each man and woman to Him.  Christ remains present as the assembly disperses unto their own “domestic churches.” 

Christ is among us!  He is now and always will be! 

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