Friday, November 4, 2011

Why change the translation of the Mass? pt 3

(Letter to Verne A. Kiular, continued)

The first and most glaring thing you are going to notice in the “new” liturgical text is that the response to the opening dialogue , “the Lord be with you.” (Or something to that effect, is no longer “and also with you.” The congregation will respond (hopefully) “and with your spirit.” Why bother? Isn’t it really the same thing?

IT MOST CERTAINLY IS NOT THE SAME THING! At the very beginning of the Mass, we jump into the deep end of the pool. We live in a world that says what you see is what you get. Materialism, the belief that matter is all that exists, is the reigning philosophy. It was the belief of Marx, Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot. It was the belief of Hitler, Eichmann and Himmler. It was the belief that gave permission to the great mass-murderers of the 20th century, it is the belied that permits the abortion-genocide of the 20th century to continue unabated into the 21st century, and it is the belief of most of the couch potatoes who get their world view from reality shows and their only exercise at the shopping mall. Materialism is the belief that people are just things. People are just glorified animals who have opposable thumbs and credit cards. Babies in the womb can be killed because they are just lumps of tissue. What matters is what you own, because if you can’t see it, it ain’t real. And that includes unborn children.

To a world that believes there is no such thing as spirit, that is a non-material reality, the Catholic Church assembled says, “and with your SPIRIT!” Take that, Anaxagoras, Lucretius and Charles Darwin! (Born 500BC, 100BC and 1809AD, respectively. Materialism is not a new idea. )

I have spent about 45 years pondering what the word “spirit” means. In English we speak of soul and spirit, ( anima and spiritus in Latin; psyche and pneuma in Greek. Pneuma is a Greek word whose primary meaning is “a blowing or breathing,” the breath, that which gives life. It gets even more complicated in Hebrew. You’ve got ruach, which means wind or breath, moving air. Then there’s nephesh, life’s breath, from the root word to breath and neshoma which is the soul, the consciousness corresponding to the Greek word psyche and the Latin word anima. God is “ruach” He doesn’t have a nephesh or neshoma. He is “ruach.”

As I said, I have contemplated these things and have had struggles to understand them for 45 years. I have learned Latin and Greek and Hebrew. If you ask what the word “spirit” really means, I would have to tell you “Beats me.” That’s how we start the Mass in the Latin rite of the Roman Catholic Church. We run smack-dab into a mystery that is beyond our definitions, but is still at the very heart of our being, of being itself, for that matter. Would it just be simpler to say “and with you also?” Yes it would. It would also be easier to buy a loaf of spongy sandwich bread at the Quickie Mart than it would be to knead the dough, let the yeast rise, fill the house with the perfume of baking bread and to inhale deeply as you break open the loaf still hot from the oven. We live in a world that pretends it loves the fresh baked and the home made, but we settle for the “Lack-of Wonder Bread” everyday, because the other is just too much work.

It is just too much work to live in a world that is hidden from our eyes, to consider the demands of a God who is woven into every atom and molecule of the tangible world, yet is Himself unseen. It seems foolish to kneel before a God who appeared as an infant and who still appears as a piece of bread. The world of the reality shows and the materialists will laugh at us and tell us to “Get real!”

In the creed there is a phrase that will be changing. “Seen and unseen” will become “visible and invisible.” Nothing embodies the obscure point I am trying to make as vividly as this change does. Seen and unseen are quite different. When I hide behind a door, I am unseen. I CAN be seen. It is possible to see me. I am just unseen because I am waiting for you to count to a hundred and say, “Ready or not, hear I come.” To be invisible is to be “un-see-able.” It cannot be seen. So you see, seen and unseen are quite different from visible and invisible.

We live, as C.S. Lewis puts it as amphibians, on the border between two worlds, the visible, the world of scientific method, and the invisible world, the world of love and hope and good and evil, of beauty and of truth. Beauty cannot be seen. Things can be seen. And seeing them we may judge them beautiful, because we perceive the invisible quality of beauty.

For the materialist, a sunrise is just the interplay of gases and solar radiation. The materialist who comments on a beautiful sunrise betrays his own philosophy. Of all the proofs for the existence of God, I sometimes think that beauty is the greatest. He is the author of beauty, He is the source of our instinct for beauty, He is beauty itself, breathing and living, filling us and all creation with His Holy Breath. I suspect that for animals, beauty is not an issue.

Things exist to be used, not to be admired. This is obviously true with cats, but perhaps I have offended dog lovers, and I must admit that some of my best friends are dogs. No one greets you with a more sincere affection than a dog. Still, you must admit, that you are the “bringer of treats” and the “thrower of squeaky toys.” All that affection is a good investment on Fido’s part. (Cat’s are a source of wonder to me. They get as much attention as Fido, but seem not really to care about us in the least. I sometimes think cats are space aliens who have hypnotized some unsuspecting earthlings. But I digress.)

A sunrise or a rainbow benefits no one in the material sense, but still we stand in awe of their beauty. That immaterial quality makes life worth living and to me is the surest proof of the Breath that made the universe for Love’s sake. So, the Lord be with you, and with your Spirit, because when all is said and done, that’s what you are!


  1. Interesting. Except for one thing. The priest and the laity of the congregation are not saying this to each other. The laity of the congregation is saying "And with your spirit" only to the priest. He does not say this to us. Because it does not represent the spirit that we all "are" (?), nor does it represent the Spirit that we have received in Baptism, but it acknowledges, instead, the Holy Spirit that the priest has received in his ordination. This is a profound difference between the laity and the priest and is one that the Church wants us to call to mind at a time when so many seem to have forgotten, don't you think?

  2. Of course, I notice now that this is part 3 of your article, so maybe you've already covered that point. :)