As of this Advent, we will have been using updated prayers and responses in the Mass for four years. One of the most common questions asked is why “and with your spirit” is now used.
“Spirit” is a word and concept used extensively throughout both the Old and New Testaments. It appears at the very beginning of the creation story.
The Hebrew word for spirit is “rûah.” It is used in varied ways in the Old Testament, but its basic meaning is “wind.” Genesis 1:2 says that before the earth took form or shape a “mighty wind” swept over the waters. “Wind” is the Hebrew “rûah.”
As creation leads to its crescendo, Genesis records that God “formed the man out of the dust of the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life.” In this instance the Hebrew word for “spirit” is translated as “the breath of life.”
Isaiah and Ezekiel pick this up to express how God gives life to the lifeless. The very word “inspire” is influenced by this thought to literally mean “to breathe into.” The New Testament uses a different word, but maintains the same concept.
“Spirit” is the God-given vital power and strength of an individual, much like the Holy Spirit is the vital power and strength of God remaining in the world since Pentecost. Interestingly, throughout the Scriptures, “spirit” refers to God Himself almost as many times as it refers to humans. Mortals cannot see themselves as separated from their Creator.
For the early Church, the gift of God’s strong life-breath and vital power gave the community of believers new access. The Letter to the Hebrews mentions that Christ does not have to offer Himself repeatedly on the cross because He has entered heaven. Everything He did is now present in an eternal moment open to believers in the Sacraments.
For the faithful, the words of Sacramental prayer could transform the material elements of creation into realities containing the very presence of their Creator. In Genesis, God had only to speak in order to create and Jesus often re-created simply by saying, “be healed.” The Apostles gained a following in Acts because they could say, “in the Name of Jesus Christ, rise and walk” and so it happened.
This ability was passed on to the ministers the Apostles set-apart to continue Christ’s presence in signs. Every “and with your spirit” replied to a minister able to trace their ordination back to the Apostles is a prayer that the strong, vital power of God in the cleric works. Bread and wine are re-created, sinners reconciled, and the Holy Spirit given!
“Safe spaces” have been created at universities so students don’t have to hear “hurtful speech.” If they do, they are supposed to report it to campus police. In the Sacraments, it is nice to know believers pray for ministers to use the breath of God within them to bring His vital presence into the world again and again. That is edifying speech!