We continue our look at the Mass with the greeting of the celebrant. Earlier instalments of this series can be seen in posts below.
The celebrant standing at the Chair greets the assembled people in one of the following ways:
- 1. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
- 2. The grace and peace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ be with you.
- 3. The Lord be with you.
- 4. Peace be with you. (Only Bishops may use this greeting)
In each case the people respond: “And also with you.”
Here again, we hear it all so often we mis the point! But through his greeting the priest declares to the assembled community that the Lord is present! The greeting and the congregation’s response expresses the mystery of the gathered Church and that Christ Jesus is among us. For, as the Lord says in the Scripture, “Where two or three are gathered in my Name, there am I in the midst of them. (Matt 18:20) The greeting ritual is both theological and descriptive. Something powerful and wonderful has just been told to us. Therefore, informal additions by the clergy such as “Good Morning everyone” are not called for or helpful here. To announce to us that the Lord and his grace are both present and available to us is far better than some colloquial form of hello, remarks about the weather or the progress of the local sports team. We need to grasp the significance of what is taking place to see how inappropriate such light banter is at this moment. We are not just in any gathering, we are with the Lord and He with us and his grace and mercy are available to us! Indeed and in fact the Lord is present and ministering to us. The ritual does allow for the celebrant to add some introductory remarks after the greeting: After the greeting of the people, the priest…may very briefly introduce the faithful to the Mass of the day. (GIRM # 50) Notice the purpose of such remarks is to draw the faithful more fully into the feast they are celebrating or perhaps to announce the basic theme of the readings that are about to be read, or perhaps the mystery of the Eucharist that is about to unfold. Here again light banter about extraneous matters seems out of place. Rather, that the Lord is present and he is ministering to us and unfolding for us the mystery of his Grace is the most basic tone of this moment of greeting.
History – Originally it seems the Roman rite began simply with the readings. This was probably reflective of the very small congregations which gathered in homes or other places. There was little need for a formal greeting. However, as the Church emerged from persecution and communities became larger and processions longer, a greeting of some kind became more of a necessity. Augustine mentions in the City of God 22:8 “Salutavi populum” (I greeted the people) as he began Mass. Likewise, in solemn functions of the 7th century the first thing that happened when the Pope reached the Altar was a series of greetings for the co-liturgists (much as in our present day sign of peace). But in the Middle Ages the greetings came more and more to be paired down while rites such as prayers at the foot of the altar and other introductory rites were added. In the Tridentine Liturgy, the greeting was a simple Dominus vobiscum (the Lord be with you) but it was not proclaimed to the congregation until after the Kyrie and Gloria and immediately before the opening prayer. Today as is seen above, the greeting is restored but is still brief in nature. Further, the greetings include a richer drawing from the written greetings of Paul in the New Testament as well as the greeting by Jesus to his Apostles after his resurrection, “Peace be with you.”