BY: Fr. Mike Lagrimas

Mt. 23:1-12
The fourth commandment says: “Honor your father and your mother.” But in the Gospel this Sunday, Jesus said, “Call no one on earth your father; you have but one Father in heaven. Do not be called ‘Master’; you but one master, the Messiah” (Mt 23:9-10). What does he mean by this? Does he want us to do away with titles of respect? Are we going to address our parents by their first name? No. In fact, Jesus himself used titles of respect. For example, he referred to “father Abraham.” Saint Paul directly told the Corinthians, “I am your father.” And he referred to Timothy as his “son.” For his part, we can surmise that Timothy must have also called Paul his “father”.

In this exhortation, Jesus is simply reminding us that we have only one Master, one Teacher, one Father – God himself. As the prophet Malachi asked: “Have we not all one father? Has not one God created us?” (Mal 2:10). Hence, whatever authority we have, whether as teacher, as leader, or as father, all these come from God. We only participate in His authority.

Hence, the reminder to use the authority we have in accordance with the mind and plan of God. This means that we have to use it, not to dominate and oppress people, but to serve them: “The greatest among you must be your servant.” (Mt 23:11). We participate in God’s authority, precisely in order to serve others. This is clearly shown in the role of the priest, especially every time he offers the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. The greeting in the Mass directly points to that. In Latin, it is: “Dominus vobiscum.” And the response is: “Et cum spiritu tuo.” In English, it is: “The Lord be with you.” The response was: “And also with you.” In the new English translation, the response was changed to: “And with your spirit.”

The response was changed, not only to make the translation from Latin more accurate, but also to capture the right theological meaning of this greeting. What, then, is the meaning of “And with your spirit”?

In the first place, we must remember that this expression is taken from the Book of Ruth 2:4 and 2 Timothy 2:22. The early Christians, according to St. Justin Martyr (100-165), spoke these answers from the very beginning.
St. John Chrysostom, in his Pentecost Homily, given towards the end of the fourth century, taught about this. He said: “If the Holy Spirit were not in our Bishop [referring to Bishop Flavian of Antioch] when he gave the peace to all shortly before ascending to his holy sanctuary, you would not have replied to him all together, ‘And with your spirit’. This is why you reply with this expression not only when he ascends to the sanctuary, nor when he preaches to you, nor when he prays for you, but when he stands at this holy altar, when he is about to offer this awesome sacrifice. You don’t first partake of the offerings until he has prayed for you the grace from the Lord, and you have answered him, ‘And with your spirit’, reminding yourselves by this reply that he who is here does nothing of his own power, nor are the offered gifts the work of human nature, but is it the grace of the Spirit present and hovering over all things which prepared that mystic sacrifice” (PG L. 458 ff).

In this teaching, therefore, St. John Chrysostom clearly points out that this greeting in the Mass is not something superficial and ordinary. The response “And also with you” may sound like we are just exchanging pleasantries with the priest, almost equivalent to saying, “Same to you, Father!” Nowadays, this is ordinarily accompanied by the people’s gesture of also extending their hands towards the priest, as if tossing something back to him. This further trivializes the liturgy.

More importantly, however, St. John Chrysostom wanted us to realize that this is not really a greeting at all, but a prayer of blessing (“The Lord be with you”) that is being answered by a profession of faith (“And with your spirit”). So, when we say, “And with your spirit”, we are reminding ourselves that the Mass is not about the priest at all, for it is not his Mass. It is Christ’s Mass: “The liturgy, then, is rightly seen as an exercise of the priestly office of Jesus Christ” (Vatican II, SC #7). The liturgy, especially the Eucharist, is first and foremost an action of the one High Priest, Jesus Christ.

So, while the priest is not just a member of the congregation, he is not also called “presider.” This term does not even appear in the General Instructions of the Roman Missal. Instead, the term used is “Priest Celebrant”, to highlight the fact that in his role of offering the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, he does so “in persona Christi” – in the Person of Christ. He is able to do this, not by his own power and resources, but through the special grace of the Holy Spirit conferred on him by the sacrament of Holy Orders in such a way that he is configured to Christ. It is Christ who personally ministers through the priest. In other words, the true priest and celebrant of every Holy Mass is Christ himself. Hence, in recognition of this truth, we express our faith by saying, “And with your spirit.” In other words, the congregation says, “We acknowledge the Spirit, presence and grace of Christ in your spirit, Father.”

This, then, leads us to the lesson of the Gospel. Jesus told us not to call anyone “Teacher” or “Father”, not because he does not want us to use titles of respect. Rather, he warns us against the pride and arrogance of the Jewish leaders of his time who were using their positions of authority to dominate and oppress the people. That is why our response, “And with your spirit” is a constant reminder for a priest that he must always have the spirit of humble service. As Jesus said, “The greatest among you must be your servant.”

The priest, therefore, ought to be called “Father”, not because his is a position of superiority, but because he is a living reminder of Christ, “who has come not to be served, but to serve.” Let us continually pray for our priests so that the spirit of profound humility and genuine service may truly be lived by them, for the glory of God and the salvation of souls.

Fr. Mike Lagrimas
Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish Palmera Springs 3, Susano Road Camarin, Novaliches, Caloocan City 1422

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