Saturday, March 5, 2011

The Extraordinary Form: Dominus Vobiscum

The topic which I am covering today I believe is never really given much thought to the average Catholic attending Mass.  Sadly, many abuses have crept in throughout the liturgical landscape today when used outside of the Extraordinary Form.  Yet I submit even those Catholics who follow rubrics (of whichever rite) faithfully, they do not give much thought to this statement.

At several points during the Mass, the priest kisses the altar and then turns to face the people.  He then announces the words Dominus vobiscum or The Lord be with you.  The congregation replies Et cum spiritu tuo which means And with thy spirit.  There are I believe several misunderstandings here regarding this.

For some, they believe that this is a request, a prayer.  This leads to the rather silly moment in many celebrations of the Ordinary Form when the priest, standing in his typical posture, extends his hands while saying this phrase.  Some people in turn, open their hands and extend their arms towards the priest when saying it back.  They act as if somehow they are able to impart the blessing on the priest, making the priest just another person in the congregation, albeit one with a flashier wardrobe.

This prayer is not so much a request/imparting of blessing as it is a reminder.  The Scriptural basis for this prayer brings this to light.  In the book of Ruth, Boaz salutes the harvesters by proclaiming "The Lord be with you!"  The harvesters reply "The Lord Bless you!"  We should call to mind during this prayer that we are likewise harvesters in the farm that is Earth.  We are the laborers engaged in the work of God.

Yet in order for this salutation to be of any benefit to us, we must indeed be engaging in the work of God.  In the Second Book of the Chronicles, the prophet Azariah announces to the King:

Hear me, Asa and all Judah and Benjamin! The LORD is with you when you are with him, and if you seek him he will be present to you; but if you abandon him, he will abandon you
The call is a reminder of the union that we are all called to in Christ with the Father, and that is obligatory as a Christian.

We know that this comes through Christ by the actions of the priest.  Before giving this exhortation, he kisses the altar.  The first altars of the Mass were the tombs of the martyrs.  They offered the Sacrifice on these tombs connecting their sacrifice with the sacrifice of Christ on the cross, upon which all of our offerings depend upon for any efficacy.  The altar is also intimately connected with the Cross, as that was Christ's altar. 

So the priest, when kissing the altar, pronounces what I am about do do I do only through the power of the Cross.  To all the congregation, let us remember the Lord is with us when we follow Him.  Inspired by this confidence, let us unite ourselves to the Cross.  This exhortation occurs right before the Collect.  The Collect is the first audible prayer the priest pronounces.  It is pronounced right before the Gospel, calling us to an intimate union with Christ who is now speaking to us through the Holy Scriptures.  It is said before the Offertory, as we unite ourselves to the Cross in preparation for Calvary being made present to us.  It is said before the Our Father, as we call to mind the perfect union with God that this prayer signifies.  It is said after we receive our Lord in Holy Communion, that the unity which we desire may always be present in us.  Finally, it is said as we depart from the Mass, a reminder that once outside the building of wood and stone, we must always remain united to Christ.

In these four simple words is also a reaffirmation of everything we have discussed up until now.  By our mere attendance at Mass, we are choosing to serve God over the world.  Yet such service is pointless unless done in union with Christ.

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