The first option for the priest’s greeting is distinctly Trinitarian:
Grátia Dómini nostri Iesu Christi, et cáritas Dei,The three Persons of the Trinity work together, so it is not correct to say that grace only comes from the Son, or that love only comes from the Father, or that communion only comes from the Holy Spirit. And yet, this greeting highlights these three gifts – grace, love, and communion – and associates each with a different Person of the Trinity. Let us look at these three pairings more closely.
et communicátio Sancti Spíritus sit cum ómnibus vobis.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, 2 Cor. 13:14
and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
“The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.” It might surprise you to learn that the word “grace,” so fundamental in the preaching of the Apostles after Pentecost, occurs only eight times in the Gospels: four times in Luke 1–2 (sometimes translated as “favor”), and four times in the introduction to St. John’s Gospel:
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth.… And from his fulness have we all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. (John 1:14-17)As brief as that may seem, it is an excellent introduction to the concept of grace in the divine economy: grace comes to us through Jesus Christ. The doctrine of grace is fundamental to genuine Christianity: “Grace is favor, the free and undeserved help that God gives us to respond to his call to become children of God, adoptive sons, partakers of the divine nature and of eternal life.” (Catechism 1996) Grace is so important in the Christian life that St. Paul mentioned it in every single one of his letters, often in a formula like “grace in [or through or from] Christ.”
“The love of God.” St. John could very well be called the evangelist of love. From his inspired hand we read that “God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son” (John 3:16), that “love is of God” (1 John 4:7), and the profound but simple “God is love.” (1 John 4:8) It is in St. John’s Gospel that we find the “new” commandment to love one another, not merely as we would wish to be loved, but as Jesus loves us. (cf. John 13:34) And how does Jesus love us? As God the Father has loved Him. (cf. John 15:9) It is only by the love of God that we can love one another, especially those who do not love us. (cf. Matt. 5:44) Love is more than an emotion or a feeling: it is a theological virtue (along with faith and hope). If our love is to be genuine, it must not just model itself after God’s love, it must be a true participation in His love, which includes obedience to Him. (cf. 1 John 5:2-3)
“The communion of the Holy Spirit.” The word “fellowship” in this greeting has been changed to “communion.” Although you will probably see the word “fellowship” used in your Bible in 2 Corinthians 13:14,* that word can have secular connotations that fall short of the theological weight that the word “communion” has amassed over nearly 2000 years of Christianity. Consider the “Fellowship of the Ring” from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. This fellowship of nine adventurers had unity of purpose (the destruction of the Ring), but discord as to how to achieve that end. That fellowship was fleeting and superficial at times, and did not last as it was meant to. Communion, on the other hand, is deeper and more intimate than fellowship. It means “in union with,” and the basis of this union is the presence of the Holy Spirit in us that makes us sons and daughters of a common Father, and sisters and brothers of a common Savior. Two people in fellowship may agree on some things and enjoy each other’s company from time to time, but to be in communion with Jesus Christ in the Holy Spirit means that Jesus abides in you and you abide in Jesus. (cf. John 15:4; 1 John 4:16) God exists in an eternal communion, not just a fellowship, and the “communion of the Holy Spirit” brings us into that divine and eternal relationship: the role of the Holy Spirit is that “we know that [God] abides in us, by the Spirit which he has given us.” (1 John 3:24) Finally, this communion is not only with God, but also with all who are themselves in communion with Him: we are a “community,” in the truest sense possible, in God.
That is what St. Paul was writing about, and that is what the priest is saying to the congregation. This is no “Good morning” or “Thanks for coming today.” This is divine communication, the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, most especially as we begin the Eucharistic liturgy.
The second option for the greeting is:
Grátia vobis et pax a Deo Patre nostro et Dómino Iesu Christo.The wording has changed slightly from the old translation, matching the greeting found in eight of St. Paul’s letters. The slightly unnatural word order (“grace to you and peace” rather than “grace and peace to you”) is not just some mechanical adherence to the Greek words of Scripture and their Latin translation; it matches the traditional rendering of these verses as found in most English Bibles. This wording should slow us down to consider the meaning of this greeting.
Grace to you and peace Col. 1:2; 1 Th. 1:1; 1 Pet. 1:2; 2 Pet. 1:2; Rev. 1:4
from God our Father Rom. 1:7; 1 Cor. 1:3; 2 Cor. 1:2; Gal. 1:3
and the Lord Jesus Christ. Eph. 1:2; Phil. 1:2; 2 Th. 1:2; Phlm. 3
This greeting is found not only in St. Paul’s letters, but also in those of St. Peter – “May grace and peace be multiplied to you” – and in the book of Revelation – “Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come.” We have already considered the grace we receive from God in and through Jesus Christ; what about His peace?
The opening chapters of the Gospel of St. Luke introduce us to the type of peace that comes from God: the Benedictus prayer of Zechariah thanks God for His “tender mercy” that brings about the light that shall “guide our feet into the way of peace” (Luke 1:78-79); angels sing “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased” (Luke 2:14); and Simeon, upon seeing the infant Savior in the Temple, prays to God to “let your servant depart in peace” because his eyes have “seen your salvation.” (Luke 2:29-30)
Contrast these with one of Jesus’ hard sayings: “Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.” (Luke 12:51) Does Jesus come to bring peace or division? The sad truth is that the peace that Jesus brings is not universally accepted, and as a result, “in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three.” (Luke 12:52) The peace that Jesus gives to us is not a worldly peace, but an other-worldly peace. Jesus describes it at the Last Supper: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. … I have said this to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” (John 14:27; 16:33) Jesus offers us a peace that is not worldly security, but comfort in victory over the world.
We receive the peace of Christ through the Holy Spirit: peace is a fruit of the Spirit (cf. Gal. 5:22) that comes when we turn our minds from things of the flesh to things of the Spirit. (cf. Rom. 8:6) This is the peace that the priest offers the people at the beginning of Mass. In his book The Bible and the Mass, Rev. Peter Stravinskas links this greeting to the altar: “The priest then wishes for the people the grace and peace of God, which he has received from his kissing of the altar.” (p. 14)
The third option, which is used several times in the Mass, is:
Dóminus vobíscum.This is a simple greeting, but it speaks volumes. Instead of speaking of God’s peace, love, grace, or communion, the priest prays for us to be in the very presence of the Lord. What does it mean when the Lord is in our midst? It means refuge from worldly strife (cf. Ps. 46:7), victory over sin (cf. Rev. 21:3-4), deliverance from our enemies (cf. 1 Sam. 17:37), and success in our godly endeavors. (cf. Josh. 1:9) Wherever the Lord is, there too are His many graces and blessings. Rev. Nicholas Gihr summarized that “the priest could not wish anything better to the faithful than what is included in the greeting Dominus vobiscum” (The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, p. 457), for “if God is for us, who is against us?” (Rom. 8:31)
The Lord be with you. Ruth 2:4; 1 Sam. 17:37; 2 Th. 3:16
If you know any Latin, you might wonder why Dominus vobiscum is translated as “(may) the Lord be with you” (an expression of a hope or desire) rather than “the Lord is with you” (a statement of fact). One reason is that by saying “(may) the Lord be with you,” the priest offers a prayer for the congregation, rather than simply talking to them about God. Another reason is that it avoids being presumptuous about being in favor with the Lord. Twice in Scripture, a person receives an angelic greeting of “The Lord is with you.” (Judg. 6:12; Luke 1:28) These angels had it on the highest authority (God Himself) that the Lord was indeed with the person. But there are times in Scripture when a man says “The Lord is with you” and he turns out to be wrong. For example, when King David spoke to Nathan the prophet about his desire to build a dwelling for the Lord, Nathan replied, “Go, do all that is in your heart; for the LORD is with you.” But he spoke too soon: that very night, the Lord corrected him and revealed what His will was concerning David and the Temple he had intended to build. (cf. 2 Sam. 7:3ff)
The words “The Lord be with you” are nearly identical in meaning to the name “Emmanuel” (“God (is) with us”), which Isaiah prophesied and St. Matthew identified with Jesus. (cf. Isa. 7:14; Matt. 1:23) Thus this greeting is a prayer of the hope for salvation, for Jesus came to “save his people from their sins.” (Matt. 1:21)
There is another greeting to consider. A bishop can say:
Pax vobis.While the priest’s greetings come from the words of St. Paul, the bishop’s greeting comes from the lips of Jesus Himself:
Peace be with you. Judg. 6:23; John 20:19; Eph. 6:23
On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.” (John 20:19-21)These words were spoken by the Lord to his frightened disciples on the day of the Resurrection. The peace that Jesus offers dispels fear. Consider how consoling these words are to Catholics who live in fear of daily persecution, just as the first Christians did. The words of Christ install fortitude in weak hearts and reawaken in souls the spark of the Holy Spirit of God, for Whom all things are possible.
St. Peter, the prince of the Apostles, Vicar of Christ, and first Pontiff of the Church, offered this greeting in both of his letters: “May grace and peace be multiplied to you.” (1 Pet. 1:2; 2 Pet. 1:2) Every bishop, as a successor of the Apostles, is privileged to use this greeting because he is a special representative of Christ (especially in his own diocese) carrying out His three-fold office of teaching, governing, and sanctifying.
After Jesus gave His peace to the disciples, He announced that He was sending them as the Father had sent Him; then He breathed on them and they received a foretaste of the Holy Spirit Whom they would receive to a greater degree at Pentecost. We will return to this peace and this sending in later chapters.
* The Greek word koinonia is found in Acts 2:42, 1 Corinthians 1:9, 2 Corinthians 6:14 and 13:14, Galatians 2:9, and 1 John 1:3-7, and is translated in Latin as communicatio (“communion”), societatem (“fellowship”), and participatio (“participation”).