It’s a classic standard across the liturgical-church world:

“The Lord be with you.”
“And with your/thy spirit.”

This exchange, well known today, was used only sparingly in the classical Prayer Book tradition. The 1549 Prayer Book used it twice in the Communion service (before the Collect of the Day and the Post-Communion Prayer), once in the Baptism service, and once in the Daily Office immediately before the three Collects. By 1559 this arrangement had been drastically reduced: the salutation was not to be found in the Sacramental services, and only at the beginning of the Prayers in the Daily Office. By contrast, a Low Mass before the Reformation would include this salutation as many as seven times!

The origin of this salutation is likely an amalgamation of several biblical blessings. “The Lord be with your spirit” (2 Timothy 4:22) is a primary example; some other variations include Ruth 2:4, 2 Thessalonians 3:16, and Galatians 6:18.

In the 1979 Prayer Book and similar contemporary liturgies the response was re-translated to read “and also with you.” It was thought, at the time, to be a fair translation of the ancient liturgies, if more dynamic. Recent revisions in both Roman and Anglican liturgy have tended toward the restoration of the more literal translation, “and with your spirit.”

The salutation has come under fire, in recent times, concerning its theological implications. Some argue, in line with Roman tradition, that the language of “and with your spirit” is a reference to the indelible ordination character bestowed upon the priest, thus highlighting the sacredotal character of the ordained ministry. The reduction of the use of this salutation in the first Prayer Book and its near-total disappearance in subsequent versions may be cited as evidence in favor of this interpretation, especially when seeing that the liturgies of the Anglo-Catholic movement increase this salutation’s use.

This is not the only way to understand the salutation, however, nor is it the sole explanation for its disappearance in the more “reformed” Prayer Books. A 17th century commentator, the Rev. Dr. John Boys, observed that the Puritan party at the time was opposed to this and other suffrages and short exchanges and prayers, seeing them as “short cuts, or shreddings” rather than as actual blessings or prayers. Puritan (and other then-radical reformation) liturgies preferred longer, extemporaneous prayers, and this salutation was out of line with their doctrine of worship. John Boys also observed that “the people cannot make a fitter reply than ‘with thy spirit.’ For (as Plato divinely said) every man’s soul is himself.” There was no apparent concern at the time of any sacerdotalism or Romish doctrine of priesthood in this salutation; its real controversy was its brevity. Thus, we ought not today to assign it a meaning more narrow than its simple words merit.

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