If your church has adopted the ACNA’s new Book of Common Prayer 2019, one change probably threw everyone off. And it was a change of only two words.

For those who learned liturgy, even just a little, from the 1979 Prayer Book or in the Roman Catholic Church from 1970 to 2010, it was nearly automatic to respond to the priest’s bid, “The Lord be with you,” in a nearly rhythmic “And also with you.”

The default for ACNA Anglicans is now, “And with your spirit.”

Why? Do you have to follow suit?

Let’s explore.

The Latin and Greek liturgical texts that first mention this little exchange are more or less literally, “And with your spirit.”

When Thomas Cranmer crafted the English of the 1549 Prayer Book, he used “And with thy spirite”—a phrase that kept all the way until the 1979 American revision.

In the 1960s, Roman Catholics around the world were translating the Latin mass into the vernacular (or, as Anglicans have said since Article 26, “such a tongue as the people understandeth”). In German, they used the German for “your spirit.” In Italian, they used the Italian for “your spirit.” In Spanish, they used the Spanish for “your spirit.”

But in English, “And also with you” came into parlance.

Likewise in the Episcopal Church’s 1979 Prayer Book.

Pros and Cons

The Bible itself is somewhat split. St. Paul uses some form of “May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit” to conclude Galatians, Philippians, Philemon, and 2 Timothy. The apostle uses “with you” in 1 & 2 Corinthians, Colossians, 1 & 2 Thessalonians, 1 Timothy, and Titus (and kind of in Romans and Ephesians).

Here are some reasons to prefer the “also with you” language.

  1. It’s more poetic. That’s right. I just said that a modernized version of the liturgy is more poetic than the traditional forms. The parallelism of five syllables culminating in “with you” is fairly euphonic. When people don’t have a text as a guide, it takes a fair bit of practice to get out of this easy rhythm. (My six and eight-year-old kids can attest. When we cross under the Peace Bridge connecting Buffalo to Canada, I shout out, “Peace be with you!” The mixed response is not unlike most Anglican meetings in the last few years.)
  2. Roman Catholics changed from “and also with you” to “and with your spirit” in 2010—are we just copying them by making the same change? This was my first reaction to the ACNA’s “spirit” language. Do we have good reasons to drop “also with you,” or is it following the most recent trend?
  3. It refers to the whole person instead of just someone’s spirit—as if that could be separated from their body.

And here are some reasons to prefer the “your spirit” language.

  1. It’s in more continuity with the rest of the church – horizontal across denomination and geography, and vertical through time.
  2. It has a better pedigree in historical Prayer Books.
  3. It emphasizes something different than “also with you.” More on this below.

What do I have to do?

To begin, let’s recognize that it’s the default response in the BCP 2019. Let’s face it: this is the norm.

However, the rubrics allow for “also with you.” So if your bishop says it’s okay, it’s okay. Also, I note that this is two words. I’m not going to start a fight or overanalyze this thing to death.

While my first response was distaste, the whole point of Common Prayer is some level of commonality. It is just plain annoying to hear the mixed responses at broader Anglican gatherings, so I jumped to the default “your spirit” for the sake of peace and liturgical obedience (though, again, it’s not necessarily required).

My understanding has deepened, though, and I invite you to consider further.

“Your spirit” is, I think, good for our worship.

Does it divide body and soul?

A legitimate question. When you say, “And with your spirit,” are you indicating that this is the only important thing to be blessed?

First, the soul or spirit (the terms have some interchangeability in the New Testament and the teaching of the rabbis) is not something distinct from the body. Properly, soul names what is most core in a person. Likewise, a person’s spirit may be the thinking or feeling or non-physical aspect of a person—not a separate part. So we might pray for someone: “Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit.” To pray for her spirit is to pray for her central being, her thoughtful middle.

Second, perhaps you should not hear the response as “And with the spiritual part of you, O priest” but more like “And with you, as the Holy Spirit is in you.”

I know it’s weird. We say “your spirit,” not “the Holy Spirit.”

But hear me out.

We, as Christians, are completely dependent on the Holy Spirit. He gives gifts to his people, which might be called “the spirit of wisdom” (Eph. 1:17, Deut. 34:9), or even the “spirit of skill” (Exod. 28:3). The “spirit of prophecy” testifies to Jesus (Rev. 19:10) just like the Holy Spirit does (John 15:26), so that the Lord is “the God of the spirits of the prophets” (Rev. 22:6).

In receiving the Lord, our own spirit becomes transformed by the Holy Spirit: “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry Abba, Father!” (Rom. 8:14-15) The Holy Ghost is empowering all of us: “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.”

Is there a specific spiritual gift in the priest, making it especially appropriate to pray for God’s Spirit to work in that minister?

Yes. Without the spirit of godly authority, given by God’s Spirit, this sinner could be no leader of the people in their worship.

And this is precisely how some in the early church understood the liturgical exchange, “And with your spirit.”

Theodore of Mopsuestia: “In saying, ‘and with your spirit,’ they do not refer to his soul, but to the grace of the Holy Spirit by which his people believe he is called to the priesthood.” (Baptismal Homilies, ch. 5)

St. John Chrysostom: “For if the Holy Spirit was not in the common father and teacher when just now he went up into the sanctuary and gave all of you the peace, you would not all have answered: ‘And with your Spirit.'”

In fact, the priest “does not touch the offerings before he himself has begged for you the grace of the Lord and you cry in answer to him: ‘And with your spirit.’ By this reply you are also reminded that he who is there does nothing, and that the right offering of the gifts is not a work of human nature … For he who is there is a man, but it is God who works through him.” (On Holy Pentecost)

The priest is not over and above all, executing a special power. No, God wants to minister his grace to his people. He chooses to do so by his Spirit: the priest in the God-given spirit of leadership and authority, the people praying for the priest and receiving God’s spiritual gift as they are all brought together.

We come to the Spirit’s presence in our worship and in the sacrament not only by a liturgical rhythm, but with the texture that comes through certain roles—that is, various gifts. “All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills” (1 Cor. 12:11).

Let the priests not only pray for themselves, but uphold them by your intercessions before God, that there might be a “double portion of your spirit”: a blessing to the whole church.