It was on the First Sunday of Advent in 2012 when the new edition of the Roman Missal was first used for the celebration of the Eucharist. The most noticeable changes in the new edition are the prayers offered by the presider. The prayers use a more formal style of English and a somewhat politer tone that addresses God with more humility. We are told that the translation is more faithful to the Latin text. And as we have heard, the prayers have an abundance of euphemisms.
A euphemism is a word expression that is used whenever what we are talking about is considered to be too blunt and too disturbing to talk about directly. Two examples of euphemisms are the words “chronologically challenged” when talking about the frailties of older adults and “between jobs” when talking about people who are unemployed. According to Ralph Keyes, author of Euphemania: Our Love Affair with Euphemisms, since ancient times the church has used euphemisms to avoid blasphemy, honor taboos, and “make nice.”
An example of a euphemism in the new edition of the Roman Missal is in the dialogue between the presider and the congregation at the beginning of Mass. Before the proclamation of the Gospel, and before the final blessing, the Presider says, “The Lord be with you” and the congregation responds, “And with your spirit.” The use of the word “spirit” in either Greek or Latin was strange to the ancient world. Nothing like it was known or used outside the Christian community. The euphemism, “And with your spirit,” was used only in response to an ordained minister. The “spirit” refers specifically to the spirit received at ordination. It is an affirmation by the people that the ordained minister has received the appropriate anointing with the spirit to make him the leader in sacramental ministry.
The ordination prayer for a bishop asks God for a “spirit of leadership.” The ordination prayer for a priest asks “the spirit of grace and of counsel of the priesthood.” And the ordination prayer for a deacon asks for “the spirit of grace and zeal.” Each level of Holy Orders receives “spirit” in a specific way at ordination.
According to some liturgists, this particular liturgical response to the ordained minister has a special beauty. It is less about the person of the bishop, priest, and deacon and more about the office of bishop, priest, and deacon which is guaranteed and supported by the spirit received at ordination.
A brief reflection on the readings we hear today, gives us an understanding of God’s call beyond a clerical vocation. Samuel, in the first reading, was called by God for service and was helped in discerning his vocation by Eli, a chronologically challenged mentor. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians reminds them that their Christian vocation is to put aside immorality and to follow the call of Christ who was always between jobs.
In the gospel, two disciples of John the Baptist are literally called by Jesus when he asks, “What are you looking for?” This question touches on our basic human need for God, a power greater than ourselves. The two disciples’ counter question, “Where do you stay?” puts into words our basic human need to be with God to find security and lasting peace in a world of struggle and pain. Jesus invitation, “Come and see,” is an encouragement to have faith in responding to our call from God through Jesus Christ brought to each of us by the Holy Spirit.
We can say that the gospel reading suggests three stages of a Christian vocation: Stage 1: To be given a curiosity about the person of Jesus Christ through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit; Stage 2: To make a decision to satisfy our curiosity about Jesus Christ with the help of the Holy Spirit; Stage 3: To become an authentic human being (not a perfect human being) by knowing Jesus Christ is always with us through the Holy Spirit. So, a true vocation be it religious, married, single, widowed, or living in an intentional community, is our self-actualization in Jesus Christ by the working of the Holy Spirit. We can say that a Christian vocation is living the love filled life of Jesus Christ in a unique and God-given way.
In the Sacrament of Confirmation our Christian vocation is recognized and confirmed with the laying on of hands by a bishop or his delegate while praying, “All powerful God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, by water and the Holy Spirit you freed your sons and daughters from sin. And gave them new life. Send your Holy Spirit upon them to be their helper and guide. Give them the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of right judgment and courage, the spirit of knowledge and reverence. Fill them with the spirit of wonder and awe in your presence.”
If I were to add a euphemism to the words proclaimed by the presider before the proclamation of the Gospel and before the final blessing, it would be, “The Lord be with your spirit!”
Fr. Bob Kelly