A priest friend visited today. He instructed me on one of those “rule and regulations” that are so unpopular in Rome right about now. It’s about one of the most commonplace rubrics directing what the priest is to do when he offers that oft-repeated blessing of those assisting with Holy Mass: Dominus vobiscum – “[May] the Lord be with you.”
When the priest says Dominus vobiscum, he (traditionally) begins with hands together at the sternum and then moves his hands outwardly only as far as either side of his rib cage, not as far as he can stretch his hands (as has done by some religious orders and in various countries with another symbolism altogether). This limited action, he said, had been very strict in the strictly Roman Latin Rite (there being some 28+- Latin Rites).
The first time in, say, a Low Mass, that the priest says Dominus vobiscum is when he is just about to ascend the steps to begin Holy Mass. He surely feels entirely unworthy, and, indeed, he has just finished reciting the confiteor, striking himself thrice for having sinned: mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. And now he makes brave to ascend to the Altar of Sacrifice, to the Most Sacred Mysteries. How could he do this, freakishly unworthy sinner that he is?
Dominus vobiscum, he cries out. And in spreading his hands from the sternum to the edges of his rib cage, he is symbolically ripping open his rib cage, revealing to all that while he is inept and entirely unworthy, his heart is now that of Christ Jesus, in whose Person he will offer the Holy Sacrifice of our redemption and, please God, our salvation. Those present, horrified by his unworthiness and yet taken by the great mercies of the Most High, pray for the priest as well: Et cum spiritu tuo (and [may the Lord also be] with your spirit [because you’re certainly in need of that mercy]).
- “I will appoint over you shepherds after my own Heart, who will shepherd you wisely and prudently.” (Jeremiah 3:15)