This coming Sunday (First Sunday of Advent, 2011) Catholic churches in the English speaking world will begin use of the third English translation of the Roman Missal.  There has been quite a bit of commentary either favoring the new translation or criticizing it.  The intent of the new edition is to draw closer to the original Latin; which for the Catholic Church and its two thousand year liturgical tradition is no small matter.  “Lex orandi; lex credendi” – the law of prayer establishes the law of belief. 

For our purpose here I would like to point to one change in the liturgy.  At the very beginning of the Mass and running throughout the liturgy the priest celebrant addresses the community gathered with, “The Lord be with you.”  In the second translation of the Missal the community response was, “And also with you.”  Now, in the third translation (being faithful to the original Latin) the response of the community is: “And with your spirit.” 

This shift to “with your spirit” highlights, I believe, a deeper and needed awareness of human anthropology. In an age of materialism that relentlessly seeks in pervasive ways (some subtle, some not) to define, and I would add restrict, an awareness of reality to only that which can be measured and weighed, the response “And with your spirit.” strikes a rather revolutionary and counter-cultural tone.

From the very beginnings of our worship this response on the part of the believing church state that we have a certain perspective on reality and that we do not buy into assumptions founded in the dictatorship of materialist thought.  There is a spiritual dimension to life and all reality.  “And with your spirit.” is a liturgical profession of the Church in its belief in this spiritual dimension to reality and the human condition.

The Church’s understanding of the “theological” virtues (faith, hope and love) is likewise a profession of this awareness of the spiritual dimension of the human condition.  Where the four cardinal virtues (prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance) can be acquired and developed by human effort and will – although open to being elevated by divine grace (CCC # 1810); the theological virtues “relate directly to God.” (CCC # 1813)  Just as “And with your spirit.” professes a belief in the spiritual dimension so does the designation of faith, hope and love as “theological” virtues profess an awareness of both the possibility and need of a lived relationship with God (who is spirit) necessary for a truly authentic and fulfilled life. 

(The theological virtues) dispose Christians to live in a relationship with the Holy Trinity.  They have the One and Triune God for their origin, motive and object.  The theological virtues are the foundation of Christian moral activity; they animate it and give it its special character.  They inform and give life to all the moral virtues.  They are infused by God into the souls of the faithful to make them capable of acting as his children and of meriting eternal life.  They are the pledge of the presence and action of the Holy Spirit in the faculties of the human being.  (CCC # 1812-1813) 

In the Christian understanding of these virtues as theological not only do we find that these virtues perfect and fulfill our individual lives and our interactions one with another and undergird the living of human community but these virtues dispose us to live in relationship with the Holy Trinity. 

In forthcoming blog posts I will delve more deeply into each of the theological virtues.  I would like to conclude this post with one thought for consideration.  In the western world we are living in a time that is witnessing a growth in atheistic and agnostic thought.  The reasons for this are many and varied I believe and space here will not allow for an adequate exploration of these reasons.  Non-belief is now a valid option for many people.  Some voices of non-belief are extremely anti-religion (I would even say “fundamentalistic” in their approach and thought) but not all are.  The virtues in life and in society provide a place of encounter where cooler heads can meet and dialogue.  We need to learn how to live together for the common good.  Talking, if guided by honesty and respect, does not necessarily mean the selling out of ones core values.  In the virtues we find a privileged place of encounter that can provide great benefit for all of society.