Sursum Corda

St John Choir

The Lord be with you.
And also with you.
Lift up your hearts.
We lift them to the Lord.
Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
It is right to give our thanks and praise.

This eucharistic liturgy between the presiding priest and the congregation is found as early as the third century in the West (Hippolytus, ca. 215, and Cyprian, ca. 252) and the fourth century in the East (Cyril of Jerusalem, ca. 350). It is believed to have originated from a dialogue at Jewish ritual meals where the grace or thanksgiving after the main meal was introduced by the president’s saying, “Let us give thanks to the Lord our God” and the gathered company giving their assent.
In the Eucharist, the dialogue leads into the great thanksgiving, which traditionally begins with a preface culminating in the Sanctus.  The words used in St John’s are slightly different from the original.

 English Language Liturgical Consultant (ELLC) Analysis

Lines 1-2. This couplet may have appeared as a separate entry under the title Dominus vobiscum. Its use as a liturgical, and even personal, greeting may well be older than Christianity (compare Ruth 2:4 and 2 Timothy 4:22). The  International Consultation on English Texts (ICET) version of it, reproduced above, has found widespread acceptance. When it first appeared, a number regretted the loss of any reference to “spirit” in the reply and would have preferred “and with your spirit.” Some even saw a reference to the gift of the Spirit given in ordination. It is much more likely that the expression “your spirit” is based on a semitic equivalent to “yourself” and that the ICET text accurately conveys the intended meaning.

By translating Dominus in the greeting literally as “Lord,” the Consultation avoided the question whether the reference is to God, to Christ, or to the Holy Spirit, as different scholars have thought. Then there is the question of supplying a verb in English. Should it be the indicative “is” of declaration or the subjunctive “be” of wishing? In the original ancient languages no verb was needed in this kind of sentence. Comparison with the explicit subjunctive of Pax Domini sit semper vobiscu m (“The peace of the Lord be always with you”) and the greetings in 1 Corinthians 16:23 and 2 Corinthians 13:13 suggests that the traditional “be” should be retained.

Lines 3-4. The Consultation noted that “up” is still in widespread use in the reply (line 4), and is preferred by many because it echoes the greeting of line 3. It also observed that it does not correspond to any word in the original, which would be translated literally as “We have them with the Lord.” That is to say, the metaphorical “up” of the greeting is not repeated in the reply but is explained as “with the Lord.” The Consultation resolved to reaffirm the ICET text which has proved in practice to be suitable for singing and which places the emphasis on “the Lord” rather than on an adverb.

Lines 5-6. The eucharistic prayer which follows is essentially an act of praise and thanksgiving to the Father. Following the basic Jewish prayer form, the Christian liturgies blessed God by giving thanks and praise. Gratias agamus represents this underlying Hebrew concept and is therefore properly expressed, first by “Let us give thanks,” and more fully by “It is right to give our thanks and praise.”

The original assent in Greek and Latin is literally “It is right and just,” which seems rather curt in English. Any reference to God thus depends on the context and is an addition to the terse Latin or Greek. The addition of “our thanks and praise” at the end of the line emphasizes the main thought and leads well into the great thanksgiving.

There are two changes in these lines from the ICET text as printed in 1975. “Our” in line 5 has been given a lower-case o in correction of an oversight or printing error. In line 6 “him” has been replaced by “our.” Various alternatives to “him” were considered, including “all,” “such,” and “great.” “Offer” was also considered as a replacement for “give” if the pronoun was deleted. The Consultation believed it important not to alter the rhythm of the line unnecessarily. The rendering “It is right to give God thanks and praise” was also considered. In the end, “to give our thanks” was chosen as reflecting “Let us give thanks” in the previous line. The context makes it clear that the thanks and praise are being given to God.