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In Catholic liturgy, there is this ubiquitous expression used to join or precede important prayers where the priest salutes the assembly by wishing (or so I think) that the Lord be with them:

Dominus vobiscum.

(To which people respond Et cum spiritu tuo.)

Note that the verb to be is omitted. Most translations that I know translate the omitted verb as subjunctive (en: The Lord be with you, it: Il Signore sia con voi, es: El Señor esté con vosotros/ustedes). However a few translations –and some priests–, prefer to translate it as indicative (The Lord is with you, etc.). I think this is well intentioned (to assure the other party that it is not only a wish), but goes against [liturgy|the lex orandi|the intention of the text]... Or does it?

The only argument that I have goes in the lines of this is how it's officially translated. So my question be:

What are the substantial reasons for/against the subjunctive reading of Dominus vobiscum?

Since this is a language forum, I don't expect a purely theological answer, but I'd love one that links both the historic and/or linguistic aspects involved to the theological.

Update:

Maybe I should have thought of this before but... I looked up and found that the expression (the Lord be with you) is present in most early local church liturgies as attested by Church Fathers, hence it is generally agreed to have been used since Apostolic times. It is present in the Old Testament, most explicitly as an isolate salutation in Ruth 2:4, and —less isolate— in Samuel 17:37.

So there is an important clue to the answer in whether and why should these passages (in the Hebrew Bible and in the Septuagint) be unambiguously translated as subjunctive. (Together with other historic translations in or of early liturgy).

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    Perhaps it is derived from the usually wishful Hebraic salutations? (peace be with you)
    – Rafael
    Oct 6, 2021 at 11:16

1 Answer 1

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In Greek and Latin (and other languages) verbs of being (e.g. esse) are often omitted if they are not needed for the context.

Take Ephesians 1:2 as an example:

  • “χάρις ὑμῖν καὶ εἰρήνη” (Ephesians 1:2 NA28-T)
  • “gratia vobis et pax” (Ephesians 1:2 VULG-T)
  • ”ܫܠܳܡܳܐ ܥܰܡܟܽܘܢ“ (Ephesians 1:2 PESHNT-T) (The Syriac here reads: "Completeness [...] with you".

This leaves us with an exegetical/translational difficulty. The two options I have read of as to how best to treat the words are...

  1. A jussive/subjunctive notion (may/let...)
  2. A dative of possession (Peace is yours)

Of the two, the first is the better option, since it follows many of the "blessing" formulas in bible. And, just to make sure that we're on the same page, when the salutation is put in a blessing formula ("may...") it's more than just wishing. It carries with it the weight and meaning that God's word is able to carry out what it speaks about. As an example of this, consider the Aaronic blessing:

  • ”<24> ‏יְבָרֶכְךָ יְהוָה וְיִשְׁמְרֶךָ׃ ס‎ <25> ‏יָאֵר יְהוָה פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ וִיחֻנֶּךָּ׃ ס‎ <26> ‏יִשָּׂא יְהוָה פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ וְיָשֵׂם לְךָ שָׁלוֹם׃ ס‎ <27> ‏וְשָׂמוּ אֶת־שְׁמִי עַל־בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וַאֲנִי אֲבָרֲכֵם׃ פ“ (Numbers 6:24-27 HMT-W4)
  • “<24> “ ‘ “The LORD bless you and keep you; <25> the LORD make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; <26> the LORD turn his face toward you and give you peace.” ’ <27> “So they will put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them.”” (Numbers 6:24–27 NIV11-GKE)

Notice, how if we keep vs. 27 in the context of the preceding blessing, whenever the priest would speak the Lord's name over the people the Lord promised to bless them. It wasn't just well-wishing, as we might speak of today in modern English.

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