In the new translation of the Mass, one of our responses is, “It is right and just.” Many people find it a bit awkward to recite, clumsy, and not readily understood as to its meaning.
What does “right and just” actually mean?
Here is my take on it. I derive it from what Joseph Ratzinger wrote in his book, Jesus of Nazareth in 2007.
Righteousness and justice have synonymous meanings in Scripture. A just man and a righteous man are similar. Many people will think that righteousness and justice have to do with ethics and morals, i.e., doing the moral or ethical thing, meeting the demands of law either religious or civil. This is the temptation of the Pharisee. Pharisees were indeed observant of the Law in its moral and ethical requirements in that they fulfilled those requirements scrupulously. Unfortunately, their understanding seems to have stopped there in many ways, and they began, if we can glean this from Scripture, to take a certain pride in their observance of the dictates of the Law and concurrently became judgmental of those who did not. We can see this in the parable where the Pharisee was praising God for his (the Pharisee’s) righteousness but in the back of the temple was a publican who beat his breast and recognized his moral failings but submitted himself to the will of God and his mercy. The publican went away justified, and the Pharisee did not.
What then does this tell us about righteousness and justice in our own lives and what does it have to say about the response, “It is right and just!” at Mass?
If you read the Scriptures, both Old and New (especially St. Paul’s epistles) we learn that a just and righteous person is a person who takes on the will of God. In many ways, righteousness and justice are not directly connected to sin or innocence, as we saw in the parable example above. Some very sinful people suddenly become righteous and just when they discover the will of God and take it on their shoulders. One completely innocent man, Jesus Christ, in order to fulfill the requirements of justice an righteousnes, submitted to the baptism of John, a baptism meant to bring about conversion remission of sin. Jesus had no need for forgiveness of sin for he was sinless as God. Yet he said to John, “Let it be for now; for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” (Mt 3:15)
In Jesus’ world, righteousness is man’s response to God’s will. It is a bearing of the “yoke of the Kingdom.” Jesus was baptized because in do so, he expressed his complete “yes” to his Father’s will and an obedient acceptance of his yoke.
So, at Mass when the priest says, “Lift up your hearts!” We respond, “It is right and just!” In doing so, we are not affirming our sinfulness or sinlessness, nor our conformity to moral or ethical precepts (as important as that is in itself!) but rather that in lifting our hearts, our lives to God with the Eucharistic sacrifice, we too are saying we are willing to take on the will of God in our lives, that we are willing to fulfill all righteousness as God would have it for us, that we too are willing to enter into and share with Jesus his death and resurrection.
All Christians are called to righteousness and justice in this sense, and it is not discovered in rigid compliance with the law. Rather, righteousness and justice are fulfillments of the law.