My Peace I Leave You

In the homily this week, Deacon Tim addresses the short exchange of peace that occurs just between the Doxology of the Lord’s Prayer (“For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours now and forever”) and the Agnus Dei and Fraction Rite. It is perhaps a badly misunderstood moment in the Liturgy which leads, to this day, to disagreement about whether or where it belongs in the Liturgy.

A little liturgical shop-talk: among those who take a deeper interest in the Liturgical rites (and principally among lay enthusiasts), there seems to be no shortage of dislike for the “kiss of peace”, “sign of peace”, “rite of peace” — it goes by many names. The source of the angst has generally to do with the fact that it takes place almost immediately before Communion, while the consecrated bread and wine rest on the altar. Additionally, it may strike many well-meaning folks as a kind of social moment even in the presence of the Eucharistic Lord. Understandably, concerns over reverence and propriety are redoubled because of recent surveys which show a truly disturbing lack of knowledge and faith about the nature of Communion and Eucharist.

The rite of peace has been part of the Liturgy since very early and has been in its current position since the end of the sixth century, the time of Pope St. Gregory the Great, according to Fr. Edward McNamara, a professor of Liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum University. On more than one occasion, proposals have arisen to consider relocating the rite within the Mass (though removing it altogether is never seriously considered). It is considered vital enough a component of the Liturgy that it had been reserved to the clergy only, for a time. However, it is now given in the Roman Missal (the document that dictates the form of the Mass) to the people, as it had been.

Let us not reduce this sign to merely the level of a “greeting,” however. The “peace” we share with those nearest us in the pews is not simply well-wishing, some principally social exercise. That would indeed be a breach of the kind of reverence we ought to observe with our Savior so near at hand — literally, near at hand. Instead we turn and, giving a sign of respect and charity considered culturally appropriate, extend the peace of Christ himself to our brothers and sisters in the family of God, giving expression to our unity in Christ and our love for one another as members of the Body of Christ.

The unfortunate misunderstanding is that the Sign of Peace is some sort of “meet and greet” immediately before Communion. We mustn’t lose sight of the heavenly reality in which we participate at the Mass, though. The Church at worship is the mystical Body of Christ, thus we’re more than simply neighbors.

It is so much easier for us to see the visible-physical world as the sum and total of our existence. However, the mysteries of love, loss, purpose, and that nagging, insatiable longing for meaning and definition to our own existence are far more compelling than simply feeding bodily needs and appetites. It is these mysteries in which we as Church share greater and deeper commonalities that compel us to gather in Christ, to make peace one with another, to extend the Lord’s peace — not our own — to those nearest to us. To set aside disagreement and argument, to reconcile and run together in pursuit of Christ is the invitation of the Sign of Peace.

Make this understanding the basis of the peace you share with those closest to you at Mass, and we can expect to grow in many ways as a community. As that peace we share takes greater root in us, more and more of those in our lives who are deprived of peace within will ask us in various ways to share that peace with them.

At that point, the only response is to share with them not only your peace, but that of the Good Shepherd.

David Dunst
Director of Music and Liturgy

 

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