Liturgy Series Part 12

Sign of peace signifies spiritual kinship with Christ, each other

December 25 , 2002
Denver Catholic Register

 

We end the "Our Father" with a wonderful song of praise by the assembly: "For yours is the kingdom, the power and the glory now and forever," which the celebrant introduces. This leads us to the Rite of Peace.

The Rite of Peace has a largely misunderstood symbolic dimension. While it should be "some sign of (the faithful's) ecclesial community and mutual charity for each other before receiving sacramental Communion" (General Instruction, 82), it often lapses into just another occasion to greet friends, sometimes in a loud and boisterous way. But this portion of the Mass has a much deeper meaning. As we've seen earlier, the Mass has a richness of signs and symbols that ultimately point to a reality greater than ourselves, and greater than the gathered assembly. The sign of peace is no different.

Think about where we are within the Mass. The Holy Spirit has prepared us through the Liturgy of the Word to enter into the saving act of Christ. He has chosen each of us from all eternity to be present. We have prayed for a unity echoing the divine communion, and to become part of that divine communion ourselves. Our "Amen" is a freewill choice to acknowledge that truth. Praying the "Our Father," with the Lord's Real Presence now with us on the altar, underlines the supernatural relationship we share with each other in Jesus Christ.

The Rite of Peace helps us to witness this truth publicly. First, with a gesture of embrace, the priest wishes the assembly, "Peace be with you." The assembly answers together, "And also with you." Here we see the roles of Head and Body, Bridegroom and Bride, clearly demonstrated. And this is why the priest is asked not to go out into the assembly — this is a moment meant to accent the different but complementary meanings of the ordained and the common priesthood.

The peace we speak of in the Mass is not the passing and precarious peace of this world, nor even our good wishes to one another, but the peace of Christ, which the priest extends to the assembly. It is a peace of soul we can confidently acknowledge because we are inseparably united with one another and the Lord through baptism.

The deacon or priest now invites the assembly to share a sign of peace. As one member of the body of Christ to another, we confirm by our actions the supernatural relationship we share. And we are doing more. The simple handshake, nod of the head, or embrace (the Church mandates no specific gesture) to those around us signifies our spiritual kinship in Christ with every other person in the church. As each of the assembly wishes peace to the persons nearby, we acknowledge the call of each person within the body of Christ.

Liturgical symbolism has a rich beauty. Understood in this deeper way, the dignity of the common priesthood emerges through active participation in the Mass. Our everyday human gestures take on a supernatural meaning. Our actions here should be simple and brief, so that we honor the dignity of the participants (including ourselves) and especially the great dignity of the moment. The General Instruction tells us: "It is appropriate that each person offer the sign of peace only to those nearby and in a dignified manner." A more relaxed time of greeting and friendship can certainly be cultivated outside the celebration of the Mass. Some parishes already encourage this with coffee and donuts after Mass at the parish hall.

When parents and all the faithful commit themselves to a richer understanding of liturgical moments such as the Rite of Peace, we pass on to our young people lasting truths of our faith. There's no greater gift — at Christmas and throughout the year.