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Otherwise called the sign of peace, by which the people turn toward each other and offer a sign of unity and charity. Biblically speaking, this is where we symbolically show what Jesus told the apostles:
Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift. (Matthew 5:23-24)
The General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) describes it this way:
There follows the Rite of Peace, by which the Church entreats peace and unity for herself and for the whole human family, and the faithful express to each other their ecclesial communion and mutual charity before communicating in the Sacrament. (82)
The sign of peace is a rite that is and always has been included in the Mass prior to the Eucharist being distributed to the faithful. This is because we must be prepared in good faith and spiritually to receive the body of Christ, the most sacred and holy food.
When the resurrected Jesus appeared to the apostles, the first thing he said was “Peace be with you.” In the introduction to this rite within the liturgy of the Mass, the priest says,
“Lord Jesus Christ, who said to your Apostles: Peace I leave you, my peace I give you, look not on our sins, but on the faith of your Church, and graciously grant her peace and unity in accordance with your will. Who live and reign for ever and ever. Amen.”
So it is during this rite that we the people of the Church, the Body of the Christ, share in the passing of the peace which is from Christ himself.
In preparation for receiving the Eucharist, we must be aware of our sinfulness and the need for forgiveness. So in the Introductory Rites, we pray the penitential Act where we confess our sinfulness and ask for prayers, then pray for mercy in the Kyrie. During the Communion Rite we pray the Lord’s Prayer as our Savior commanded to reach out to our Heavenly Father. Within this prayer, we tell God that we will forgive each other as we are forgiven. This is where the sign of peace comes in. In the next moment, we turn to one another in a peace that can only come from forgiveness and extend it to each other. Again also, going back to Matthew 5:23-24 where we must reconcile with our brother before offering our gifts to God.
The sign of peace is an important part of the Mass; it is part of the process of preparation for receiving the holy Eucharist. Preparing our hearts to receive the holy food of salvation. So we must fully be aware of all that needs to take place in order to receive the sacramental graces that accompany the heavenly food.
There are times, I must admit, that I will be sitting next to someone I don’t want to shake hands with, or times when I have been sick, not sick enough to not attend Mass, and refuse an extended hand with a kind word that I have a cold. Still that kind word is the peace I wish to give anyway without the consequence of giving them the cold. There are times when I make the effort to shake someone’s hand that I am not necessarily keen on or had words with. This is another way to share peace that otherwise would not be extended. The sign of peace gives us the opportunity to soften our hearts and desire peace for others in our community that otherwise would not be given.
So if we are attending Mass, offering our gifts of thanksgiving and praise to our Heavenly Father, we must also be peaceful people, forgiving people, wishing each other, as Christ commanded, peace. We must reconcile with each other during, before, and after Mass, with the peace of Christ.
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Copyright 2020 Ebeth Weidner
About the Author
Ebeth Weidner, a Master Catechist and cradle Catholic who considers herself a Catholic information junkie, writes from her heart about the faith and hope she finds in the Catholic Church. She is the author of “A Catholic Mom Climbing the Pillars” blog. She is the wife of a research science Professor and mom to 3 great young adults people living on the coastal side of North Carolina.