Fifth Tuesday of Paschaltide
Psalm 144:10-11, 12-13ab, 21
My Peace I Give to You
Today’s Gospel gives us the very words of Christ that are repeated in every Mass. “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you” (Jn 14:27). “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 forever and ever.” This prayer for peace, addressed to our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, is familiar to all of us. We have heard it hundreds of times.
Prayer Reposes on the Words of Christ
The prayer begins by repeating to Christ the words of Christ. Our Lord’s own words are the foundation and support of our petition. The basis of our prayer is not in something we have conjured up; it is in those solemn words of Christ uttered in the Upper Room on the night before His Passion. “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you” (Jn 14:27). This is a particular application of one of the universal laws of prayer: prayer begins not with our word addressed to God, but with the Word of God addressed to us.
The Faith of So Great a Cloud of Witnesses
After recalling the words of Christ, the prayer asks Him to turn His gaze from our sins and to fix it, instead, upon the faith of his Church. No matter what the failings, weaknesses, and even betrayals of individual members of the Church may be, the faith of the Church, the Bride of Christ, remains virginal, shining, and indomitable. The faith of the Church encompasses and perfects the faith of Abel, of Enoch, of Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Joseph, Moses, Rahab, Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel and the prophets (cf. Heb 11:1-32). The faith of the Church is the faith of the Mother of God, and of the Apostles. It is the faith of the martyrs and of the saints of every age.
There is comfort in knowing that when our own faith is weak and faltering, we can take refuge in the faith of “so great a cloud of witnesses” (Heb 12:1). This is the secret of that strong, efficacious prayer recommended by Christ in the gospel. “I say to you, if two or three agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven” (Mt 18:19). It is helpful, even necessary at times, to lean upon the faith of another in our prayer. It is good to seek the intercession of the saints, good to ask for the prayer of the Church. In the Third Eucharistic Prayer the Church commemorates the saints “whose intercession in Your presence is our unfailing pledge of help.”
Does this make our own prayer less effective or less pleasing to God? On the contrary, the poverty and truth of such a prayer pleases the Lord who takes pity on the lowly and the weak. It makes our prayer resemble that of the father who prayed for his child, saying, “I believe; help my unbelief” (Mk 9:24).
Peace: A Gift from Above
Our petition, then, will rest upon a secure foundation: the words of Christ himself, and the faith of Christ’s Bride, the Church. The request itself is direct and unadorned: “Graciously grant her peace and unity in accordance with your will.” We are not asking here for a sentimental kind of peace nor are we asking to experience a feeling. Peace is not a feeling. Feelings are subjective; they originate within ourselves. The peace and unity for which we pray originate not in man, but in God. Peace and unity descend from above, “coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (Jas 1:17).
The Salutation of the Priest
The prayer is followed immediately by the salutation of the priest. “The peace of the Lord be with you always.” Note that the priest says, “The peace of the Lord,” and not simply “peace,” or “my peace.” The priest does not wish his own subjective peace to the assembly. The personal “peace” of Father X, Y, or Z is subject to ups and downs; it is changing, unreliable, all too human. By elevating this priestly salutation to the level of Christ’s own peace, the liturgy spares the assembly what is inconstant, variable, and personal on the part of the celebrant. The priest, rather, mediates the peace of the risen Christ, a divine, unchangeable peace. The salutation is addressed to the whole assembly. The ritual salutation of the priest recalls the greeting of the risen Christ to the disciples on the evening of the first day of the week. “Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you’” (Jn 20:19).
The Kiss of Peace
A directive, normally given by the deacon, follows the priest’s salutation: Offerte vobis pacem, “Offer each other the peace.” In the Middle Ages a more developed formula was sometimes used: “Have among you the bond of peace and of charity, that you may be worthy of the sacred mysteries.”
In monastic communities the sign of peace retains the character and poetry of a chaste fraternal embrace marked by dignity and reverence. Ancient missals prescribe that the one giving the peace and the one receiving it should say: “May the peace of Christ and of the Church abound in our hearts.”
Until about forty years ago it was not uncommon in monasteries to make use of the paxbrede or the “instrument of peace,” an image of the Lamb of God or of the Crucified Lord with a projecting handle on the back that allowed it to be passed from one person to another, beginning with the priest at the altar. Each person would kiss the paxbrede and then, saying “Peace be with you,” pass it to his neighbour. The use of the paxbrede, although found among all the great religious Orders, came into general use in the late Middle Ages under the influence of the Franciscans. The craftsmanship and beauty of this liturgical artifact belong to the rich “culture of the Eucharist” that Pope John Paul II praised in his Encyclical Letter Ecclesia de Eucharistia.
Reverence and Good Order
The priest is not permitted to leave the sanctuary for the exchange of the (Kiss of) Peace. He remains at the altar. This rule was reiterated in the 2004 Instruction of the Congregation for Divine Worship, Redemptionis Sacramentum. The same Instruction directs that the (Kiss of) Peace be communicated in a sober manner and only to the persons nearest. This excludes waving, walking about the church, and anything else that disturbs the recollection of the faithful before Holy Communion and the good order of the celebration. The 2002 Roman Missal further states that the greeting for the exchange of the Peace among the faithful is, “Peace be with you,” to which the person receiving it replies, “Amen.” The reply, “And with your spirit,” is henceforth reserved to the salutation of the priest alone (Missale Romanum 2002, Editio Typica Tertia, IGMR, art. 154).
The Unity of the Body of Christ
The exchange of the peace is part of the immediate preparation for Holy Communion. It reminds us that the Most Holy Eucharist is not given for the personal satisfaction of any one communicant’s private piety, but for the unity of the Body of Christ. The Eucharist is the sacrament of unity by which we, many though we are, become “one body, one spirit in Christ” (EP III). As with the greeting of the priest, this ritual action is not about wishing each other a subjective feeling of peace; it is, rather, the sharing of Christ’s own peace among the members of his Body, a peace that is divine, heavenly, and immutable, the “peace and unity of the kingdom.” The Apostle says, “May the God of peace himself sanctify you wholly; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Th 5:23). The coming of Christ in the Eucharist announces His coming in glory.
The Peace of the Kingdom
In partaking of the sacred Body and precious Blood of Christ, the peace of the Kingdom of Heaven is given us in all its fullness. The Eucharist is a foretaste of heaven, the communication to the Church of the tranquil unity of the Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Eucharist is the descent into our hearts of “the peace of God which surpasses all understanding” (Phil 4:7). The Eucharist is the Church’s assumption, already here and now, into the peace of heaven, the peace of the risen and ascended Christ. “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you, not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (Jn 14:27).