Peace the World Cannot Give
During every Mass, just before communion, the Priest says: "The peace of the Lord be with you always." We reply: "And also with you." The Priest then asks us to offer each other a sign of peace. This part of the Mass can be quite emotional. There are hugs, kisses, hands shaking, warm smiles and new faces greeted like old friends. The scene melts into the chanting of the Lamb of God as the Priest breaks the bread for communion. What is going on here?
The Sign of Peace, originally known as the Kiss of Peace, is one of three significant kisses in the Mass. The first is when the Priest and Deacon kiss the altar at the beginning and end of Mass. The second is when the Priest or Deacon kisses the book at the lectern after the Gospel has been proclaimed. The third is the Kiss of Peace. Why are these kisses significant? - Each one is an acknowledgment of the presence of Christ.
The altar is a sign of Christ, because it points to the mystery we celebrate in the liturgy of the Eucharist. When the Priest kisses the altar, he is acknowledging that the words and actions that take place around the altar make Christ present to us in a real and substantial way - in the Eucharistic bread and wine. The altar is the table of the Eucharist. The book at the lectern is also a sign of Christ, because it points to the mystery we celebrate in the liturgy of the Word. When the Priest or Deacon kisses the book, he is acknowledging that the words and actions that take place around the book at the lectern make Christ present to the assembly in a very real way - in the hearing of the Word of God. The lectern is the table of the Word.
Similarly, the Priest and the assembly are signs of Christ, because they point to the mystery of the Church, the sacrament of Christ. When we "kiss" each other, we are acknowledging that our praying and singing together in this assembly makes Christ present to us in a very real way - in our unity in the mystical body of Christ.
When we exchange a sign of peace with each other, we are offering and receiving Christ's peace - the peace the world cannot give. In these words and this action, we openly acknowledge the presence of Christ in each individual person gathered in the assembly. We are in communion.
5. Peace the World Cannot Give
Why We Do the Things We Do at Mass © 2005 Paul Mason
Paul Mason is Pastoral Associate at Naremburn and Northbridge parishes. He is a member of the Australian Academy of Liturgy and the Diocesan Liturgical Commission of Broken Bay.
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