I recently had an article posted on the website called "It Isn't About Us", referring to the Mass.
One of the topics that seemed to come up in the comment section revolved around the Sign of Peace. Many expressed their dissatisfaction and frustration with this ritual during the Mass. I totally can commiserate with this. This ritual, like the Mass, has been totally abused, sacrileged and defiled in the custom and culture of today. It has become one of the pre-dominant self serving and self absorbing part of the Mass, after holding hands for the Our Father, and that is so unfortunate, because the true intention of the ritual is anything but that.
The bunny eared peace signs and waving to friends across the way is totally inappropriate during Mass, especially at this time of the Mass. The Lord has just become physically present on the altar, the ritual is not instituted for us to all of a sudden focus on ourselves and how awesome it is to hug and shake the hands of all around us, and have a small party before we receive the Lord. It actually goes much deeper than that, much more deeper.
At the beginning of Mass we sing the Gloria. During this praise of God we proclaim that God's peace has come to his people on Earth, His people of good will. To be a person of good will, we must not have animosity toward our neighbor, or hold grudges. These acts prevent our hearts from being full of that good will and peace of Christ. Only a heart free from scorn and unforgiving can truly be at peace, a peace necessary to ready our hearts to receive Christ our Lord. So, the sign of peace offers us the ability to symbolically offer that peace of Christ to our neighbor. Now this is a symbolic gesture. We might not have any issues with the person sitting to the right or left of us, things most likely are pretty peachy keen with those individuals, but........... what about the person sitting a few rows down, or the person several rows back. Perhaps we have had a tiff or some unpleasant exchanges with those people. Perhaps there is a rift in our relationship with them. Perhaps it isn't even an altercation that we have had, perhaps we just have bad feelings toward someone in our lives. This ritual is offering us the ability and opportunity to let those bouts and unforgiving go. As we offer peace to the people immediately to our left and right, and they do the same, as a congregation we are all offering our forgiveness and peace of Christ in our hearts to each other, in an act totally necessary to ready ourselves, body, mind and soul to receive our Lord in the Eucharist. It is a beautiful thing.
Of course, we ruin it. We ruin it by trivializing it. We ruin it by not understanding it. We wave our bunny eared peace signs around and make it all about us, not about what we need to be focusing on - the emptying of pride, self centeredness and sin against our neighbors so that we can receive the most Blessed Lord in the Holy Eucharist.
At this moment in the Mass we come full circle from the beginning and take that peace proclaimed in the Gloria which is offered to people of good will and we extend it to all in our lives, even those who have wronged us and whom we have wronged. In minutes we will receive Him who can truly transform us into people of good will. For that transformation to happen, we must be open to goodness; harboring ill feelings, resentments, bitterness and acts of unforgiving do not reconcile with peace. The peace invoked throughout the Liturgy, over and over again.
Christ's peace is more profound than anything we can ever imagine. Please, next time this part of the Mass comes to us let us reflect on that, and not on the trivial greetings that many of us assume. We have gathered as a community. The people around us we like and want to commune with, we do, it's those that we might not want to commune with we need to reconcile with at this moment; if we truly want to receive the King of Peace in our hearts in the few minutes that follow. When we reflect on it in this way, and receive this gift as it is intended, we will ourselves find the peace that people of good will are given, were given at the incarnation, when all of this was made possible in the first place. We can then carry that peace forward into our day, our week, and our lives.
May the peace of the Lord be with you all!