Recently I attended a liturgy for which the Sharing of the Peace was not included. I did not think much of it at first, thinking back to my childhood when we did not have the Sharing of the Peace. Many of you will recall how the Sharing of the Peace was only introduced to many Episcopal services of Holy Communion when the 1979 Book of Common Prayer was adopted. For many the Sharing of the Peace was not a familiar practice.
When the Sharing of the Peace did not happen at this particular liturgy, I found myself relieved. So often the peace turns into what a seminary professor of mine coined as "the group grope." Long periods of well-wishing and idle conversations seem to replace the genuine sharing of Christ's peace. The Sharing of the Peace looks more like an intermission in the liturgy, resembling the post-mass aloha hour. Because of this, I found myself contented that the peace did not occur. Having thought about this some more, my reaction was admittedly unfortunate and yet understandable.
In the Roman liturgy the peace happens after the Lord's Prayer and before the Agnus Dei (Lamb of God). You may not be aware that our BCP gives us the permission to share the peace after the Lord's Prayer too. On a couple of occasions at St. Mark's, mostly at experimental masses on feast days, we have shared the peace between the Lord's Prayer and the Agnus Dei. Beside those exceptions, we share the peace after the confession and before the offertory. A number of Roman liturgists have shared with me that they think the Anglican positioning of the peace is a better practice. Having confessed our sins, and having received forgiveness, we rise from our kneelers and share the Peace of Christ with others. When the Eucharistic Prayer begins we are truly ready to receive the Body and Blood of Christ. By sharing the peace before the offertory we also allow for a more graceful state of adoration during the Liturgy of Holy Communion.
We are reminded that the peace is not a conventional greeting. Rather it is a state of shared forgiveness and received grace. We are to greet people before or after the mass; during the peace we share a state of grace. One of the offertory sentences in our BCP quotes the scripture of refraining to receive communion until we are reconciled with our brothers and sisters. The point is that if we were to share the peace with only one person, we should choose the person with whom we disagree the most. After confessing our sins and receiving absolution from the priest, we go to the neighbor we have offended the most and share the peace of Christ. Such is a genuine and noble sharing of God's peace. If you can only share the peace with one person, than go to the person you have hurt the most. It is a tough charge! But then the peace of Christ is not like coffee-hour pleasantries; it is the power of Christ's reconciliation in action. Thankfully the people we are most likely to offend are our family members. They are probably the ones who witness us when we behave the worst, and so we do not need to travel very far to share the peace with the most appropriate people.
I am glad that the Sharing of Christ's Peace is now integral to the mass in our Episcopal churches. At St. Mark's I believe that the intent of the Peace is honored most of the time. The Peace is Christ, when understood well by the laity and clergy, can be one of the most sublime moments during the mass, and yet all of us can be more intentional about the grace of Christ which we share with others. And please do be sure to greet your fellow parishioners. Having shared the peace with my brothers and sisters in Christ before communion, I find that the best place to then greet my friends in faith is during coffee hour or on the sidewalk outside of the church after mass. This way I truly share the peace when it is time to share the peace, and I truly greet people when I have more time to really listen and care.
Father Paul Lillie+