Taking his young nephew and niece to see a stage production of Winnie the Pooh, Alan Bennett recounts the conversation with one of them before the curtain lifted. “What do they call that time when everyone goes out for a bit and has a drink and talk a lot and then come back?” asks the nephew? “That’s the Interval,” replied Bennett. “Oh,” replied the boy, “That’s the bit I like best.”
During the Eucharist in some churches, the sharing of peace can be a raucous affair, and sometimes slips into an unplanned time of catching up with friends, passing news, exchanging more than just a few words, and sometimes simmering away long after the words ‘Peace be with you’ have been spoken.
Some people need a gentle nudge to bring them back to a time of prayer and attentiveness. For some, it’s almost like a breather, a bit of an interval, a momentary escape from Mass!
Perhaps, in one sense, it is a bit of a breather. On the evening of the first day of the week, when the apostles were gathered in the upper room, the risen Jesus appeared to them, and said “Peace be with you,” and then he breathed on them and said “Receive the Holy Spirit.” (John)
An Act of God
‘The Peace’ at Mass is a response to the Lord who breathes his peace upon us. We are called to share that peace with others. It’s a reciprocal act, something shared, a peace the world cannot give. Being Christ to others, seeing Christ in others.
In the rite of the Church in Wales, the sharing of peace takes place before the offering of the gifts of bread and wine and other gifts. It reflects the teaching of Jesus that “if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.” (Matthew 5:23)
“If you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.”Matthew 5:23
In the Roman Catholic (and other) Rites, the Peace takes place after the Lord’s Prayer and before the Breaking of Bread, shared in the sacramental presence of Jesus upon the altar. When the priest says ‘The Peace of the Lord be with you always’ there is perhaps an obvious reminder the peace comes from the Lord himself, that Christ’s presence brings peace as he stand in our midst and reveals himself to us.
The Eucharist is celebrated in so many different ways. It can be a quiet Mass, said with just one or two people. A Mass of hundreds of worshippers and splendid ceremony and beautiful music. A Youth Mass filled with energy and atmosphere. It can be said in a war zone surrounded by fear and fire, or in a city centre church bombarded by a busker’s strumming, the murmur of shoppers and music from pubs.
And yet the Mass remains an oasis of peace even when surrounded by the liveliness, noise and confusion of the world.
Go in Peace
The Peace of the Lord is not the absence of noise but a gift received, something which fills our whole being, beginning to transform the violence and anger around us. ‘Go in peace’ are the parting words at the end of Mass.
A gentle bidding farewell or a direct command? Certainly a reminder that, as we have received the peace that comes from the presence of the Lord experienced at Mass, so we are to take this peace into the world, to be Christ for others, to see Christ in others, to live a Eucharistic life.
The Peace at Mass, then, is far from an interval. It goes right to the heart of acknowledging that the risen Lord is among us.