Hey, Fr. Smith!
Why do we stop the worship service and shake everyone’s hand?
The Peace comes from the Altar to the People…not self-generated within the congregation.
“The Passing of the Peace” has a long and a short history for the Church. And, the long history is very long indeed…back to the earliest years of Christianity. Let’s dispense with the short history first:
Since the Reformation, the practice of passing the peace has been mostly non-existent amongst Anglicans. You will not find it in any Prayer Book prior to 1979 BCP. Beginning with ‘the new prayer book’ (which is 40 years old now!), the ancient practice of making peace amongst the worshipping body was re-inserted. In the Roman Catholic Church, the “Peace” never went away. It has invariably been located just before the Lord’s Prayer in the canon (the consecration text) of the Communion service. Since it was an interruption in the flow of the liturgy, it was typically a very terse acknowledgement within the pews…which might include touching! More often, just a quick nod…no eye contact.
At GSAC, you’ll notice a more vigorous observance of The Peace: Hugging and kissing and handshaking (with some embarrassed folk trying to simply say “peace” and go back to the Liturgy). Actually; the full-bodied “peace” leads us back to the Ancient roots of the Passing of the Peace.
The Ancient roots go back to the need to reconcile those who have fallen out with each other since the last Mass. Scripture admonishes us to reconcile with our brothers before coming to Communion. In the earliest days, this apparently meant that people took the time to confess their sins against each other out loud…within the Mass. Sometimes this led to tearful reconciliation. Sometimes it led to fist fights, as someone who didn’t know about an offense found out about it and reacted in anger…not reconciliation!
In time, the compromise was made by following St. Paul’s admonishment, “Greet one another with a holy kiss.” This “kiss of Peace” became the shorthand for mutual confession. To look one another in the eye and express our desire that there be no unfinished spiritual business between us is both healthy and holy. Passing the Peace both offers and receives forgiveness…if needed.
The Peace comes from the Altar to the People…not self-generated within the congregation. That is why the Celebrant offers the Peace: it comes from Jesus our Great High Priest and not from our own ability to gin up good feelings or kindness. The Peace is NOT a “hi there, and howdy” time in the Liturgy. It is a sacred sharing in the Divine Peace that flows from Jesus Christ through the Priest who stands for Him at the Altar to the People, who in turn share Jesus’ Peace. That is why the full form of Passing the Peace is this: “The Peace of the Lord (Jesus) be always with you!” ‘And with thy Spirit’. The “Spirit” being passed with the Peace is not the spirit of goodwill, but the Holy Spirit’s blessing.