THE LITURGY OF THE EUCHARIST: The Communion Rite – The Rite of Peace

The Rite of Peace

Our Lord teaches us that if we have anything against our brother or sister we should go and be reconciled with them before approaching the altar: “ So if you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you,  leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:23-24).

The Rite of Peace before Communion is a moment when the Church asks for peace and unity within her borders as well as throughout the world.

“Lord Jesus Christ, who said to your Apostles: Peace I leave you, my peace I give you,…”

The prayers of the bishop or priest celebrating Mass have been addressed to God the Father, but in this moment, with Our Lord sacramentally present on the altar, it is addressed to God the Son as part of our preparation for Communion.

The prayer begins by evoking Our Lord’s words to the Apostles at the Last Supper, the first celebration of the Eucharist (John 14:27; see also 16:33; 20:19–23,26): the Lord has granted us peace, and not one as the world gives it, but something much more profound and enduring. Our Lord on the eve of his Resurrection also associated the gift of his peace to the Apostles in the upper room with their sacramental ministry (“If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained”). Their sacramental ministry would not only entail the Eucharist, but Reconciliation with the goal of establishing and maintaining peace with God and with our fellow man.

“…look not on our sins, but on the faith of your Church, …”

The Church, throughout the centuries, has remembered Our Lord’s words and sought to put them into practice. We profess that the Church is Holy whenever we pray the Creed and whenever we live as Christians should, but we also know sin is not completely expunged from the life of any one of us while on this earth and afflicted by our frailty in serving the Lord and each other. We may not be gravely sinning, but we’re still dogged by smaller sins and lacks in charity.

Despite our faults and failings, the Church remains Holy: through her Founder, through the saints, through every believe who strives to please God, and through the means of sanctification that the Lord has entrusted to his Church. In this moment of the prayer we’re drawing on that spiritual “capital.” So even when we don’t feel the peace due to what we’ve done and what we keep doing, as part of the Church we know the beloved, washed clean by her Spouse’s blood (see Ephesians 5:25–27), can stand before him and ask him to persevere in peace and unity. We are the beloved, the Church washed cleaned by our Spouse, the Lamb. That makes communion in the Church even more important, since it’s not just for us, but for all.

“…and graciously grant her peace and unity in accordance with your will.”

Our Lord wants us to have this peace and unity, but it requires our effort and acceptance of the gift. In the Last Supper he also prayed that we be one, without divisions between us: “I do not pray for these only, but also for those who believe in me through their word,  that they may all be one; even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. The glory which thou hast given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one,  I in them and thou in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that thou hast sent me and hast loved them even as thou hast loved me” (John 17:20–23).

When there are divisions, either within the Catholic Church, or among Christians, we know that it is not Christ’s doing nor his will, which is why we pray that peace and unity be fostered. Every Baptized Christian is a member of the Church of Christ, but it is up to us to work so that one day we may all participate the Eucharist together again.

The first step, the greatest step to overcome all the wounds inflicted on the Church’s unity, is to overcome the wounds we inflict on each other due to sin and ensure communion with God and with our fellow Catholics. The peace and unity for which we pray and for which we strive is the peace and unity of virtue and a holy life.

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