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Let the Sign of Peace empower you

By Cian Molloy - 01 January, 2018

Become active ambassadors for peace in the Church and in the world, beginning in your own homes, families, workplaces and neighbourhoods, says Archbishop Eamon Martin

“Let the sign of peace that we exchange during our Eucharistic Celebrations empower us to be ambassadors for peace in the Church and in the world”, says Archbishop Eamon Martin of Armagh, in his New Year’s Day message.

In his World Day of Peace homily at Armagh Cathedral, the Archbishop told his congregation:  “As New Year 2018 begins, the challenge to speak and live the message of peace remains more important than ever.  My wish on this World Day of Peace is that Christians everywhere, who exchange the Sign of the Peace of Christ at the celebration of the Eucharist, will be empowered by God’s grace to become active ambassadors for peace in the Church and in the world, beginning in their own homes, families, workplaces and neighbourhoods.  In this way the Sign of Peace will avoid becoming an empty or meaningless gesture, but will rather be an impulse and driver towards reconciliation and peace building.”

For older members of the Church, the exchange of the Sign of Peace may seem like a recent innovation as before the Second Vatican Council, the exchange was made only by those in a church’s sanctuary.

However, the exchange dates back to the earliest days of the Church, said Archbishop Martin. “The gesture of peace that we exchange at Mass goes back to the dawn of Christianity where it often took the form of a ‘kiss of peace’,” he said. “Many of the New Testament letters sign off with an invitation to ‘greet one another with a holy kiss’.

“The idea of expressing harmony, reconciliation and peace within the Christian community finds its deepest meaning in the words of Jesus himself: in Matthew’s Gospel: ‘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 and be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift’.”

The Archbishop said that the handshake that we give nowadays as the Sign of Peace during Mass is ‘not an ordinary friendly gesture or greeting’. He explains, “It is a solemn exchange of the peace of Christ.  It is a prayer for unity within the Church herself, and a plea for peace in the whole human family.  The Sign of Peace makes a statement, just before Holy Communion, that we are brothers and sisters, one family in Christ the Lord.  It is also a pledge that we will go out from the Eucharist in charity and in love, to build bridges and to heal hurts and divisions within the wider human family.”

Not everyone is comfortable with the gesture, the Archbishop said. “I have heard that some people apparently do not like the Sign of Peace at Mass, and for various reasons, would prefer not to be invited to offer it.  That would disappoint me, but I think we should be far more troubled by the reality that Christ’s Peace is needed so much and by so many, with all the threats to unity and peace within the Christian community and the world.”

Noting how the Pope makes special mention of those who have fled their homes in his World Day of Peace message, the Primate of all-Ireland said: “The Sign of Peace we offer at Mass challenges us is to make a concrete commitment to helping migrants and refugees find the peace that they are seeking.

“In the face of such huge longing and need for peace at a global level, we sometimes forget that the work of peace begins in our own hearts and in our homes.  If our Sign of Peace at Mass is to be authentic, then it challenges us to face the tensions and contradictions in our own personal lives and in our own families.

“My wish on this World Day of Peace is that Christians everywhere, who exchange the Sign of the Peace of Christ at the celebration of the Eucharist, will be empowered by God’s grace to become active ambassadors for peace in the Church and in the world, beginning in their own homes, families, workplaces and neighbourhoods.  In this way the Sign of Peace will avoid becoming an empty or meaningless gesture, but will rather be an impulse and driver towards reconciliation and peace building.”

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