Sunday, March 21, 2010

Location, Location, Location

One view of the problem with the rite is that it might be in the wrong place in the liturgy. About to receive Communion, having been drawn through the eucharistic prayers into a holy space, some of us might be thinking, "Hey, I'm praying now. Talk to me later.”

Janice says: Peace be with you, too, but not now, OK?

Other liturgical positions for the sign of peace have a certain logic, too. The beginning of Mass, for instance, seems a natural place for a rite that draws us together as community. The transition between the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist also makes good theological sense: before we present our gifts, we reconcile with one another. It makes good human sense, too. Having just listened to readings and a homily, the congregation might need a chance to get up and get the blood moving again before proceeding into the eucharistic prayer. Finally, at the end of Mass it is hard to miss a strong gravitational pull to linger and share community. You find a lot more handshakes and embraces going on when people are leaving church than you find polite waves.

In some places, one finds a different solution. Instead of barreling directly into the rite after the previous acclamation, some presiders stop at that point and invite the community to take a moment to pray for peace. In Australia, where I lived last year, almost every parish I visited used this approach. The change in the congregation after just a few seconds of silence was notable. Having undertaken the liturgical equivalent of a deep breath, congregations (and their priests) entered into the sign of peace with a greater equanimity and presence to the moment. Yet, paradoxically, the total time spent on the rite had not increased.

Tomorrow: What's it All About, Alfie?

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