By SOPHIE DRUFFNER
Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar,
and there recall that your brother
has anything against you,
leave your gift there at the altar,
go first and be reconciled with your brother,
and then come and offer your gift.
Settle with your opponent quickly while on the way to court with him. Otherwise your opponent will hand you over to the judge,
and the judge will hand you over to the guard,
and you will be thrown into prison.
Amen, I say to you,
you will not be released until you have paid the last penny.”
You know how it is with families in mass--the surreptitious pinching, elbowing, squirming, and then the Hand Squeeze to the Death during the Our Father. Then the mum or dad looks over with a disapproving look, and casually slides over between the two warring factions. Peace is restored, but only briefly, until the moment when one kid reaches behind the mum and pokes the other. The war continues.
This, however, is only superficial fighting. There have been many times when my family has come to mass after a serious argument, usually over something not-so-serious: someone didn’t do the laundry when they were supposed to, the kitchen is still a mess from the night before, it took forever for one of my younger sisters to choose an outfit, and hence, we were late. Or maybe we are all suffering from the remnants of an argument that started off the night before. As we go into mass, everyone ignores everyone else.
Then, during the Our Father, our family holds hands, knowing what is about to take place. During the Sign of Peace, we reach over to each other-- “Claire, I’m sorry,” “I shouldn’t have said that,” “I didn’t really mean what I said,” “Guys, let’s just make up.” It’s not so much the Sign of Peace that makes up this forgiveness ritual, it’s the Eucharist that follows a few minutes later. Because we all know that not one of us can go up to the Eucharist with hurtful words in our ears and frowns on our faces. We can’t go up unforgiving, with the tension of the quarrel still between us. We can’t go up to receive Jesus, who is love in the Communion host, if we continue to fight. It wouldn’t be right, it wouldn’t be holy.
The Sign of Peace isn’t just for us to kiss, hug, or shake hands with our wives, husbands, kids, grandparents, sisters, friends, strangers, etc. It’s for us to bring the sense of peace that we will need for the Eucharist. It’s for us to calm down, forgive, and completely forget the altercation which caused us to raise our voices as we prepared to get dressed for mass that morning. It’s the time when we should spiritually be dressed in forgiveness for the Communion feast that is to come.