The Position of the Peace

The Alternative Service Book is now being revised and, if the reports in the newspapers are accurate, we shall have another new prayer book by the year 2000.

I wonder whether the revisers are considering changing the position of the Peace, and putting it back in its traditional place after the consecration. In the current A.S.B. it precedes the consecration, and its position there has profoundly changed its meaning and character. As practised now it has become a token of human friendship. All are to be welcomed and made to feel at home. No-one is to be left in lonely isolation. That is a good thing and a lesson that our increasingly anonymous urban society needs to learn. But it falls very far short of the Peace that our Lord came to bring; and the deeply spiritual nature of the Peace is brought out far more when it follows the Consecration.

The family of God gathers on the Lord’s Day to remember, as it has been commanded to do. And the purpose of the anemnesis – the remembering – is not to take the worshippers back to something that otherwise might have been forgotten, but to bring an event that happened once, and has never been forgotten, concretely into the present in order that its power and influence may be revivified in the hearts and lives of those participating.

The supreme moment of this ‘remembering’ is the consecration of bread and wine. The offerings of the faithful are identified with the one, perfect sacrifice of the Lord, and in the remembering, the present community are at one with Our Lady, St. John and all those who ever since the first Good Friday have stood at the foot of the Cross. It is standing there, in that company, that they find forgiveness and fulfilment; i.e. they find peace. When standing there they are bold to say, Our Father and as they pray become more deeply aware of what they are already, his family. And only then can they exchange the Peace. The sign is not merely a symbol of human fellowship but of membership of the divine community vested by our Lord, and empowered by him to preach his gospel to the world. Human fellowship is good. It is not to be despised, but it must be built on the spiritual family standing at the foot of the Cross.

When the Peace precedes the Consecration the impression is given all too easily that the spiritual family can only grow out of the natural family. When the Peace was given in the traditional manner the impression could all too easily be given that it never left the sanctuary; that it was something offered to and demanded of the clergy alone. As now practised it is clear that it belongs to the whole Church. But this gain has been achieved at the price of an enormous loss. We need to hold the gain and eradicate the loss.

Why not place the Peace at the very end of the service? The priest gives the blessing. Then follows the Ite, Missa est and then, at that point the people of God need to realise the full meaning of the Ite. Let the Peace be exchanged then so that the people may realise all that has been given to them; all that they have become, and accept through it their commission to preach peace to God’s world.

Joseph Robinson is Master of the Temple in the diocese of London.