Go in peace

Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world: have mercy on us.
Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world: have mercy on us.
Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world: grant us peace.


At the end of the Mass these words are spoken:

Deacon or Priest: “Go in the peace of Christ.”
or “The Mass is ended, go in peace.”
or “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.”
All: “Thanks be to God!”

There is then the Recessional, and there may be a closing hymn, but that is the end of the Mass. However it is said, we are told to go in peace – that peace being the peace of Christ.

What does this mean, to go in peace? We leave the Mass, having been fed at the table by the body and blood of Christ, and enter back into the world. One thing is clear, this world is not at peace. But we, followers of Christ, must go in that peace which is the peace of Christ. We go into this un-peaceful world with and in the peace of Christ.

We live in a time and place where individualism reigns, and much of modern Christianity follows suit. Salvation becomes a purely existential affair, with great emphasis placed on one’s psychological and emotional state of being. Thus this peace of Christ can easily be understood as a feeling of peace one has, however briefly, at the end of Mass; a good, warm, fuzzy feeling of goodness and, perhaps, fellowship. Emotions are important, and the warm fuzzies are not nothing, but the peace of Christ is not (or not only) about how we feel. Nor is it merely that we enjoy some light and friendly banter with our fellow parishioners until we head for the car.

This is obvious, and I don’t want to present a straw man in order to make an equally limp point. We know that the peace of Christ is the only solution to the horrors of this world, the enmity between man and man, and between man and God. We know it is only the peace of Christ that can overcome the death that sits at each of our doors, and ravages the world. And so we know there is something far more substantial to this peace than peaceful vibes.

The closing words of the Mass are not the only time we hear about peace. In the preceding Communion Rite we already spoke words about peace. Immediately after saying the Lord’s Prayer, we hear and say these words:

Priest: “Deliver us, Lord, from every evil, and grant us peace in our day. In your mercy keep us free from sin and protect us from all anxiety as we wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ.”
All: “For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours, now and forever.”

Then we go into the “Sign of Peace” section:

Priest: “Lord Jesus Christ, you said to your apostles: I leave you peace, my peace I give you. Look not on our sins, but on the faith of your Church, and grant us the peace and unity of your kingdom where you live for ever and ever.”
All: “Amen.”
Priest: “The Peace of the Lord be with you always.”
All: “And also with you.”
Deacon or Priest: “Let us offer each other a sign of peace.”

And at this point we turn to those around us, usually shake their hand and say something like, “Peace be with you.” Some might think this small exchange (of what might be derided as mere niceties) between the people of the Church is rather innocuous. But it is, in fact, a small moment of acknowledgement of our shared community of faith, and a little bit of “practice” for what we will be called to do at the end of Mass. We celebrate the peace between us and God, won for us by the sacrifice of Christ, and we begin to show how we are bearers of Christ’s image to the world by first reaching out the hand to those nearest to us and offering warm greetings.

The question is whether or not we carry this peace with us to the world. Do we embrace those final words of the Mass and seek to live them out in our daily lives, among our families, our co-workers, our neighbors? I can only speak for myself, and the answer is, “not very well.”

As a final note, perhaps an indication of our trouble with peace is how quickly our minds shut down when we hear the word pacifism. We tend to think pacifism as being fundamentally untenable. In a way it is. According to the rules of this world pacifism will not help one get ahead. Put another way, if one puts on the mind of Christ, then one will suffer. Christ suffered. The Apostles suffered. The early Christians suffered. Many Christians today suffer. But remember, it is God who fights our battles for us. We are called to love, and to be willing to suffer, for our sufferings in this life do not compare to the glory yet to come. If God is for us who can stand against us? Do not fear those who can merely kill you.

I write these words mostly for myself, for I am weak.

We get the word pacifism from the French pacifisme, which is derived from pacifique, but its roots go back Latin pācificus which comes from pāx (“peace”) + faciō (“I do, make”). In other words, pacifism means “peace making.” Note: Do not confuse pacifism with being passive. The word “passive” comes from different roots and is related to the idea of suffering, not making peace. We are called to suffer, true, but we are also called to be peace makers. They go together. Take up your cross and follow the merciful God. Love your neighbor as yourself. Love your enemy.

Without Christ pacifism makes no sense. With Christ, pacifism is the only choice. Go in the peace of Christ.

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