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    Fr. Joseph Jenkins

  • The blog header depicts an important and yet mis-understood New Testament scene, Jesus flogging the money-changers out of the temple. I selected it because the faith that gives us consolation can also make us very uncomfortable. Both Divine Mercy and Divine Justice meet in Jesus. Priests are ministers of reconciliation, but never at the cost of truth. In or out of season, we must be courageous in preaching and living out the Gospel of Life. The title of my blog is a play on words, not Flogger Priest but Blogger Priest.

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SIGN OF PEACE

While the overture of the Sign of Peace exists in the pre-conciliar liturgy, the reformed ritual from Vatican II extends it as part of a recovery of an older form that is better in line with Matthew 5:23-24: “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.” There has been some discussion about placement.  Liturgists are still divided as to whether it should come at the beginning as part of the penitential rite or during the offertory or after the Lord’s Prayer.  The third is the traditional location and where a fragment is retained in the Tridentine Mass. This places the focus upon worthiness for Holy Communion. That is where we find it today.  The gesture of a handshake has been mitigated during the pandemic and many insert a bow of the head or a wave of the hand. 

The sign of peace was once practiced as a literal kiss of peace among members.  Changing propriety led to suppression.  As far back as 1248 AD, a “pax or peace board” was substituted, (made from wood, ivory or ornate metal), that was set upon the altar and then extended to those in the pews.  A subdeacon would take it to those outside the sanctuary.  Symbolizing the altar, it was kissed. However, many began to substitute the sharing of the pax for taking Holy Communion. There were also disputes over precedence or ranking. 

The added words of the priest are quite descriptive of what we are about:  “Lord Jesus Christ, who said to your Apostles: Peace I leave you, my peace I give you, look not on our sins, but on the faith of your Church, and graciously grant her peace and unity in accordance with your will. Who live and reign forever and ever.”  He will then extend peace as in the previous liturgical form:  “The peace of the Lord be with you always.” The people respond, “And with your spirit.” The priest or deacon may then invite the congregation to extend to one another some sign of Christ’s peace.  This peace means unity or oneness in Jesus Christ. It is an expression of a profound solidarity. That is really why scandal and a crisis about Eucharistic decorum has warranted discussion by the USCCB. Should those who are in egregious sin, teaching heresy or promoting public dissent be given Holy Communion?  Politicians and celebrities are frequently the ones that make this problematical. Many ordinary Catholics may be in irregular unions or living in sin but the priest would not withhold the Eucharist for fear of violating confidentiality and the seal of confession.  Nevertheless, the sign of peace should signify true unity with Christ and his Church. It is a precondition for reception. This remains a matter worthy of reflection and discussion. Should a person living in an irregular union or in a sinful lifestyle present himself for the sacrament?  If a person enables or promotes abuse, prejudice, racism or the death of persons as in euthanasia and abortion, should he or she be given the sacrament? Unless seriously remote, believers are forbidden to cooperate in evil acts.  How far can we compromise our integrity until the tension snaps the strands of faith and morals?  Is our claim to Catholicity a core dedication to the truth or only an affiliation due to habit or fellowship or nostalgia? 

The sacrament that is instituted for our salvation can come to our judgment and condemnation before God.  I suspect that many deny that such a conviction is possible.  Too many today, both in and out of the pews incoherently deny that one’s unity with Jesus can be severed. This lack of due diligence allows for a great deception where the spiritually gullible follow a counterfeit Christ that feigns saving everyone when he can save no one. Both top-notch theologians and on-and-off pew-sitters suggest that all might be saved even though the Scriptures clearly teach about the frightful prospect of hellfire and the loss of heaven. Good people frequently struggle with the heresy of universalism. But ours is no Pollyanna faith. Hardened hearts, sinful acts of commission or omission, can and do result in the terrible prospect of perdition.  A heretical mentality of indifference explains why many fail to pray for the dead. Everyone is presumed as in heaven. Compassion would have a decent person hesitate to tell anyone that his or her child or spouse or mother might be in hell.  You would likely be labeled as mean-spirited, intolerant and wrongly judgmental. In truth, we leave judgment to God but as Catholics we are called to appreciate that Jesus is both the Divine Mercy and the Divine Judgment. The priest who hesitates to give Holy Communion to an egregious public sinner or one who has rejected the Lordship of Jesus Christ may be struggling in conscience with not compounding the sin and guilt of the communicant.  Nevertheless, critics are quick to attack the priest.   

The priest mingles a fragment of the consecrated host into the chalice.  He prays, “May this mingling of the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ bring eternal life to us who receive it.”  Just as the two-fold consecration of bread and wine signifies the death of Jesus (separation of the body and blood), the commingling symbolizes resurrection (wholeness between the body and blood).  We are invited to have a share in our Lord’s new life.  The power of grace can divinize us and grant us immortality— if we are properly disposed.

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