This Sunday, the first after Easter, was Low Sunday. Its Gospel comes from Saint John, who relates Jesus coming into the Upper Room on the evening of His Resurrection. The reading spans to the next Sunday, when the incredulous Saint Thomas is lovingly confronted by the Savior whose Resurrection he had doubted. Between these two events, the sacrament of Penance (confession) is instituted when Jesus breathes on the Apostles, telling them to receive the Holy Ghost (the word pneuma, translated as ghost or spirit, can also mean “breath”), and goes on: “Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them; and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained” (John 20:23).
What interests me here are the words Our Lord uttered to the astonished Apostles immediately after using His gift of subtlety to enter the sealed room:
Jesus came and stood in the midst, and said to them: Peace be to you. And when he had said this, he shewed them his hands and his side. (John 20:19-20)
I have never seen it pointed out in a commentary, but it seems that Our Lord (and the Evangelist) are connecting these two verses, one of which has Jesus wishing his Apostles peace, the other of which has Him showing them his sacred wounds. It is as if the Prince of Peace had said, “Have that peace which I have just merited for you by means of My Passion, the signs of which I still bear in My glorified Body.”
Whatever the merits of my interpretation of the passage, it comports with what we know elsewhere in Scripture, e.g., from Ephesians (2:14: “For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and breaking down the middle wall of partition, the enmities in his flesh”) and Colossians (1:20: “And through him to reconcile all things unto himself, making peace through the blood of his cross, both as to the things that are on earth, and the things that are in heaven”).
Christ’s Sacrifice on the Cross, which is re-presented in an unbloody manner in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, is the fulfillment of all various sacrifices of the Old Testament. Now, among the types of sacrifices offered in the Old Testament was the “peace offering”(zebach sh’lamim), which could be offered for a variety of motives. Here, I cite a Jewish authority, Judaism 101, who will define the term for us:
A peace offering is an offering expressing thanks or gratitude to G-d for His bounties and mercies. The Hebrew term for this type of offering is zebach sh’lamim (or sometimes just sh’lamim), which is related to the word shalom, meaning “peace” or “whole.” A representative portion of the offering is burnt on the altar, a portion is given to the kohanim [priests], and the rest is eaten by the offerer and his family; thus, everyone gets a part of this offering. This category of offerings includes thanksgiving-offerings (in Hebrew, Todah, which was obligatory for survivors of life-threatening crises), free will-offerings, and offerings made after fulfillment of a vow. Note that this class of offerings has nothing to do with sin; in fact, the Talmud states that in the age of the messiah (when there is no more sin), this will be the only class of offering that is brought to the Temple.
Please note that the peace offering was offered for different reasons — including free will offerings — but that one form of the peace offering was the thanksgiving-offering (todah), which was obligatory for those who has survived some threat upon their life. Note also that, unlike the whole burned offering (holocaust), in which nothing was saved to be eaten but all was burned; and unlike the sin offerings, some of which was reserved for the priest only to eat; in the sh’lamim, the priest and also the offerer (with his family) partook of the sacred banquet.
Here, we see one of the many Old Testament preparations for the Mass, for Christ is our peace offering, and at this sacrifice, which is also a banquet, priest and people partake of the victim. Although the Mass is superior to all the various Old Testament sacrifices and fulfills them all in some way or another, we can see the Holy Sacrifice of the New Covenant as a Christian todah, that kind of peace offering that was made specifically in thanksgiving. Remember that the Greek word eucharistia, whence comes Eucharist, means thanksgiving. (For more on this subject, see From Jewish Passover to Christian Eucharist: The Story of the Todah, by Tim Gray; Given for You – The Old Testament Story of Sacrifice, by the Saint Paul Center for Biblical Theology; and The Eucharist, at Fisheaters.com.)
In the Ordinary of the traditional Roman Rite of Mass, there are numerous references to “peace” (pax), the vast majority of which take place between the Consecration and Communion. The most notable of these, to this writer, takes place right after the “fraction,” or breaking of the Host, when the priest takes a small portion of the consecrated Host between his thumb and index finger of his right hand, holds it over the chalice (over which he has done the fraction), saying, “Pax + Dómini sit + semper vobís + cum” (May the peace + of the Lord be + always + with you). The crosses in the text indicate three cruciform blessings with the particle. Then the particle is dropped into the chalice, mystically representing the resurrection, just as the separate consecration of Body and Blood mystically represent Christ’s death. After another short prayer, the celebrant then recites the Agnus Dei, with its final petition, dona nobis pacem (grant us peace).
About the Pax + Dómini following the fraction, Father Nicholas Gihr has this to say in his book, The Sacrifice of the Mass:
The fact that this salutation of peace is made precisely between the symbolical fraction and mingling, signifies that Christ by His redeeming death and glorious resurrection has become the author and source of true peace; likewise does the sign of the Cross over the chalice, containing the Precious Blood, allude to the fact that the peace of God was purchased and negotiated for us by the holy Cross and the blood shed thereon: ‘for through he blood of the Cross hath Christ made peace, both as to the things on earth and the things that are in heaven’ (Col. 1:20).
Peace is defined by Saint Augustine as tranquilitas ordinis, “the tranquility of order.” It is not a mere absence of conflict, but is a positive benefit that is derived from the proper ordering of society and even of individuals, whose lower faculties must be subject to reason, and whose reason must be subject to God’s Law. While the naturally virtuous man can have some modicum of peace in this life, the highest peace is a result of God’s supernatural grace, which puts order to our souls.
Peace is ranked among those twelve acts of high virtue that Saint Paul calls the Fruits of the Holy Ghost.
Such peace can exist in the soul of a saint even amid all sorts of terrible external conflict. Contrariwise, the person whose soul is out of order will never have peace, even if he lives his whole life in a highly protective “safe space” free from all external conflict.
Peace between nations can only be achieved by their subjection to a higher authority, and no, this authority is not the United Nations, which is not really about peace, but about enforcing a horrible, liberal order on the world. (If it were about peace, why was the peaceful Katanga under Moïse Tshombe the victim of terrible atrocities committed by UN peacekeepers? Even Newsweek can’t ignore more recent crimes by UN personnel in Africa.)
No, the authority to which all men and nations must be subject in order for there to be peace is that of Our Lord Jesus Christ the King. And in these latter days, he has sent his Queen Mother to Fatima, to tell us how to have peace in our lives, our families, and among nations.
But men seem oblivious to Her message.