Prayer and Reflection by Archbishop Stephen Brislin

Archbishop Stephen Brislin offers his prayer and reflection for the people of the Archdiocese of Cape Town for today, Wednesday 21 April 2021, during this time of the coronavirus pandemic. It is also available on the Archdiocese of Cape Town’s Facebook page and YouTube channel. Please also see below the text of his reflection, primarily for the deaf.

Welcome to this reflection. We are now in the third week of Easter and, as Bishop Sylvester pointed out in his reflection last Friday, the Gospel Readings of Mass are taken from chapter 6 of St John’s Gospel, and we are presented with the beautiful teaching on the Bread of Life. I have chosen the first two sentences of today’s Gospel (John 6:35-40) as our brief Scripture reading:

At that time: Jesus said to the crowds, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst. But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe.”

Let us pray:

God our Father, may what we receive in the Eucharist be accomplished in our lives, that we may bring the light of your love to those we meet and that the joy of the Resurrection may find a home in the hearts of many. We make this prayer through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever, amen.

Last week I spoke of the Lord’s Prayer in the Mass and how appropriate it is to pray the Our Father as we prepare to receive the “Bread of Life”. The prayer said by the priest, immediately after the Lord’s prayer, is called the “embolism” and it picks up on the last petition of the Our Father, deliver us from evil. The priest then prays: deliver us Lord, we pray, from every evil, graciously grant peace in our days…. It is a fitting expansion of the request that the Lord deliver us from evil, that we may have peace and be free from sin and safe from distress as we await the coming of Jesus in hope. It ends with the doxology that, in some traditions is attached to the Lord’s Prayer, for the kingdom, the power and the glory are yours now and forever.

This is followed by the prayer for peace: 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. The beginning of this prayer is taken from John 14:27, but we also know that the Risen Christ in his appearances to his disciples would greet them with the words “peace be with you”. We also know that in his “priestly prayer”, Jesus prayed for unity among his followers, that they “may be one” (John 17:11). Peace is a deep concept and should not be treated in a superficial way. It is not just the absence of conflict, but is the presence of harmony, prosperity and respect. Peace encompasses forgiveness, reconciliation and unity; it overcomes negative emotions and passions that can afflict us as human beings, in order to restore balance and sound relationships. The Eucharist itself both requires peace and unity as worthy dispositions of those who receive Eucharist, and also brings about and enhances peace and unity – they are a fruit of the Eucharist. We cannot worthily receive the Eucharist if we are not in loving communion with our brothers and sisters. Peace and unity are intrinsic to the very meaning of Eucharist itself. Reception of Communion demands that we do everything we can to ensure that in our own environment that we strive to bring about peace and unity to a practical realisation. 

After the assent, the “amen”, given by the people to this prayer for peace and unity, the priest will greet the community with the words, the peace of the Lord be with you always, to which the people respond, and with your spirit. Before Communion it is a timely reminder of the need for peace, harmony and unity to be present among ourselves. There is no room for an “us and them” scenario in the Church. There may be different roles in Church and different expressions of our baptismal vocation, but there is only “us” – we all belong to Christ, and we belong to each other, we are the Body of Christ which is a unity of different parts (1 Corinthians 12:12-27). We are in communion with each other.

The deacon (or if there is no deacon, the priest) will invite the community to make a symbolic gesture of peace, Let us offer each other a sign of peace. It is usually our custom in South Africa – in non-covid times – to greet those around us with a handshake. In these times most of us give a small bow to others. This is a symbolic act that makes personal the prayer for peace and unity. It is highly inappropriate to ignore someone who is sitting close to you and refuse them this sign of peace because they are of a different race, or perhaps poor, or because you may not get on with them. As I have mentioned, the peace that we strive for must overcome the negative emotions and passions we sometimes experience. We have to make a conscious attempt not to be ruled by such negativity. Since it is only a symbolic gesture, it is also inappropriate to move out of your place to offer others the sign of peace. It is not a time to “congratulate” others, for example those who have just made their First Communion, just been Confirmed, or just ordained, and so on. That defeats the purpose of the sign of peace and shows misunderstanding of its meaning in the liturgy. Similarly, the celebrating priest should not abandon the consecrated bread and wine on the altar by leaving the sanctuary to greet the community with the sign of peace.

Having thus reaffirmed harmony among ourselves and all creation, as well as our commitment, we enter into the third essential aspect of Eucharist, the breaking of the Bread which is called the Fraction Rite. I’ll talk about that and what it means next week. 

Let us now pray for God’s blessing:

The Lord be with you R/ And with your Spirit

Bow down for the blessing:

Heavenly Father, as your people continue to meet the struggles and uncertainty of our time, we ask you to protect them from all evil and harm. Be close to them that they may learn to trust you more and to place their every hope in you. Through Christ Our Lord, amen.

May Almighty God bless you, the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit (+), amen.

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