Dona Nobis Pacem

I was a six year old first grader in 1961 when I heard and said these words for the first time:

Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis.
Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis.
Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, dona nobis pacem.

The Roman Catholic mass was said in Latin back then. We learned these words and dutifully repeated them at the right time, not knowing what they meant. That’s my memory of it.

Little did I know that at this exact time in history, a monumentally important event was about to take place in Rome, one that helped form my desire for peace. For only the second time in history, a council of all the Catholic bishops from around the world was taking place. The Second Ecumenical Council of the Vatican, known as Vatican II, started in 1962 under Pope John XXIII. He would not see the completion of this historic event, as he died in 1963. I vaguely recall his death, but I do remember the puffs of white smoke emanating from a small chimney on the roof of the Sistine Chapel, signaling the world that a new Pope had been elected. I also clearly recall the first time I heard the joyful words, “Habemus Papam!” proclaiming, “We have a Pope!” Pope John VI would see Vatican II to its completion in 1965.

During these historic events, I became a fourth grader in 1964. That was the age when we could become altar boys, serving the good priests that said the Latin mass in our parish. Back in the day, the altar was at the very front of the church, and the priests said the mass with their backs to the congregation! That seems almost incredible to me as I think of it now. At the time, many felt the church had become very disconnected from the people.

To me, the beauty of Vatican II is that among the many conclusions, Rome decided the mass could be said in the “vernacular,” the local language. The altar was brought closer to the congregation, and was turned around so the priest would be facing the people. For the first time in nearly 2,000 years, people could hear the mass in their own language, and could relate to their priest in a way not known before. And the Latin words, which had become so comfortable in their rote repetition, now had the power that comes with understanding:

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!

I remember the fascination I had with the translation of those words. It was like a mystery solved! I remember being really glad to understand this! Later, I was also grateful for the years of having heard the mass in Latin. The impressive ceremony of the Latin Roman Catholic mass, steeped in tradition and symbolism, gave the words the importance they deserve. Peace is important!

Today, thanks to the vision and dedication of Mimi Lenox, we celebrate this brief phrase from the Roman Catholic mass: dona nobis pacem, grant us peace. And what a powerful prayer it is! Individually and as a people, this short prayer has the power to change our thinking, and thus our actions!

I spent a few of my grade school years in Mexico, my parents’ native land.
I learned that the Mexican people are proud of many things, including one that is very pertinent to the dona nobis pacem movement. One of Mexico’s great presidents, arguably the greatest president, was Benito Juárez. He was a native Zapotec Amerindian, born into a very turbulent political climate. He is remembered for resisting the French occupation and helping overthrow the French Empire in Mexico. He was a benevolent leader who was bent on restoring the Mexican Republic and modernizing his country.

What I remember most about Benito Juárez is his famous quotation, which continues to be well-remembered in Mexico:

“Entre los individuos, como entre las naciones, el respeto al derecho ajeno es la paz,” meaning
Among individuals, as among nations, respect for the rights of others is peace.

Juárez lived in violent times, when resistance and revolution took the form of guns and knives, blood and tears. By necessity, to survive, he was a man of such action. But his goal was always peace. And in his leadership position, he was able to make the eventual transition to a man of peaceful actions. He showed that by his example. And he was loved for it.

I have pondered what this means to me on many occasions. Can war ever be justified? Does it sometimes take war to bring about peace? Will there always be evil, and will good always need to fight back? Are there peaceful ways to overcome violent evil? Would Ghandi’s passive resistance work against terrorism, or random acts of violence, or serial killers? What can I do in my life, in the world I am born into, in my own time and space, to bring about peace? Do I have a duty and responsibility to work for peace in my world? How do peace and love connect?

Well, I have discovered that I am better at asking these questions than answering them. I still ponder. Yet through the fog that is my mind, I have occasional moments of clarity. There are some things I have been called to do. I’ll call them actions of peace:

• I must learn to manage my own anger.
• I must have a clear understanding of my own set of rights and wrongs, and be faithful to them in my life.
• I must be proactive rather than reactive.
• I must learn to see the world from another’s perspective.
• I must seek to understand my brothers and sisters of different cultures, and beyond tolerance, beyond acceptance, learn to embrace them.
• I must learn the arts of diplomacy, cooperation, compromise, patience.
• I must respect the rights of others.
• When I am given the opportunity, I must speak for those who cannot speak for themselves.
• I must learn to be grateful for what I have been given, and to freely share of what I have.

This is a short list, one that makes sense to me. These are things I can and must do, actions I can and must take, because I believe that peace is important, and

Peace is an Action Word!

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