Friday, August 1, 2014

Vatican Rethinks the 'Sign of Peace'

The sign of peace. Some of you probably love it. Others probably dread it. Most of us, well, just kind of deal with it. It certainly is a laudable idea, that we, as Christians gathered on the Lord's Day, visibly show that we are reconciled with all members of the Body of Christ (i.e. the Church) by exchanging a ritualized peace greeting with those in our immediate vicinity. Unfortunately, the ritual all too frequently becomes an informal chit-chat session with parishioners greeting friends, family members, and other parishioners in a way no different than they would if they saw them outside of Mass. In other words, the ritual is lost and with it any meaning or relation to the liturgy. It instead becomes a quasi-intermission in the Mass where we lose all focus on God and instead drift into a few seconds of idle chatter and brief smiles. At times these brief encounters run over the Agnus Dei with people still greeting yet more parishioners while others solemnly take up the chant. At its worst priests descend from the altar amid parishioners who wave wildly from the front of the church to the back pews as all order and decorum breaks down and the Eucharistic Sacrifice is momentarily forgotten. All of this isn't quite what the Church envisions for this part of the Mass, as was made clear by the Vatican yesterday, (emphasis and comments mine)

the appropriateness of greater restraint in this gesture, which can be exaggerated and cause a certain distraction in the assembly just before the reception of Communion... 
The congregation offered four suggestions which are to form the “nucleus” of catechesis on the sign of peace. 
First, while confirming the importance of the rite, it emphasized that “it is completely legitimate to affirm that it is not necessary to invite 'mechanistically' to exchange (the sign of) peace.” The rite is optional, the congregation reminded, and there certainly are times and places where it is not fitting. (Father is under no obligation to extend the sign of peace to the congregation. He may choose to do so, and most priests, most times rightly do so, but he can choose to omit it.)
Its second recommendation was that as translations are made of the third typical edition of the Roman Missal, bishops' conference should consider “changing the way in which the exchange of peace is made.” It suggested in particular that “familiar and worldly gestures of greeting” should be substituted with “other, more appropriate gestures.” (Common gestures like handshaking ought to be replaced with gestures that are not found in ordinary greetings, to clarify the purpose of the sign of peace.)
The congregation for worship also noted that there are several abuses of the rite which are to be stopped: the introduction of a “song of peace,” which does not exist in the Roman rite (I've never ran into this one myself); the faithful moving from their place to exchange the sign (nor this one); the priest leaving the altar to exchange the sign with the faithful (nor this one, though I've heard about it); and when, at occasions such as weddings or funerals, it becomes an occasion for congratulations or condolences (possible times when such a greeting could be rightly omitted if father so decided). 
The Congregation for Divine Worship's final exhortation was that episcopal conferences prepare liturgical catechesis on the significance of the rite of peace, and its correct observation. (source: CNA)
Peace be with you
Not what the Vatican Envisions 

What have been your experiences with the sign of peace?

Do you think the Vatican's recommendations will help restore the sense of sacred to our worship?


  1. Does the Vatican really want a mass stripped of its man centered aspects? Then make it worthy of its former glory and reduce the mass to a bare boned sacrifice. Move the Tabernacle back to its formal central presence, only have kneeling as the means of receiving the Eucharist. Sermons should be more pronounced about the "4 last things". Catholics are virtually unaware of Purgatory and Hell. Reduce singing down to nothing. I believe guitar strumming, pop songs etc. destroy the character of the mass. I'm surprised it has taken so long for the hand shaking business to be addressed. There are other items to be dealt with but you have to start somewhere.

    1. "Reduce singing down to nothing."

      I'm not sure I understand this one at all. The Mass, as it was celebrated for the first 1,000 yrs, was mostly sung. In the Middle Ages, the Church allowed introduction of "low Mass," i.e. a Mass without singing, as an aide for priests to be able to say Mass daily even without a choir. But "low Mass" remained the exception to "High Mass" (sung Mass). The idea of having the Mass completely devoid of all singing is completely foreign to the nature and history of the Roman liturgy. That being said, guitars and pop songs can be replaced by Gregorian Chant and Polyphony, but no music at all would be almost unthinkable.

  2. I was raised with the old latin mass in the 50's. There was no singing at the regular low mass on Sundays. This, I would music reaches people deep in their souls. The hand shaking, hand holding etc. Ish!...I can take it or leave it.
    As a child raised with latin and alter boys I will say that it allowed children to day dream and not attend! Kids are still tho keep them engaged in the mass in all it's we approach communion is important and thus this english mass is preferable for them. BUT to lose latin is I think a great mistake! All priests should know latin and the latin mass. Official documents should like the one coming out re: the synod on the family, should be in latin! Why...because is closes the margin for error...especially when the church, as it was in the educated in latin.
    Latin is a DEAD language, ergo it is difficult to manipulate and colloquialisms can never be a sticking point!
    There you go...I said way more than you asked for...