Thursday, July 31, 2014

Rescuing the Sign of Peace

It has been a long time since I have posted anything - I'm having to relearn! Sandro Magister informs us that a new teaching document has been sent to the bishops of the world concerning the sign of peace. Following the Synod on the Eucharist in 2005, a study was made as to whether the sign of peace should be moved to another place in the Mass, e.g. before the Offertory, or remain in its traditional place. It has been decided with Pope Francis' approval that no change should be made as to its place to avoid structural changes to the Mass but that its true nature should be taught.

I cannot find the letter in English but from the Spanish version one learns the following:

  • the invitation to exchange the sign of peace should not be given in a mechanical way, i.e. it shouldn't be just automatic. If it is likely that the sign of peace will not be exchanged in an appropriate manner in a given circumstance of if it is judged that pedagogically it is a good thing not to carry it out on certain occasions, it may be omitted and even should be omitted. We are reminded that the rubrics say: "Then, if appropriate, the Deacon, or the Priest, adds: Let us offer each other the sign of peace."

  • abuses such as the following are to be avoided:
    - the introduction of a "song for peace" which does not exist in the Roman Rite;
    - the moving around of the faithful during the sign of peace;
    - the priest leaving the altar to give the peace to some of the faithful;
    - in circumstances such as Christmas, Easter, or during ritual celebrations such as Baptisms, First Communion, Confirmation, Marriage, Ordination, Religious Profession or Funerals, turning the sign of peace into an occasion to greet or to express condolences to those present.

  • Episcopal Conferences are invited to prepare liturgical catechesis about the significance of the Rite of Peace in the Roman liturgy and the correct way of carrying it out during the Mass. The Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments encloses with their letter some orientational lines.
The Holy Father Pope Francis approved the letter on June 7 and it was published on June 8, the Solemnity of Pentecost.

So I bet every parish can soon expect some catechesis on the subject.

The above picture was taken from Father Tim Finigan's blog. It just so happens on the June 6 he posted an article about the distortion of the sign of peace in most parishes today. Since it does not appear to be possible to post comments on his blog, I thought I'd put a post up myself.

[Update: Fr Z reports and comments.]


  1. Good, insightful, expliantion of the letter. Thank you. Since the "Sign of Peace" apppears to be optional, is there a graceful way ( or an approved way) for someone to opt out that you know of?

  2. Andi: that was quick! The invitation is optional but I think that if the invitation is given one should indeed give those near one the sign of peace. It should be possible to do so in "a graceful way" rather find the experience so disagreeable as to want to opt out "in a graceful way."

  3. Quick because I follow you on twitter and you posted it :) And how would be a graceful way to extend this - without being forced to touch people if you don't want to. I am thinking especially of a friend who has severe arthritis and it's painful for her. But there are so many reasons why someone would not want to be touched by strangers. What are the options for gracefully participating, yet not being touched? Thank you.

  4. Welcome back! Father

  5. Why would you consider someone else at Mass "a stranger?" Are we not all brothers and sisters? Why would one fear touch so much? Isn't a very human thing, and also a divine thing, since Jesus Christ, God and man, touched us and we touch him? I would suggest that your friend with severe arthritis could make a bow to those nearby and people should understand. It's about catechesis. This is a liturgical act. It should be done appropriately. The catechesis should explain this and perhaps an appropriate mode of exchanging the sign of peace or some sensible options (e.g. shake of the hand, a bow) - on those occasions when it takes place - could be established. It is a very ancient gesture, integral to the Roman Rite, done very nicely in other venerable rites of the Church. In the reformed Roman liturgy it has been abused. I'm for restoring it to its proper dignity rather than throwing it out. These are just my thoughts. I fully respect your views.

  6. I'm all for a more restrained SoP. A raised hand of acknowledgement to one's immediate neighbours should be sufficient. As it has developed in some parishes I've experienced, the SoP appears to have superseded the Consecration as the pivotal moment in the Mass.

  7. I know you respect my views, That is why I feel safe discussing this with you, you seem to respect people in general.
    While we may be spritiual brothers and sisters in Christ, we do not know each other - in many cases even first names - and as such we can not know what is happening in the lives of the people around us.
    That person shunning touch might be going through chemo, might have a sensory disorder or OCD, or might be a rape surivor. Or any other reason.
    I have never seen anyone but my sister and I bow for this - and we've had people grab our hands instead, I have had others try and force a kiss.
    I would like to see it go back to being just the clergy participating in this act -Liturgical not withstanding.
    I thank you for your insight. It really is very helpful

  8. Like andi I would dearly like to know how I can opt out of the handshaking without seeming unfriendly.People can be so insistant these days! Following a crushing handshake received two months ago at the 'sign of peace' resulting in a visit to A & E and x-ray and a lot of pain still ongoing I have stopped going to Mass during the week as I cannot risk another handshake. While my hand had a strapping on it it was obvious so all I needed to do was hold up my hand and shake my head. Now without it, it is not so easy and when I shake my head I feel most awkward at refusing a thrust out hand.

    Sitting away from others does not work - after a previous crushing handshake I tried this but there was always someone who probably felt sorry for the lone lady on her own and would leave their pew to offer a handshake. I just wish it had never been introduced as the feeling of dread mounts as it approaches. There must be many others suffering from arthritis for whom even a moderate handshake can be extremely painful and a strong one can result in months of discomfort not to mention the added difficulty of restricted use.

    Andi mentions also those on chemo and those with OCD and for those on the autistic spectrum it must be particularly traumatic to engage in this way. So please Bishops spare a thought for those of us who really do not want to shake hands and perhaps introduce a bow as an acceptable alternative.

  9. On the SoP: That which is optional is, by definition, inessential.
    On strangers at Mass: Perhaps we should not be strangers to one another, but in fact, we quite often are.


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