Moving the Sign of Peace at Mass

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There has been talk about moving the Sign of Peace during the Eucharistic Liturgy to another location. In some cultures there has been a feeling that the Sign of Peace gets “out of hand”. I’m not sure what that means… perhaps it’s not what Western Europeans consider prayerful.  The National Catholic Reporter in the US has a good editorial about this that I would like to share. It really captures my feelings. Another point around this is the reference to the Emmaus Journey and the disciples who recognized the Lord in the Breaking of the The Bread. In the Breaking of the Bread we recognize what is on the altar, and we recognize, and exchange peace with Body of Christ in the pew next to us.

Taking community out of Communion
As happened in 2007 when rumors circulated that Pope Benedict XVI would restore the Tridentine Mass as an option for Catholics unhappy with the Second Vatican Council, trial balloons are once again going up about another change to the Mass most Catholics celebrate and find meaningful.
During a Nov. 24 interview, Cardinal Francis Arinze, prefect for the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments, said that the pope is considering moving the sign of peace from within the Communion rite — after the Our Father and before the assembly receives Communion — to another place in the Mass, possibly before or during the offertory rite.
The stated reasons for the move, which has the support of many of the U.S. bishops, reflect some long-standing differences among bishops and their liturgical experts over questions of theological emphasis, church history and the liturgical appropriateness of what clearly became a hallmark of the new way of celebrating Mass after Vatican II.
While public statements talk about correcting abuses and restoring reverence to the liturgy, the change would signal another, deeper victory for those who have resisted the council’s horizontal theology — God with the community — in favor of the vertical theology of the Tridentine Mass — God above, mediated by the clergy to the laity below.
Repositioning the rite of peace would be a noticeable change for a whole generation of Catholics. For almost 40 years, the “kiss of peace,” a gesture deeply rooted in the scriptures and the Eucharist, has been the approved expression of love and reconciliation by the community about to receive holy Communion. As liturgy is meant to do, this gesture helped catechize the assembly to be the Communion they were receiving and to be the body of Christ they were then to carry out into the world. Where it was placed was significant.
By invoking the peace of Christ, then inviting the community to express that peace to one another immediately before Communion, the eucharistic species and the community were united in a single real presence of Christ. Removing the sign of peace from the Communion rite eliminates this potent sign.
For many Catholics who have understood the connection, the proposed change will only add to the palpable sense that Rome is listening to a vocal minority who have campaigned and complained that the renewed liturgy interrupts their personal prayer and forces them to shake hands with strangers at Mass. Ordinary Catholics who either don’t care or are weary of finding worship caught up in these quarrels will probably do what the pope decides, but they should not be faulted if it feels to them that, bit by bit, community is being taken out of Communion.
And while these ritual tempests come and go, we might all lament that the deeper meaning of Eucharist as bread for the world, the nonviolent leaven of history, as body and blood being broken and spilled to bring justice, as incarnate God among us, still waits to be fully acknowledged and celebrated.

National Catholic Reporter December 12, 2008


  1. Well I for one would welcome if “the sign of peace” was abolised all together,as I would welcome the term” Holy Communion” to be in general use once more.
    As Roman Catholics attending the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass,we are already at peace with our neighbour,and I find the sign of peace as a distraction to my private prayer.

  2. Here’s my dilemma. Inviting the community to express that peace to one another immediately before Communion has the effect of having parishioners twirl, bob, nod, reach and grab while generally turning their backs on our Lord. At the very moment in the Mass, when we’re second’s away from uniting with our Eucharistic Lord, do we really need distractions to our Union with Him?
    This change, if and when it comes, is another great gift of Benedict XVI- Now, presumably, the Doxology, Amen, Pater, Agnus Dei, and Ecce Agnus Dei will flow into one another without break and allow for continuous prayer before Communion.
    I’ll be a happy parishioner when the change comes-at present at the moment when the palm-fest is imminent, I close my eyes, fold my hands in prayer, and commune with Him, while waiting out the hand grabbers. But, I’m all hugs and kisses AFTER mass over the coffee and Timbits

  3. Adrienne,

    I agree with you there. I’d like to have those handshakes and smiles after Mass. Do you know why? Allow me to tell you as briefly as possible …. I can no longer stand having to shake hands of people who turn their heads to the side when I meet them in the street. What hypocrisy and yet some come to me when they need my services. I remember once when I turned round to shake the hand of the person behind me he said “have we met before?” and I stood there with my hand in the air and probably looked ridiculous.
    God Bless!

  4. I personally never liked the handshaking from a hygienic point of view. Even after Sars; some people can’t resist shaking hands and it seems rude to turn away.
    At Holy Family; the priest intones the Sign of Peace but there is no handshaking; I’m not sure why bit it seems to work and no one seems unhappy about it.
    I’m not against participation but it does feel like a distraction to me and I do think there are people who abuse it and use it as a time to socialize within Mass.

  5. Perhaps this is a good time to remind ourselves of the 4 ways in which Christ is really present to us when the community gathers to celebrate the eucharist. Firstly in the priest, the president of the eucharistic assembly; secondly in the scriptures; thirdly in the eucharist and fourthly in the people of God gathered together (‘when two or three of you are gathered in my name…’ Mt 18:20). The sign of peace is as much a sacramental acknowledgement of the mysterious presence of Christ as the memorial acclamation.

  6. For a second, I was trying to figure out if Albert and Adrienne were engaging in tongue-in-cheek sarcasm.

    Yikes, folks!

    It is never “my private communion.” Read 1 Corinthians. The whole letter. Carefully. Then read Luke and Acts. Then think about what you are saying again. The whole point of COMM- UNION is that there is “with” (co-). We are called to be saints “together,” (1 Cor 1:2) and if the whole point were some sort of ecstatic, undistracted metaphysical bond, why on earth did Jesus do this at a meal and tell us to do this in remembrance of him? That was awfully tricky of him. If you want undistracted prayer time, go right ahead and pray before the blessed sacrament for hours on end. Sarcasm aside, I applaud such an impulse. But trying to make the Mass about your isolated experience is exceedingly selfish and counter to the whole spirit of the sign that Jesus gave us of his presence with us and in us. Oh no, someone smiled at me–I can’t possibly receive Jesus now because I smiled back! How childish does this sound?

    I’m praying for a deeper theology among US Catholics of all varieties. Please read the New Testament constantly and allow it to impact the way that you view everything. If all of us did that, we would be spending our time far better than bickering about signs of communion.

    peace in our Eucharistic Lord,

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