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The Case Against The Sign Of Peace At Mass

January 15, 2019 Featured Today No Comments

By REY FLORES

O Lord Jesus Christ, Who said to Your Apostles: “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give you,” regarda not my sins but the faith of your Church, and deign to give her peace and unity according to Your will: Who live and reign God, world without end. Amen. — At Solemn Mass, the Celebrant kisses the Altar, and giving the Pax (Kiss of Peace) to the Deacon, says: “Peace be with you.” The Deacon answers: “And with your spirit.”

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The above comes from the Roman Missal. Seems simple enough; right? The sign of peace was something done on the altar between the celebrant priest and the deacon. My question is this: When did this part of the Mass become congregation-wide? Where is it mandated that the entire congregation has to participate in this practice?
I don’t mean to sound like a snob or anything like that. As much as I love the Traditional Latin Mass, I also see elitist attitudes come from this camp when it comes to the Novus Ordo Mass, but that’s not the focus of this column.
After being a lapsed Catholic for two decades and upon my return to the Church in my early 30s, I found that there were a few different things about the Mass which seemed a little awkward. Perhaps it was mainly because of the specific Chicago parish at which I returned to the Church. It was also practicing a modern and watered-down version of the faith, or at least of the Mass. It was definitely not a traditional parish in any way.
The thing that stood out most was that when it came to “offer each other the Sign of Peace,” the entire thing took about five whole minutes or more, as the members of the congregation waltzed up and down the aisle, shaking hands, hugging and kissing each other on the cheek, not to mention the loud conversations taking place as well.
At that point I certainly needed to brush up on the rubrics and liturgy, but this square dance-like activity, during one of the most important parts of the Mass, even shocked me, as rusty as I was.
One particular fellow who had only one arm was the guy who would hug me stronger than any two-armed person ever could. Then there was one guy who always wore so much men’s cologne that after he hugged you, you’d smell like him for the rest of that Sunday. My wife and I jokingly referred to this as the “group grope.”
While this example was probably the most extreme version I’ve witnessed at a Mass of the sign of peace, I still see it as a huge distraction. It seems to be that we have all the time we need or want before and after Mass to greet each other and to catch up on the small talk and conversations.
This glad-handing business during the Mass has no real value and adds nothing to the Mass. At a time when we should be focused strictly on our Lord’s sacrifice, here we are acting as if we were attending a “meet and greet” at the local 4H club.
The Mass is a vertical event, leading man to God, not man to man. The priest celebrating the Mass is “In persona Christi,” meaning Christ in person, leading us toward Heaven. Unless we attend daily Mass, our time connected with Jesus Christ directly, in Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity, is so very limited. Why do we waste one of the most important parts of the Mass in such an irreverent way?
I’m all for shaking my brother’s hand and making the sign of peace with him and all, but not at Mass. Isn’t that what the after-Mass Knights of Columbus pancake breakfasts are for?
Even Wikipedia gets it, for crying out loud. I looked it up and this is what Wikipedia says: “In the Roman Rite revised in 1969, the sign of peace is used at most Masses but is not obligatory. It is exchanged between all present in no prescribed order, except that the Priest gives the sign of peace to a Deacon or minister.”
The Vatican II constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium never mentions the sign of peace for the laity.
Do you get that? It is not obligatory, and therefore at any parish in the entire world, we are not required to go through this lame and awkward man-focused exercise. God is the main focus of the Mass, so let us keep that in mind.
I recall a few years back that one bishop put out a diocese-wide memo during flu season asking people to not shake hands to help prevent contagion. The memo did not call for an end to the sign of peace altogether, so while people weren’t shaking hands, that didn’t stop some folks from waving across the pews, grinning, smiling, talking, and even some grown men were exchanging fist bumps. Silly; isn’t it?
So, my challenge to anyone reading this, clergy and laity alike, is this: Stop it. We do not need the sign of peace as yet another distraction during Mass. It’s hard enough to sit through some of the more modern hymns which really serve as nothing more than to provide a stage for, and to showcase, the musical talents, or lack thereof, of certain attention-seeking musicians at a parish.
Yes, I know, many people aren’t going to like this, but quite frankly, I don’t care much for your sign of peace either. Until then, whenever I attend a Mass where the sign of peace is still in use, I will politely kneel down after the Pater Noster, and prepare to pray the Agnus Dei before receiving our Lord in Communion.
If you’d like to shake hands with me, I’ll be glad to do so — before or after Mass.

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(Rey Flores writes opinion and book and movie reviews for The Wanderer. Contact Rey at reyfloresusa@gmail.com.)

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