An interesting article here about the Sign of Peace.
The Congregation of Divine Worship and the Sacraments have been studying the Sign of Peace and its place in the Mass since 2007. Nine years seems like an extraordinary amount of time to be researching a relatively small (both doctrinally and time-wise) part of the Mass. You may be wondering what amazing conclusions they have come to after nine years of study and consultation… well, their conclusion is that it should remain the same. The same words, the same place in the Mass.
HOWEVER, they are suggesting some education for Catholics world-wide about the correct way to participate in the Sign of Peace. The following are their four "no-nos":
…they should do everything possible to end "abuses" such as:
"The introduction of a 'song for peace,' which is nonexistent in the Roman rite."
"The movement of the faithful from their places to exchange the sign of peace amongst themselves."
"The departure of the priest from the altar in order to give the sign of peace to some of the faithful."
People using the sign of peace at Christmas, Easter, baptisms, weddings, ordinations and funerals to offer holiday greetings, congratulations or condolences.
A 'song of peace'???? Never heard or seen it done. Has anyone come across this practice? Sounds bizarre.
I have to slightly disagree with the second point – leaving your seat to exchange the sign of peace. In one of my past parishes there was one particular parishioner, an elderly gentleman who always sat on his own at Mass. He was generally known around the place as a very grumpy old man. He sat directly across the aisle from me at weekday Masses and I would always make a point of crossing the aisle and shaking his hand. If I hadn't he wouldn't have had anyone to share the Sign of Peace with. It's how I built up a bond with him. And you know what? I certainly saw his acidic nature with other parishioners, but he would've done anything for me. Because I included him and I guess because we shared Christ's peace.
The third point – the departure of the priest from the altar. I have seen this being abused, but on the other hand, I have seen beautiful examples of this as well. I have been at a Mass at a certain Auckland parish where the priest seemed to disappear into the congregation for ages while he shook everyone's hand up and down the central aisle. Meanwhile, we're all standing there waiting. But I've also been at a weekday Mass where there were only three of us present, plus the priest. It was a beautiful Mass, it was night time and it felt very intimate in a little chapel with just the four of us. Sharing the Sign of Peace with the priest at this Mass just felt appropriate. I've also been at a Mass where the priest left the altar to offer the Sign of Peace to a girl with Downs Syndrome who ran to the front and called out to him each week. It was a beautiful thing to behold.
The fourth point, about people using the Sign of Peace to say "Merry Christmas" or "Congratulations" I had never really thought about and I have to say I'm guilty of doing just those things. Particularly at Midnight Mass when Christmas Eve becomes Christmas Day and during Confirmation when you're shaking hands with a newly confirmed Catholic. I've also been guilty of giving a hug rather than a handshake. I used to sit directly behind this lovely old couple and at the sign of peace the husband would always lean over and give his wife a kiss on the check and a hug, and that always made me smile.
On a normal Sunday however I do usually stick to the words, "Peace be with you." But I'm wondering now as I write this, how many other people say those words? I don't really notice when I'm at Mass. From memory I think most people just shake hands in silence, but that could be because I get in first.
Another thing the article brings up is that it's OK not to include the sign of peace "if it is foreseen that it will not take place properly," I absolutely agree with this. Many, many times I have been in a school Mass and said a silent prayer of thanks when the priest leaves out the Sign of Peace. Trying to tame 27 five year olds who think this is their opportunity to squeeze each other's hands off or shake as many hands as possible is not an easy task.
The other thing this brought to mind was the traditional Latin Mass – I seem to remember that there's a little sort of "hug" of peace which goes from the celebrant, to the other priests, to the deacons, to the altar servers. I remember being told that this is symbolic of the peace flowing down from the altar to the rest of the congregation. A beautiful idea, but I remember thinking at the time, if they want to symbolise it coming out to the people, why don't they actually take it out to the people in the pews? Why does it stop on the other side of the altar rail. Because surely that symbolises that the peace is only for those in the sanctuary, not for the common folk.
Wow, who knew I had so much to say on the Sign of Peace? No wonder it took the Congregation nine years to study!