Friday, August 01, 2014

The CDW Reins in the Sign of Peace

Many years ago, a friend of mine was studying at a prominent Catholic university, where every dorm has its own chapel, and every chapel has at least one Mass a day. Explaining why he never attended Mass in the dorm chapels, he said, “If I were a Martian with no way of knowing what was happening in this rite, or a phenomenologist, I would say that its purpose was to give all the participants an opportunity to hug each other, and then have a light tasteless snack.” Most Catholics have probably attended at least a few Masses where the sign of peace has completely overwhelmed the end of rite, to the despite of Communion, a problem which Pope Benedict noted in the Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis.
(D)uring the Synod of Bishops there was discussion about 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. It should be kept in mind that nothing is lost when the sign of peace is marked by a sobriety which preserves the proper spirit of the celebration, as, for example, when it is restricted to one’s immediate neighbours. (parag. 49)
Catholic News Agency and Sandro Magister report that this discussion about greater restraint in the Sign of Peace has been put into practice, citing exactly these words, in a new directive of the Congregation for Divine Worship. The proposal to move the sign of peace to the Offertory, in imitation of the Ambrosian and Byzantine liturgies, has not been accepted; the rite remains in its traditional place. Such proposals have been bandied about for years, and rarely take note of the fact that in the Byzantine Rite, the peace is given among the clergy while the people and choir sing the Creed. It is also rarely mentioned that in the Ambrosian Rite, the removal of the sign of peace from its traditional place after the Lord’s Prayer and Libera nos to its current place after the Prayer of the Faithful is based, like so many pet theories of modern liturgists, on a dubious and purely theoretical reconstruction.

The Congregation also makes several practical recommendations for the sign of peace, summarized by CNA as follows:
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.
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.”
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; the faithful moving from their place to exchange the sign; the priest leaving the altar to exchange the sign with the faithful; and when, at occasions such as weddings or funerals, it becomes an occasion for congratulations or condolences.
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.

More recent articles:

For more articles, see the NLM archives: