The Sign of Peace is ironically a matter over which there is significant dispute in the Church. Some love it just the way it is. Others hate and want it dropped. Still others like it but want it moved to a different part of the liturgy where it is fits better, perhaps at the beginning, perhaps before the offertory. Some see it as a very gregarious moment and leave their pew and move through the Church. Others stay put and just nod at others. What of this disputed moment, the sign of “peace?”

We do well first to examine the what the General Instruction of the Roman Missal says: 

 The Rite of Peace follows [the Our Father and the Prayer "Lord Jesus Christ you said to your Apostles, 'I leave you peace...'], by which the Church asks for peace and unity for herself and for the whole human family, and the faithful express to each other their ecclesial communion and mutual charity before communicating in the Sacrament. As for the sign of peace to be given, the manner is to be established by Conferences of Bishops in accordance with the culture and customs of the peoples. It is, however, appropriate that each person offer the sign of peace only to those who are nearest and in a sober manner. (G.I.R.M. # 82)

Other instructions in the Missal in the rubrics ( #’s 128 & 129) indicate that exchange of peace is shared “if appropriate” and that the celebrant “gives the sign of peace to a deacon or minister.” GIRM # 154 adds, The priest may give the sign of peace to the ministers but always remains within the sanctuary, so as not to disturb the celebration. (There are rare exceptions to this also listed there).

Hence we learn some of the following things about the sign of peace:

  1. The purpose of the prayer and rite is that the Church asks peace and unit for herself and the whole world.
  2. The faithful express to each other ecclesial communion and mutual charity before receiving Holy Communion.
  3. It is for local Bishops conferences to issue norms regarding how this sign of peace is exchanged.
  4. One should share the sign of peace only with those nearest to them. Hence the leaving of one’s pew is generally not appropriate.
  5. The Sign of peace is to be shared in a sober manner. Hence loud greetings, lengthy conversations, back slapping, long  embraces and the like are not appropriate here. Sober need not mean a mere handshake (which might be silly for a married couple for example). But the greeting should be cordial and generally to the point.
  6. There is no required expression that the faithful should say. But if something is said GIRM # 154 recommends: “The peace of the Lord be with you always.”
  7. The priest is not to leave the sanctuary but is only to exchange the sign of peace with the deacon or other ministers nearest him.
  8. The exchange of Peace is optional and is shared “if appropriate.” What would make it inappropriate is not clear but that is left to the discretion of the celebrant. There are times, such as in flu season, at special liturgies such as funerals, or when pressed for time that the celebrant may chose to omit the exchange of peace.

Way back in 1977 the Bishop’s Committee on Liturgy also issued some direction on the sign of peace which fills out some of this:

Neither the people nor the ministers need try exhaust the sign by attempting to give the greeting personally to everyone in the congregation or even to a great number of those present…Unless the sign of peace is clearly tailored to a specific occasion, such as a marriage, ordination, or some small intimate group, the more elaborate and individual exchange of peace by the celebrant has a tendency to appear clumsy. It can also accentuate too much the role of the celebrant or ministers, which runs counter to a true understanding of the presence of Christ in the entire assembly.” (Bishops Committee on the Liturgy: The Sign of Peace, 1977)

Hence both celebrant and congregation are cautioned against elaborating the sign of peace and are encouraged to sobriety. The sign of peace is not a “meet and greet” but rather it symbolizes the communion and peace of the whole Church in Christ. Because we are one in Christ and all members of the Body of Christ, to exchange the sign of peace with a few is to exchange it with all. Hence it is not necessary or even desirable (due to disruption) to greet large numbers or to leave the pew or begin conversations.

What is the History of the Sign of Peace -Among the early Christians the “kiss of peace”  was an important gesture to manifest love and unity, both within the liturgy and outside of it.  In numerous places Paul and others encourage the Christians to “greet one another with a holy kiss.” (Rom 16:16, I Cor 16:20, II Cor 13:12, and also I Peter 5:14) The location in the liturgy of this gesture has been various. Early on it seems to have been exchanged at the end of the service of readings just before the preparation of the gifts. This was in response to the directive of the Lord in Matt 5:23ff wherein we should be reconciled with our brethren before bringing a gift to the altar. In many Eastern Churches the sign was moved to the beginning of the liturgy where it still remains today in many of them. However in the Roman Rite, as early as the 6th Century it was moved to the place it is today. Pope Innocent I defended a practice of moving it after the Canon as a way that people could assent to what had happened. Then again, when Gregory the Great placed the Our Father after the Canon he also moved the sign of peace after the Our Father and it fit nicely according to commentators of the day since it echoed well the words “as we forgive those who trespass against us…” It has remained in this location ever since that time. In addition the sign of peace came to be regarded as a preparation for communion and was exchanged even when communion was received outside of Mass. It was exchanged by all who were to receive communion. Those who not going to receive communion were instructed not to exchange the kiss of peace. Later however, the kiss was exchanged by all. An interesting practice that developed was the use of the osculatorium. This was an elaborately carved board that was passed around the congregation and kissed by all. It was thus a way of sharing the kiss through the whole congregation. However, over time the exchange of peace declined and in the Latin Mass codified by the Council of Trent it was exchanged only at the Solemn Mass among the clergy. This is at least partly related to the declining frequency of reception of communion and various other factors such as the stylizing of the embrace. Today the whole matter has been restored more to its original scope. Pope Benedict has taken under study the possibility of moving the sign of peace to just before offertory. It seems doubtful however that it will in fact be move there since it has been at its current spot since the 6th Century. That’s a pretty long tradition to unseat.

A Pastoral Note- The profound communion we have in Christ and the peace for which we pray should not be understood in a shallow way. Peace here is not the shallow meaning of the world but the richer Hebraic understanding of shalom which is a wish for all possible prosperity, the state of a person who lives in complete harmony with nature, self, God and others. Christ is the source of all peace since it is He who enables every person to become fully human which is an absolute prerequisite for true peace founded on the truth of God and man. Our greeting of one another at this moment of the mass should not be construed as a mere “haver nice day” or “How ya doin?’” Given our membership in the Body of Christ, what He has just been accomplished on the altar, and the communion we are about to receive, we both wish and experience shalom. The greeting we extend is no mere human greeting, it is the greeting of Christ: “May the peace of the Lord be always with you.”

This video illustrates the Kiss of Peace in the Divine Liturgy of the Russian Orthodox Church. It uses the more ancient gestures of the “Holy Kiss” mentioned in scripture. Many Catholic clergy also use a more formal embrace than a hand shake when exchanging the sign of peace.

73 Responses

  1. Jan says:

    i don’t like it for the following reasons: first, although I’m not a germ-o-phobe, I really can’t bear to touch hands with someone who is blowing their nose, sneezing – with or without a tissue, picking at various things on their faces, etc.

    Next, it’s disruptive – regardless of the intent, people do leave the pews, altar servers walk back to their parents, and unless the Bishop is visiting, some of our priests have left the sanctuary to hit the first row or two.

    And finally, I agree that a handshake among spouses or close family members might be strange, but people get way too carried away with the hugging and kissing.

    • Yes, I also think some sensitivity is unintentionally shown at the moment when non tactile or shy people are pressured to engage in gregarious behavior. Anyone who seems shy can get get looks like “What’s wrong with you?” And so paradoxically the sign of peace is expereinced by some as an aggression.

      I remember how strange the whol thing seemed at first when it started in the early 70s. I had a very non tactile family and was taught never to shake a woman’s hand unless she offered it. Then all a sudden convention broke down and strangers were hugging and all the “rules” were tossed to the wind like so many things in the late 60s early 70s. Funny time.

    • Kathleen says:

      It is my favorite part of the Mass. As a child I was very shy and hated that part of the Mass, in fact when I told my Grandmother and she said it was her favorite part of the Mass, I realized how outgoing she was and easily made friends and was a very loving, and compassionte person whom I would be proud to emulate. So I took on the hand shake and did so with all my heart and gave up my fears and found that the human touch is to be cherished especially amoung strangers. It is the one thing in the mass that momentarily breakes down all barriers that we put between each other and brings us together. With all the wars and hatered today, losing that moment in the mass would be a tragic sign of our further separation from one another and that which is holy in humanity. I can’t imagine Jesus would support getting rid of the exchange of peace in a Mass that celebrates his divinity as well as his humanity, can any of you?

  2. Bender says:

    I’m pretty fine with it, but I’m fine with most of the things we do at our parish, which is a fairly no-nonsense place. I do think, though, that the call of, “let’s greet one another,” immediately before Mass is rather redundant.

    it’s disruptive

    Hence the incentive to get the Angus Dei started not too long after.

    Also, we have one woman who generally sits behind me who never shakes hands, but instead gives a slight nod of the head. It was a bit off-putting the first time, but thereafter, knowing that it wasn’t personal, but merely a hygiene issue, everyone just nods back at her.

    • As for the redundancy you are probably right but sometimes an outlet is needed. Also it might help to distinguish that the sign of peace is not a greeting per se but rather a realization of the peace of Christ that eminated from the paschal mystery that has unfolded upon the altar. Any way I get your point.

  3. CastingCrown says:

    …and I’m one of those who loves it :)

    The temptation is all too real to “do” Mass without having to exchange a single word with any of our brothers or sisters in the Church. This doesn’t sit well with me. We come to worship God, but we do this as a community. I see this part of the Mass as re-enforcing what *should* be the reality of each parish – a loving community, caring for and at peace with each of its members.

    Also, I remember a few very important moments as a kid where, after an argumentative journey to Mass in the car, I realised at the Sign Of Peace that I had to say “sorry” to my Mum and give her a hug before heading up to the altar.

    “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift” – Matthew 5:23-24

    • yes I largely agree with your point. I will add that I expereince some distress over the fact that, at poorly attended masses in our large Church, it always seems people sit as far away from one another as possible. Imagine a church that seats 800 and say fifty people are at a Sat. Mass and many still want to sit in the back rows. And when I ask them to move forward there is often resistance. Not sure what all that is about. As for the quote you offer, this is often one used to argue for moving the Sign of peace to just prior to the offertory since the text says we ought to reconcile before offering our gift.

      • CastingCrown says:

        I’ve been to a Catholic church here in London which actually does the Sign of Peace prior to the Offertory. I’m not sure quite how “legit” that is with regards to official Church guidelines, but I have to say that, to me, it makes more liturgical sense. It not only nicely emulates Matthew 5:23, but it also limits the disruption later on in the Liturgy of the Eucharist.

        I love the way Catholics piously apply the teaching that “the first will be last” when selecting their pew ;-) I’ve visited Protestant churches before where official ushers lead people to the front seats, only making the chairs/pews at the rear available when the ones in front have been filled. I guess that’s one way of fixing the problem :-)

  4. Terence Filmore says:

    Very glad to see this article. I moved parish recently and have been dismayed each Sunday to see how my new priest, deacon and congregants deal with this aspect of the Mass. Everybody moves around greeting everyone else – including the priest and deacon. People not only shake hands and say “peace be with you”; they hug each other (even those who clearly do not want to be hugged by strangers), and ask about family, friends, did you see the game last night, etc. Eventually the priest makes it back to the altar, while congregants are still milling about, and begins to sing “The Lamb of God” hymn and prepare the Eucharist, amidst the chatter and din in the seats below.

    I have been appalled at this. I have never, ever seen this loose interpretation of the sign of peace before. While I’m all in favor of congregants greeting one another, it should never, ever interfere with the Eucharist. Congregants clap and cheer the choir during Mass too, which I think is dreadfully inappropriate. Am I too conservative about this? What should I do? This troubles me greatly.

    • Yes, I think what you describe in paragraph 1 would in certain setting be a very nice human interacion but the sgin of peace is just not the place or time for it. I wonder if this sort of interaction, if it is strongly desired in a parish, might not best take place before just before the mass begins wherein a lector or cantor encouraged people to greet and then the Opening hymn began after a period.

  5. teo matteo says:

    I think my fast yesterday has made my thinkng daffy… When you state in the article that the ‘sign of peace’ has been in the same spot since the 6th century i’m confused. I attend a TLM mass and we just dont do the sign of peace.(the Missal doesnt recognize it anywhere that i can see) So my question is if the sign of peace has been in the mass for centuries why are we omitting it at our ‘Latin Mass’ today? Thanks for the clarification Father…

    • Teo –
      in the Traditional Latin Mass (TLM) the “kiss of peace” is done only in Solemn Form and it is done after the Fractio and just before the Agnus. Hence it is still there but as the article points out the sign of peace diminished in the Late middle ages and Trent codified a mass that included it only in the solemn form.

  6. Richard says:

    At our parish we have a habit which is like a chain of peace-givings. First the priest gives everyone at the altar the sign of peace, then we altar servers give the sign of peace to the people sitting closest to the aisle in the sides of the church and only when the people have recieved the sign of peace from a direct succesion from the priest do they start giving each other the sign of peace. Pretty complicated I guess

    • Richard – I like the hierarchal nature of what you describe and it flows from how it was done in the Trad. Latin Mass. I am not sure that the current Ordinary Form of the Mass envisons the hierarchal model since the Deacon issues a gneral call: Offerte vobis pacem (Offer eachother a sign of peace) and the impression by the instruction is not to wait from something to come down from the altar but to turn to those around you right away. While I like the hierarchal model you describe, in a way the people are “equipped” to offer the peace for the celebrant (who is ulitmately Christ) has already conveyed the peace to them when he says the pax Domini (The peace of the Lord be with you always). Anyway it’s good to kick these things around (pardon the pugilistic image when discussing the sign of peace!)

      • CastingCrown says:

        I’ve visited an Eastern Catholic Church (I think it was Maronite) where they do just that: from the priest, to the altar servers, to the first people in each of the pews and then from each of those people to their direct neighbour, to their neighbour etc. It was sincere and dignified (even if it did look a little bit like a Mexican Wave ;-) )

        I also liked the way in which they gave the sign of peace: The recipient would hold their hands together as though they were praying and then the other person would stand opposite and bring their own hands together in the same way, brushing the other’s hands in the process, saying “Peace be with you” (actually it was in Arabic, so probably something like “salaam aleikum”). I’m not explaining this well… Visit a Maronite church – it’s great :)

      • CastingCrown says:

        D’oh – I’ve just read Blake’s response – yeah, what he said.

  7. Blake Helgoth says:

    In one of the Eastern Rites, Lebanese I think, passes the sign of peace (placing their hands over the folded hands of the other) from the celebrant to the deacons, to the altar servers who them take it the first person in each pew who then pass it down the pew. This is clearly a sacred action, not a secular one as is a hand shake (used for all sorts of secular purposes). In this fashion, it is clear that the sign of peace originates in the sanctuary and is extended to the people. When I attended this Mass it was the 1st time I understood the sign of peace. It is supposed to be a sacred action, much like that in the video. We need much preaching about this fact if the sacredness of the act is to be restored. Those that have a distaste for it now, I think, would lose their distaste if this were done.

    • Yes Blake, I agree with your observations that the sacredness of the action is preserved by actions such as this. In the Traditional Latin Mass, solemn form, the sign of peace is hierarchal as well, originating from the altar and extending downward through the ministers. Further the gesture is very stylized: The celebrant palces hands on the shoulders of the deacon who cups his elbows with his hands there is a bow of the head to one side. THis is no secular hadhsake or just a hug but something sacred. I use this method in the sign of peace insofar as the deacons are concerned however the servers are not yet comfortable with something so formal. When the sign of peace is extended to the congreagtion in the western rite the challenge would seem to be that it should be genuine but not so formal as to be “wooden” It seems a cultural problem in the west that we have become so casual about everything hence any formality at all is dismissed by some as stuffy. In this scenario I think we have to be content to move things in the right direction by beginning with a call for some sobriety and a “stay in your pew” directive to begin with. Then perhaps we can gradually reintroduce something more liturgical and sacred. I notice that many traditional orders of sisters at the sign of peace turn to their neighbor on each side and with hands folded bow to eachother. Not sure that’s right for the laity in general but it is another model.

  8. Jim says:

    As a previous commentator noted, the sign of peace often gets out of hand, continuing after the Agnus Dei/Lamb of God begins; I simply stop greeting people who stick out their hands and move on with the Mass.

    I have seen several priests who, during funerals, leave the sanctuary during the sign of peace to personally offer peace to the immediate family of the deceased. It may violate rubrics, but pastorally it’s a beautiful gesture that’s difficult to argue against.

    Can you address next holding hands during the Our Father? My understanding is it is officially discouraged . . .

    • anon says:

      Yes, please- the holding hands during the Our Father. I don’t do it, but someone once grabbed one of my folded hands- it was uncomfortable for me. Also, it seems that the kids in our parish schools are encouraged to do this.

      • Yeah it is certainly unkind to force a hand hold on the unwilling!

      • From the USCCB website: No position is prescribed in the present Sacramentary for an assembly gesture during the Lord’s Prayer. While the recently approved revised Sacramentary does provide for the use of the orans gesture by members of the assembly during the Lord’s Prayer, the revised Sacramentary may not be used until it has been confirmed by the Holy See. I might also note that in the course of its discussion of the this question, the Bishops’ Committee on the Liturgy expressed a strong preference for the orans gesture over the holding of hands since the focus of the Lord’s Prayer is a prayer to the Father and not primarily an expression of community and fellowship.

        Some years ago in this parish hand hold at the Our Father was common. It was ended in the Following way. The people were read the instruction of St. Paul who said: I want men everywhere to lift up holy hands in prayer, without anger or disputing. (1 Tim 2:8) Hence the congregation was directed to lift their hands, palms upward to God (to distinguish it a bit from the priest’s orans posture). Since it was in the bible that this is how people should pray it was well received and it ended the practice almost immediately. We have none of the hand holding at this time.

  9. Tapestry says:

    The sign of peace is an outward sign of Vatican2′s new Mass.
    There never was in any Mass I attended as a child nor my parents, grandparents nor great grandparents, this ridiculous hand shake, hugging, ritual in mid Mass..
    From the onset the adults complained about the fact that ignoring a person through 80% of the Mass
    and greeting them at that point was like walking into a party and not saying a word until the party was just about over.

    The Mass is a Holy Sacrifice, if you want social chatting, greeting, etc, you have before and after Mass,
    you have various ministries with meetings, donuts after Mass and you can invite people home, but for pete sakes lets dump this ridiculous cermony. Let us proceed from the Our Father to the Agnus Dei without interupption of the soleminity that is the Mass, let’s have a little dignity.
    We are supposed to be focusing on recieving the Body and Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ this is a special time and should remain quiet.
    (with the flu season now in effect our bishop has asked us to to just nod to each other which makes for
    a much shorter and less huggy time at Mass. Amen!)

    • As for VC 2 I only ask that you remember that this an ancient practice and also one common to the Eastern Liturgies. What has happened though is that our culture is poorly equipped to handle the whole thing well.

  10. Kathleen says:

    While I love the sign of peace (first encountered pre-Vatican II in H.V. Morton’s description of Coptic services, very much as Blake Helgoth says), I really dislike: 1) the “V for Victory” gesture, often lazily looking like “giving the finger”; 2) couples who happily grope each other — NOT just a warm hug, but explicitly sexual action; 3) thoroughly disruptive people who wander all over the church to greet relatives & friends.

  11. Jan says:

    Congregants clap and cheer the choir during Mass too, which I think is dreadfully inappropriate. Am I too conservative about this?

    Heavens no, you are not. Speaking from experience, may I say that it makes the musicians and cantors very uncomfortable, too? And if it doesn’t, they probably should find another venue for their musical talents – one where applause is appropriate.

    Also, my church is very small, but we experience the same thing insofar as seating goes – if there are ten people there, they are scattered all over the place. I don’t sit with anyone when I attend weekly Mass; one reason is so I don’t have to stress about the blasted hand-holding during the Lord’s Prayer.

  12. Malcolm (South Africa) says:

    Have no problem with the sign of peace as it is, however this is not on the topic but it does bother me when we have to hold hands at the Lords Prayer, especially when we have some aged, who can hardly stand, never mind grasp hands.

  13. Joseph J. Pippet says:

    The Mass is the Greatest Prayer Jesus has given to Catholicism.I stopped Participating(Participated,Active not went to mass) in the Mass at a very young age(I was at Mass every sunday, Holy days of obligation,etc.raised in Catholic orphanage,Voc.sch.)When i left the institution(at 16 years of age) i wandered away from the church in a very short period of time.I left because of a lot of reasons,mainly I wanted to live my way,i’m a elderly, senior citizen,73 years of age(ok,i’m old to)today i suffer the consequences of my actions,the result of leaving the church and Jesus.Going on 60 years of age through the Graces of Jesus i came home.I remember as a child the peace i had at the Mass and in the institutions because of the Nuns,Brothers,etc.Than is was Sacred,Holy Mass.It still is but the participants leave a lot to be desired(my self included at times)Priests and Laity,priests offer the mass as if it was their Mass,Litugy is theirs not according to Church’s teaching of the Mass.The sign of peace is a farce,God’s house is Chaotic with so many voicies,much noise,distractions,ect. people talking up a storm,Sacristy is no better,it’s worse.Conversations going on unbeliveable but i hear them so they are real.Thank God that’s before the Mass.At the sign of peace it’s said that we get carried away,we don’t at that moment it seems to me we are in God’s House before his Presence we ALL leave His Presence and acknowledge Each other,how is it possible to be Fully back in his Presence after all that ditraction? A lot is lost,given up to each instead of God.I’ve been home about a little over 13 years now(I Thank God for his Great Mercy in spite of all my Sins and difficulties because I know I would have been Dead over 13 years ago should i have not came home) Vactican II has nothing to do with this,it’s We the people who wanted their own ChurchReligion not God’s that’s why so much Distortion in the Mass and the Church it self.Why the sign of peace when most of the people in God’s House are Talking, Arguing,etc.before the sign of peace,We greeted (should be Preparing for the Mass)each other before Mass during Mass and after Mass we start talking Again.Prayerfully I Pray that during most of the mass Iwe Truly Participate.I still seem to have difficulty with 25 words or less,and emotionalism? Sorry.I don’t wonder what Jesus thinks of our Offerings(out of fear),instead I Pray for his Mercy and Forgiveness.Thank you for this posting.Respectfully with Love,Joseph J. Pippet

  14. Joseph J. Pippet says:

    I forgot to to mention that when i speak about this to others about what’s happening they say the church has changed over the years well to me that’s a Lie,the followers of Satan are growing in God’s Church and even in His House.Jesus,Forgive Us,Have Mercy on Us.

  15. Bender says:

    Re: chain of peace-givings

    I would think that, in wide-spread practice, it would probably end up being more disruptive, not less.

    However, something along those lines might make it clearer that the sign of peace should be a liturgical action, not a time-out or seventh inning stretch.

  16. Bender says:

    Re: holding hands during the Our Father

    To quote the Monsignor above: “Because we are one in Christ and all members of the Body of Christ, to exchange the sign of peace with a few is to exchange it with all.”

    At Mass, we are in communion, i.e. joined together as one, not only with the person next to us, but with the entirety of the Church — including those on the other side of the world and those all the way up in heaven. We are already “holding hands,” so to speak.

    Rather than the intended purpose of fostering greater closeness and unity, the trendy practice of holding hands (and during one prayer only!) only creates the false impression that otherwise we are not joined together as one.

  17. Dino says:

    While I find this act to be distracting, and think that if it is to remain it should be moved to earlier in the celebration of the Mass, I have seen worse.
    Last week as a part of civic duty, I attended an Episcopal church service. Passing over some other things, and only a comment about some really strange theology expounded during the sermon, I’ll say that I have never seen the Sign of Peace done like this was. The ministers, leaving their chasubles at the altar, strolled among the milling congregation for some five minutes where people were greeting each other as long lost friends amid a hubbub that would have made a sports promoter proud. This was not an Anglo-Catholic congregation.
    At least the Sign of Peace I’ve seen in our Catholic churches still maintain a little respectful decorum.

  18. Patricia Burton says:

    I dont have a problem with the sign of peace, but we need to remember what we are celebrating at the Mass ,we are in God,s house and we are priviledged to be there taking part in the Eucharist that God has so lovingly instituted for us , so the sign of peace needs to be done appropriately without too much fuss.

  19. Mack Hall says:

    Get rid of the hand-holding; it has no place in a liturgy. Further, most people do not practice good hygiene, and all the touchy-feely-grabby stuff with strangers and even unwashed relatives is unhealthy.

  20. Jan says:

    Can you address next holding hands during the Our Father? My understanding is it is officially discouraged . . .

    If I may address this – it is not only discouraged, it is not to be done because it is not in the General Instruction of the Roman Missal. Actions beyond those described or prescribed are not to be considered. There are innumerable things NOT set down in the GIRM – we are not free to add or ad-lib with actions outside of that. But, as one priest told me, short of the Bishop intervening, there is not much you can do, except to respectfully not participate.

    During the H1N1 season, there was no hand shaking in our diocese; there was no sign of peace, and we didn’t have Communion under both species. Now that the ban has been lifted, hardly anyone holds hands during the Lord’s Prayer, which is gratifying to me – I just don’t think that most people like that kind of contact with others. I don’t, and I’m a huggy and affectionate individual by nature – but that sort of intimacy is reserved for family and very close friends.

    • anon says:

      It particularly bothers me when the kids do the holding of hands at school during school Masses, as it often morohs into girls and boys knowingly looking at each other b/c they’re holding hands with someone they like. Teachers join in to also hold hands with students. It bothers me.

      • I remember well as a teenage boy jockeying for position for just that possibility to grab hold of a girls hand that I was interested in. Then when the Our Father came I was thinking of things other that the Father!

    • Blake Helgoth says:

      Actually, there is nothing mentioned in the GIRM about the posture of the people, other than standing, during the Our Father. So, we cannot try to make the rubrics stricter than they are. Plus, if no one did anything new the Mass would never grow organically (kneeling for instance). For my part, I prefer the orans position during the Our Father. I think modern western man has done away with praying with the body for the most part. St. Dominic used also sorts of bodily positions for different prayers (see the 9 ways of prayer). The liturgies of ages past make far greater use of the body. So, I am cautious in discouraging any use of the body when praying (as long as it is appropriate).

      • Understood, but the hand holding at that point is problematic for many of the reasons stated. The Bishops Committee on the Liturgy also has concerns as I have listed elsewhere. In the end you are right but hand holding is considered intrusive by many who attribute this to romance etc.

  21. Joe A says:

    The sign of peace is the least of my concerns. Where is the congregation that alarms me.

  22. ThirstforTruth says:

    I have no problem with the sign of peace when done without all the fanfare….but I object strenously at the time it seems to be done….when we have entered into the central part of the mass, well past the consecration and
    while the Lord is truly present before us….it is a little like we have taken leave of our senses as to where we are…a tiny moment of “amnesia” in which we forget in Whose presence we stand..( would you suddenly turn toward the person next to you in a moment of greeting if you were standing before the President or a
    the Pope..where would/should your attention be at that moment…also it is hard to transition from this to the Agnes Dei…in short it is a un-necessary interruption at a most inopporture time. As to the argument that we
    are offering in community, together the sacrifice. ..yes, on a spiritual level…we have stepped, as it were. out of time and entered eternity where we are communing with all Heaven as well as those in the congregation. In my parish it has been totally dispensed with during the flu season and the consensus is most of us hope it will not be re-started. As for all those desiring fellowship…that’s what the Parish Center is for…not the holy ground of the Church.and the sacred liturgy.

  23. Malcolm (South Africa) says:

    Our Priest at one stage regularly visited USA. I am sure the innovation of hand holding during Our Lords Prayer was picked up there. Where the innovation of singing Happy Birthday at midnight mass came from, is a mystery. However, we are grateful it is not the Stevie Wonder version.

  24. Malcolm (South Africa) says:

    Msgr Pope, Oh Yes!. We love the generous American people but if our priest come there with cap in hand, please please don’t send them back with innovations.

  25. Michael Val Hietter says:

    I remember as a child when the Novus Ordo was first introduced that the Sign of Peace was a very structured (and, being structured and formal, more reverent) rite—the person at the left side of each pew would start it out, turning to the person on his/her right, shaking hands and saying “Peace be with you” to which the second person would reply “And also with you.” The second person would then repeat the process with the person on his/her right.

    The formality lent an air of liturgical dignity to the rite, a dignity totally lacking with today’s cluster-mess of a Sign of Peace (so well described above). However, this old way being so formalized seemed to drain any true wish of peace between participants out of the exercise. This leads me to the conclusion that the Sign of Peace simply cannot work as a liturgical exercise (too much dignity, and there is no feeling; too much feeling, and it is disruptive to the worship of God).

    One more thing—formalized or chaotic, the Sign of Peace really focuses on us the people, and that’s one more thing to take our mind of the sacrifice sitting on the altar. That seems to me to be the ANTITHESIS of liturgical action.

    Michael Val
    (who might change his mind if he actually EVER saw a truly “sober” exchange of the Sign of Peace in recent times)

  26. Malcolm (South Africa) says:

    Msgr, you have a sense of humor, unfortunately if I say this at parish level, I am sure our priest would feel hurt.

    When a priest introduces novelties the parishioners are held hostage, some of us could suffer for years, while weighing the odds, is it worthwhile saying anything or what we say, could this be interpreted as being disruptive.

    Surely, if the priest stuck to the rubrics, did what is in red and said what is in black, we would not be having this discussion. I sincerely believe that when the rubrics are ignored, the Bishop is ultimately responsible, that if corrective measures are not taken it is indicative of poor leadership, and we all suffer and there is poor attendance at parishes.

    When the laity start to tell the priest to stick to the rules, this is never a good sign.

  27. Malcolm (South Africa) says:

    Msgr, You are a good man, thank you for giving me the opportunity to express myself, and by the way your blog is an inspiration and a favorite, thank you once again.

  28. jj says:

    Thank you for this article Msgr Pope.

    It does concern me that in the end it is the lay faithful that are misguided, by many priest who allow the people to express the sign of peace inappropriately. Maybe we should learn the different parts of the Mass in RCIA classes and CCD. I know it was not explained to me. A lot of what we do ( and what I do) is because of ignorance not because of disobedience. I know it is the case for me. A lot of rules to remember. Sometimes we forget and need to be reminded.

    Lastly, how do you correct these habits if parishioners have been doing it for so long, and it has been sanctioned by previous priest. What a challenge.

  29. Cecilia M says:

    My daughter attended a Catholic university. At the first Mass she attended, at the sign of peace, the priest said to give the person standing next to you a big hug. The person next to her was a guy she didn’t know and she was horribly embarrassed. She never went back. I just wish that this foolishness would stop.

  30. Ginny says:

    For some reason I did a word study on peace before Christmas. One of the surprising things I learned was that the word peace is almost synonymous with SALVATION, communion with God,a state of interior calm and harmonious relations with the Christian community. Then I waded in further and remembered that Jesus that Jesus said in Luke 12:49-53 “…it is not peace I have come to bring, but a sword.” Peace is used about 10-12 times during the Mass.
    Now when it comes to the sign of peace I realize that those who are at Mass with me are truly my brothers and sisters and that I am to radiate His love, joy and peace to others in a spiritual way perhaps as prayer not as simply a recognition that they are sitting beside me but because they are His.
    Other biblical references to peace…Matthew 10:34-36; LUKE 2:34; Luke 22:36; Isaiah 53:12; Micah 7:6;Ezekiel 22:7; Mark 15:28; Col.1:15ff; Phil.4:4-9.

  31. Fiona says:

    In the confiteor we take responsibility for our own stuff and ask everyone to pray for us and as every one’s made the same prayer they’ve asked us to pray for them, then we pray for them by saying Lord have Mercy, Christ have Mercy which causes a flood of Mercy to come down from Heaven. I think the sign of peace should be here. I don’t like it personally but I do think its broken down some walls between us. I have to say I like to sit on my own because I can feel what other people are feeling and when I’m in Mass want to concentrate on God as much as my scattered thinking will allow. Its only a small mistake in whats otherwise an extraordinary gift from God, ” unique and unrepeatable” Simone de Weil.

    Ps Couldn’t we go back to receiving Jesus kneeling? Its lovely just to be able to pause there to begin to digest whats just happened without having to get out of the way immediately. We’re so very very fortunate to have the Mass and Im very grateful for it!

  32. Kathy W. says:

    I just absolutely hate the hand shaking. I offer up my participation in this practice as a sacrifice and as an act of humble obedience to the Church’s authority. Maybe that does me some good, but I still intensely dislike having to do it. At mass, on a weekday, I sit as far as possible from others so as to be out of reach of extended arms. On Sunday, that’s really never possible. What’s really bad is that I feel some of those who are shaking hands with me hate doing it just as much as I do. I’m sorry to use the word “hate.” My feelings are very strong on this. I do not feel I can refrain from participating in this because that might be hurtful to some around me.

    From the beginning of Mass, I dread the approach of having to do this. Then, I am relieved it is over. I attend Mass less now because I find it so stressful.

    I have no aversion whatsoever to shaking hands with people. But I do hate this enforced, unnatural act of familiarity with congregants whom I don’t know and am unlikely to come to know.

  33. Jean C says:

    I believe the sign of peace at Mass is a method by some in the Church to destroy any spirituality left in Catholics attending. To not be able to have a relationship with God and spend one hour a week in prayer and contemplation – now having to spend that hour looking around to see who is sneezing or coughing and how you are going to avoid shaking their filthy hands. I have been told that mass is now a community experience and not a personal one – WHY?? Every experience of our life is a community experience – why can’t we worship God at Mass? Is someone at the highest levels of the Catholic Church trying to destroy it???

  34. Mary says:

    I have to say when I was a child, I went to church and had, I believe, a personal relationship with God – now there is no time for prayer or contemplation – if there is even a quiet moment before Mass begins, they blast an out of tone organ so it is impossible to pray (You feel like you are in Macys). Yes, I believe there is a conspiracy to turn people away from the Church, especially with the appalling matter of hand shaking.

  35. c. Cecilia says:

    As a black Catholic, I absolutely dread he sign of peace unless it is when I am sitting with other black Catholics – Americans or Africans. I have been insulted more than once by offering my hand to whites. The first time was maybe 20 yrs. ago. It was Christmas, and I was at home from my overseas assignment. On Christmas Day I went to Mass at the Cathedral. I was alone in my pew. At the sign of peace, I went first to an elderly woman in the pew in front of mine. As I stood beside her I thought she didn’t realize that I was there, and I reached over and touched her hand. She jerked her hand away and said,”No!” I felt as if I had been slapped. I then went to the man in the pew behind me and as I put out my hand, he shook his head indicating that he did not want to shake my hand. I stepped back into my pew as hot tears poured down my face. We were in the house of our Father and they could behave like that. How will they act in Heaven? Even though I still live in fear of being rejected, I still stretch out my hand and offer a smile to everyone around me, but dear God, only you know how I fear being rejected yet again. It happened a third time about five years ago in my present church. I did not receive Holy Communion that Sunday because I was so upset, hurt and angry. I was not in any condition to welcome our Lord.

  36. Mary says:

    Maybe they didn’t shake hands with anyone – did you notice? I try not to shake hands and don’t distinguish between white or black – I just ddn’t like to do it,

    • Afraid of being called racist says:

      I find the peace sign disruptive especially coming before receiving the host – all you can think about is how to get out of touching the people who are sneezing. Yesterday I attended Mass Christmas Eve and the person next to me continually picked his teeth throughout the Mass. I felt completely trapped and all I could think about is how to leave quietly so I left before the prayer and before communion. The man next to me was a minority and if I had refused to shake his hand he might have thought I was racist. I really can’t handle this. Why not do the handshaking at the end of Mass so those who object can leave.

  37. Doug says:

    I am a Lutheran and found this discussion most interesting. We have many of the same issues and feelings in our parish where the sign of the peace is exchanged at Mass just before the offertory. I have been researching customs and attitudes about the sign of peace because we are in a flu epidemic here in Connecticut and both our bishop and pastor have been silent. I am not a touchy-feely guy and was especially concerned about germs when my wife’s health was failing.

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