Advice on the Sign of Peace

A couple weeks ago I attended a daily mass in a Manhattan church. Pretty big church, people spread out, but enough people present so that everyone was just a couple pews from everyone else, at most. At the Sign of Peace, many people just stood in place and gave a polite wave. Often they were just a few feet from one another, but they wouldn’t reach out their hand. Have you had this experience? I’m guessing that you have, whether as a member of a congregation or as a priest watching a congregation during the Sign of Peace. I’m thinking of writing a little article about it, and talking about the value of shaking off the inertia and actually shaking hands with people you don’t know. How do you feel about the hand wave? Any thoughts or personal reflections on the Sign of Peace? Jim McDermott, SJ
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9 years ago
It's artificial to force people to shake hands with total strangers. Those who want to reach out are free to do it...but waving is perfectly fine. And some folks -- especially during cold season -- are leery of germs.
9 years ago
Interesting... once or twice I've had people sitting right behind me or next to me refuse to shake hands--during cold and flu season. They smile and give "the wave." It's a bit off-putting, but I suppose they have their reasons. But the phenomenon you describe has more to do with our cultural expectations about personal space. If there is space available (as in a sparsely attended Mass), we Americans tend to give each other a wide berth. To choose to sit close to someone when it is not necessary to do so implies intimacy--at least in our culture. I'm not sure what can be done about this, short of the celebrant herding everyone into the first few rows at the start of Mass! I don't think I'd mind that. Peace. 8)
9 years ago
At Sunday mass, I think we should share a sign of peace with those around us. It seems to me that too much movement in the church at that time is disruptive to the liturgy, although I draw a distinction between daily mass or communion service and mass on Sunday. The daily masses or communion services can accomodate the time it might take to say a word or extend a greeting to someone farther away. I suppose a waive is better than ignoring someone's presence. After all, we are all gathered to praise God as a community, otherwise we could stay at home and pray.

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