Vatican: Don't Get Carried Away at Sign of Peace: Vatican says it stays put, but urges education

The sign of peace at Mass has not always led to serenity among liturgists or within the congregations gathered each Sunday in Catholic churches around the world.

After nine years of study and consultation, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments has told Latin-rite bishops around the world that the sign of peace will stay where it is in the Mass. However, the congregation said, "if it is foreseen that it will not take place properly," it can be omitted. But when it is used, it must be done with dignity and awareness that it is not a liturgical form of "good morning," but a witness to the Christian belief that true peace is a gift of Christ's death and resurrection.

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The text of the congregation's "circular letter" on "the ritual expression of the gift of peace at Mass," was approved by Pope Francis and posted in Spanish on the website of the Spanish bishops' conference. Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, confirmed its authenticity on Aug. 1.

Catholic News Service obtained a copy of the letter in English.

In 2005, members of the Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist adopted a formal proposition questioning whether the sign of peace might be better placed elsewhere in the Mass, for example at the end of the prayer of the faithful and before the offering of the gifts.

Cardinal Antonio Canizares Llovera, current prefect of the congregation, and Archbishop Arthur Roche, the congregation's current secretary, said Pope Benedict XVI had asked the congregation to study the matter and, after doing so, in 2008 it asked bishops' conferences around the world whether to keep the sign of peace where it is or move it to another moment "with a view to improving the understanding and carrying out of this gesture."

"After further reflection," the letter said, "it was considered appropriate to retain the rite of peace in its traditional place in the Roman liturgy and not to introduce structural changes in the Roman Missal."

But that does not exclude the need for new or renewed efforts to explain the importance of the sign of peace so that the faithful understand it and participate in it correctly, the congregation's letter said.

It asked bishops to study whether it might be time to find "more appropriate gestures" to replace a sign of peace using "familiar and profane gestures of greeting."

And, it said, 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.

"Christ is our peace, the divine peace, announced by the prophets and by the angels, and which he brought to the world by means of his paschal mystery," the letter said. "This peace of the risen Lord is invoked, preached and spread in the celebration (of Mass), even by means of a human gesture lifted up to the realm of the sacred."

In some Catholic liturgical traditions, it said, the exchange of peace occurs before the offering in response to Jesus' exhortation in Matthew 5:23-24: "If you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift."

But in the Latin rite, the letter said, the exchange of peace comes after the consecration because it refers to "the 'paschal kiss' of the risen Christ present on the altar." It comes just before the breaking of the bread during which "the Lamb of God is implored to gives us his peace."

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3 years 11 months ago
A long overdue correction. Often the liturgy suffers from a kind of "shoot from the hip" attitude. Usually this is unfortunately initiated by the priest celebrant. At my parish one of the priests before the sign of the cross asks us all to say hello to the people around us. Not a too bad idea as it takes the burden off of the sign of peace to accomplish the same thing. I've often wondered why folks can simply smile and say hello when someone comes to sit next to you in the pew. There are a lot of small things like an out of control, hardly liturgical, free-for-all, kind of action at Mass. I think our priests need to know that in the pew we need uplifting invitations to exercise our "priesthood of the faithful" in such things as the sign of peace. I always think of it that way. I am bestowing as a "priest/minister" the word of peace emanating from the Eucharistic presence of Christ. This is Jesus, risen, saying through me what he said to the disciples gathered in the upper room..."Peace be with you."
John Feehily
3 years 11 months ago
I have made a number of efforts over the years to catechize people about the roots and purpose of the greeting of peace. I have tried to make it clear that this is not a time for "hi, how are you" or by giving the peace to as many people as possible or by waving at folks out of reach. I have had some success but this instruction flies in the face of the informality so typical of Americans. I think leaders need to be realistic about this and lower their expectations. One thing that helps limit the exuberance is having the music director begin the Lamb of God as I proceed with the breaking of the bread. I predict this circular letter will end up in the circular files of liturgically vibrant parishes. In parishes led by priests who constantly harp on reverence it will used as a reason for eliminating it.
Vincent Gaitley
3 years 11 months ago
The 7 parishioners left at your church should all know each other by now. So I'm sure it's not a time for "Hi, how are you?" Another Mass at St. Zombie's. Snooze.
John Feehily
3 years 11 months ago
I have made a number of efforts over the years to catechize people about the roots and purpose of the greeting of peace. I have tried to make it clear that this is not a time for "hi, how are you" or by giving the peace to as many people as possible or by waving at folks out of reach. I have had some success but this instruction flies in the face of the informality so typical of Americans. I think leaders need to be realistic about this and lower their expectations. One thing that helps limit the exuberance is having the music director begin the Lamb of God as I proceed with the breaking of the bread. I predict this circular letter will end up in the circular files of liturgically vibrant parishes. In parishes led by priests who constantly harp on reverence it will used as a reason for eliminating it.
Vincent Gaitley
3 years 11 months ago
God forbid any human warmth breaks out amid the strangers at Mass. Stand still. Kneel. Sit. Exhibit no outward sign of Joy. Deposit your envelope. Stand. Kneel. Sit. No questions. Don't linger in the parking lot, others need those spaces. Support our building fund. Repeat Next Week. Try not to smile. No laughing.
ed gleason
3 years 11 months ago
In my city we are blessed with many cultures, races, classes, new comers and old timers. Let's forget about what the 9 year study came up with and let the assembly decide how to greet. . .. my guess is the polite upper class nod will be the type of greeting that will be favored by the hierarchy and their close followers.. save it for the cathedral.
Vincent Gaitley
3 years 11 months ago
Oh, brother. If a priest leaving the altar to offer peace to me or others is an abuse, so is standing still listening to a sterile ritual. Rome returns to breaking bread over our heads. This is a real pastoral disappointment from Francis.
Bill Mazzella
3 years 11 months ago
Right. We should also explain to each other why we say hello everyday and correct those who do not say it the way want it said. I have no doubt that Francis disagrees with this. It is a Vatican congregation issuance from Benedict who allowed right wingers to crucify the liturgy in the awful changes a year or two ago. We should eliminate the kiss of peace and remind each other that we have to enrich the mansions that our bishops are living in. http://www.cnn.com/interactive/2014/08/us/american-archbishops-lavish-homes/?hpt=hp_t1
Bill Mazzella
3 years 11 months ago
What is so egregious is that this was probably done in defiance to Francis who is cleaning up the Curia. They have organized crime laundering through the corrupt Vatican bank (which Francis is cleaning up). and they have the hubris to issue nonsense like this. While Gaza and Iraq are exploding with deaths. While over 30 million children are displaced. They really should be fired. Really.

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