Thursday, July 2, 2009


We continue on with two more prayers to the Father. The first by the celebrant asking the Father to keep us always in His grace until we should joyfully greet His Son and the second by all that is a bit of an declaration of allegiance, “For the Kingdom, the power and glory are Yours . . .”

Then, interestingly enough, we have a prayer in which we directly address Jesus. Savvy is the celebrant who can by inflection or some other means makes this change in prayer perceptible to those in attendance. We turn to Him and plead for the peace here on earth which He promised to His disciples. Having done that the celebrant addresses all assembled, “The peace of the Lord be with you.”

“And also with you.”

“Let us offer each other the sign of peace.”

Now comes a problem that I doubt will ever be adequately solved. We have the sign of peace in this particular spot just before we approach the altar similar to the Gospel mandate that asks us to make peace with our brothers and sisters before approaching the altar. It makes sense. But it is a symbolic gesture. We are to turn to the person immediately next to us to offer the sign of peace. To make the sign of peace to one (or two) is to symbolically to make the sign of peace to all since as gathered we are the Body of Christ. If you try to grab everyone’s hand within spitting distance and give waves, winks, and finger gunshots to those beyond your grasp it ceases to be a symbolic gesture and becomes an actual gesture. Then you have the odd problem of those out of your range. What of Mrs. Gunnysack sitting in the front pew or the odd, hairy, slightly smelly guy who sits back in the corner? If it is not a symbolic gesture why not form two lines like at the end of the baseball game and have each person walk pass every other person and shake hands?

Someone once asked the former liturgist of our diocese, “So does that mean that I am to choose between which of my family I am going to offer the sign of peace to?” To which he responded, “in the Body of Christ we are one. There is not wife or husband, daughter, son, etc. We are all brothers and sisters.” That is probably the ideal. I can’t imagine ignoring someone that wanted to shake my hand because we want to liturgically perfect, but that does mean that we should cut down on the ridiculousness of the long distance, “Hey – and peace to you over there!”

“Right back at you dude.”


Anonymous said...

Father, thanks for addressing the "sign of peace." I do see the winks, nods, waves and pointing that goes on. And one in our congregation seems to do all of the above--but he seems to be winking, nodding, smiling and waving to other people he knows while ignoring me! So, maybe he doesn't like me and he is using this time to ignore me. Sheesh! Now my feelings are hurt.

ck said...

I think the sign of peace is going to be a mess until something like a flu epidemic forces it to be supressed for a while. I'm not a germaphobe or anything, but I am consious of what I pick up from all the hand shaking. Even thought there was an announcement that you don't have to shake hands because of flu concerns, I would never dream of refusing to shake a hand that is presented to me. Even if I put a kleenex in my hand and wave, it still takes a long time for it to register to each surrounding person, "Hi! Oh! Ew! Ok, don't shake HER hand."

And if you tell everyone to shake just one hand, what if there are seven people in the pew? OK, then shake two hands. But no on shook that guy's hand over there. Our desire to be polite and friendly will just revert us to what we've always done.

Things are just a little weird right now. Anyone in the place could legitimately bear-hug me at the sign of peace (yuck, only happened once). It's so unreserved at such a solomn moment.

It seems like there are landmines in any solution. It's kind of like introducing the orans at the Our Father to prevent hand-holding. Kind of like inviting a plague of frogs to get rid of a plague of flies.

Warren said...

I think it would be lovely if the "sign of the peace" exchanged among the faithful was specifically mentioned by Bishops in a letter, mentioning that a simple exchange of the peace with one person, or two persons, is sufficient.

I tend to get about six people, and sometimes as many as a dozen people moving all around trying to get as many handshakes in as possible. I find all the jocularity really disruptive.



Foxie said...

Well, actually in a small town community I have known a custom of priest & altar service shaking hands with everyone (with less then 20 people in the church it is not such a problem^__^). I don't think it is such a grave matter as to require a letter from bishops, but that's probably also that I live in different country and not in USA. In my country also girls can't do the altar service, so I've learnt to accept some differences in the world catholic customs.

Mikki said...

Speaking of odd, hairy, slightly smelly guys, you have one in your Church too?

Anonymous said...

I think the Sign of Peace has gotten way out of control. It tends to take you (at least me) out of the reverence I am in prior to it. I do remember that some time ago Fr. Karg told us that the sign of peace was to be given to those just on either side of us so as not to be disruptive. You can see how far that got.

Anonymous said...

In many churches it has become the "high-five of peace". But in a "communion in the hand" world what do you expect? I mean besides a little liturgical dance. I think we should sway back and forth while in the Orans position!
Pass the snake.

Adrienne said...

"If you try to grab everyone’s hand within spitting distance and give waves, winks, and finger gunshots to those beyond your grasp..."

Ok - that was very funny!

I have come to detest the sign of peace as well as hand holding at the Our Father and silly women waving their arms in the air.

It finally drove us out of our parish...

For your 4th of July laugh: My convert hubby (who is usually a waaaaaay better Catholic than moi), asked if we had Mass tomorrow night since it was the 4th. He did preface his questions with the words, "this is probably a stupid question."

With a completely straight face I said, "Of course - it's a holy day of obligation." For just a moment he actually believed me. I'm so mean!!