Sobriety and the Sign of Peace

Fr. Jan Larson, a priest of the Archdiocese of Seattle, has posted a thoughtful essay about the Sign of Peace on his blog, Liturgy Reflections. Here is an excerpt:

The greeting of peace is still a part of our liturgical prayer, really a kind of blessing that we exchange with those nearby, and this attitude of prayer and blessing ought not to take second place to other praiseworthy impulses. Thus care must be taken that the sign of peace does not become a sort of “time out” from the liturgy so that people can chat and socialize. That the sign of peace reflects a certain composure and restraint also applies to everyone else in the liturgical assembly. The church’s norms describe the sign of peace as the rite “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…”

You can read the whole thing here.






86 responses to “Sobriety and the Sign of Peace”

  1. Jack Rakosky Avatar
    Jack Rakosky

    That the sign of peace reflects a certain composure and restraint also applies to everyone else in the liturgical assembly

    The exuberance which is often experienced in this rite likely originates from the general “straight jacket” of the liturgy, i.e. that the people have little opportunity to do much in the liturgy, especially to do much that involves interaction with one another. I think that is why some people also like hand holding at the Lord’s Prayer.

    The problem of the “straight jacket” originates in part because Catholics, in contrast to many other denominations, do very little socializing before and after Mass. I think that if we had that socializing a “sign of peace” that was more solemn would make a lot of ritual sense.

    In the Vibrant Parish Life study people made clear that both Liturgy and Community were their top priorities but that both were done with mediocrity, i.e. they were half way down the list of things that were well done with buildings and religious education coming out much higher.

    The people understand very well that Christian life is about both love of God and love of neighbor and they expect both when they go to Church.

    We are still largely a clerical church on Sunday, except that the clergy have coopted readers, Eucharistic ministers, choir etc. in to their show, and that show lasts only for a hour with very little incentive to come early or stay late. The interaction during that hour is very much with the clergy and their assistants not with one another.

    In the present context this admonition comes across as just another attempt of the clergy to impose too much regulation on the people at Mass, i.e. to make sure we all stay in our straight jackets.

    1. Mark Miller Avatar
      Mark Miller

      @Jack Rakosky – comment #1:
      We Episcopalians, quite generally, have a lot of socializing after Sunday Eucharist, and it does not result in a more sober exchange of the peace, I can tell you! Because it occurs in our rite before the offertory, it get quite exuberant and goes on; it seems like a break in the service.
      And I dont know what could be done, and I don’t know if anything should be done about that.

      Mark MIller

  2. Fr. Jim Blue Avatar
    Fr. Jim Blue

    Oddly, as a progressive I am tempted to agree with critics of the sign of peace. It ordinarily does not seem to work as it was intended to, and is a disruption, at least in tone, of the communion rite.

    After many attempts I have almost given up on trying to get the eucharistic ministers to stop giving the sign of peace to one another and the servers during the fraction rite. The tone of the fraction rite to my thinking should be more solemn than that “hail fellow well met” tone of the sign of peace (in most places) and it really make no sense for the EM’s to shake the servers’ hands right after using hand sanitizer.

  3. Fritz Bauerschmidt Avatar

    What Jack says makes intuitive sense, but my experience in my parish is that there is lots of visiting before and after Mass, but the sign of peace is still a kind of meet-and-greet-and-catch-up-on-the-latest-news session.

    Though I wouldn’t want to be too restrictive in this regard, it might help if celebrants modeled behavior for the assembly by only greeting those immediately around them rather than wandering all over the church. After all, there is a certain sort of clericalism in the assumption that the people in the back pew (or even the front pew) think it is really important that they get to shake Father’s hand.

  4. Joshua Vas Avatar
    Joshua Vas

    I think exuberance is also perhaps a function of formality in the overall culture of the place. For cultures where daily interactions are relatively formal and characterized by ritual and senses of propriety, the Sign of Peace naturally follows suit.

  5. Jordan Zarembo Avatar
    Jordan Zarembo

    IGMR 2002 §154 is confusing.

    postea, pro opportunitate, sacerdos subiungit: Offérte vobis pacem.

    “Meanwhile, when appropriate, the priest enjoins: “Offer each other the peace” [lit. ‘offer the peace amid you’]

    Sacerdos pacem potest dare ministris, semper tamen intra presbyterium remanens, ne celebratio turbetur. Item faciat si e rationabili causa aliquibus paucis fidelibus pacem dare velit.

    “A priest is able to give the peace to the ministers, even so always remaining in the sanctuary unless the celebration is disrupted. Furthermore, should he desire to give the peace to the faithful in limited quantity, he may do so if out of a reasonable cause.”

    Several priests I know interpret pro opportunitate without further qualification. In their view, “when appropriate” means “never appropriate”. I sympathize with their position, but I do not consider it entirely justified. pro opportunitate suggests that there is at least a small number of times when a congregational peace is suitable. IGMR 2002 §154 does not, it appears, allow any priest to declare that he will absolutely not offer the congregational peace during the ordinary form, even if some priests never do so in practice.

    The admonition ne celebratio turbetur, “unless the celebration is disrupted”, clashes with an open ended permission for a priest to share the peace with a small number of the faithful e rationabili causa, “out of a reasonable cause.” The ne clause indicates a fairly strong prohibition against a priest leaving the sanctuary. It’s almost as if the rubric strongly desires to keep priests in the sanctuary, but also wishes to extend some leniency for times when a priest needs to console or celebrate with certain persons in the assembly. In the next revision of the rubrics the ne clause should be softened, perhaps through rephrasing in another construction.

    1. Paul R. Schwankl Avatar
      Paul R. Schwankl

      @Jordan Zarembo – comment #5:
      1. As a fan of the sign of peace, I read “pro opportunitate” in GIRM 154 as applying not to the exchange itself but to the deacon’s (or priest’s) invitation, the need for which disappeared in most congregations in the USA sometime around July of 1970.
      2. I appreciate your misgivings about the “semper tamen intra presbyterium remanens” rubric, and I share your hope that in future GIRMs it will not appear in its present wording. To be sure, many priests need to be discouraged from offering the peace to large numbers of individual worshipers, while the much larger number not involved in this effort wait for him to finish. This goal can be achieved without the vile “Don’t defile the Mass by mingling with those lay people” overtones I hear in “ne celebratio turbetur” (I’d render that “lest the celebration be disturbed”).

  6. Jack Rakosky Avatar
    Jack Rakosky

    The situations in which a priest would leave the altar area and greet someone specific (funeral, wedding, civic) seem to me to be occasions in which the priest is acting on behalf of the community, in a sense both simplifying and making more eloquent the desire of many in the assembly to offer peace to those specific persons.

    This example may be helpful in how we conceptualize the sign of peace, i.e. making it an expression of a deeper bond rather than just the ordinary common place greeting when meeting someone or saying goodbye. After all we are already in the meeting we are not starting it or ending it.

    It might help to conceptualize the sign of peace as being most appropriate to family members, close friends and neighbors with whom we have deep bonds.

    It might also help in conceptualizing it as a sign of reconciliation since it is often family members, close friends and neighbors where our relations may have become frayed and are in need of reconciliation. The sign of peace should have a strong connection with reconciliation.

    In my interviews with parish members, they express a need both for more relationships and deeper relationships in the parish. They don’t place those needs in opposition to one another even if it is often difficult to do both at the same time. That became particularly evidence when asking people whether they wanted to remain in the same small group for the next season of bible study. They both wanted to deepen their relationships with the people in their present group and also to meet new people. The sign of peace can and should express both desires. Given the size of Catholic communities we need to do both.

  7. Todd Flowerday Avatar

    The older I get, the less it bothers me.

    Many of us have a desire to segregate the sacred and the mundane, and this might be one of those examples. Are people at peace socializing? Or are they bringing Christ, implicitly, into a simple expression of their personal relationships?

    Is Father Larson’s diagnosis accurate? Does he overhear all the “banter” exchanged? Or does the variety of peace greetings, multiplied a few hundred times just sound like chit-chat? Would he prefer we whisper?

    I leave the music area to exchange peace, and I don’t hear much that’s talky beyond variations on “Peace” or “Peace be with you.” Maybe Fr Larson just doesn’t know.

    Jack’s thought about a liturgical “straightjacket” is interesting. But the more my community socializes before and after Mass, the longer the peace continues, especially the 9:15pm student Mass on Thursdays. At least for my parish, I’m not sure I buy it.

    What might be more interesting to find a way to note how well what follows is celebrated. I notice the “exuberance” of peace doesn’t translate into a less reverent Communion procession. In fact, the student liturgy, in which the people circle the altar, has a very reverent procession, largely in silence, with singing that begins largely once the distribution has ended.

    I’m not suggesting that an exuberant peace makes for a “better” reception of Communion, whatever that might mean. But it seems worth a consideration. At the very least, this might be an Acts 5:38-39 moment for the liturgically reserved.

    1. Fritz Bauerschmidt Avatar

      @Todd Flowerday – comment #7:
      Todd, let me assure you: at least at my parish there is “banter” going on.

    2. Bill deHaas Avatar
      Bill deHaas

      There does appear that we have built in some sort of *fear* of any type of *celebration* – or, at minimum, we only allow actions of celebration if they are of a certain type; but nothing more. Reminds me of the earlier post from one of the SC articles and Paul Inwood’s reply about children eucharist an gathering around the altar – a few focused on freedom of choice during the invite; others focused on a comment about children making physical prayer motions, etc. Paul responded with a brief but excellent description of *celebration*. We seem to be afraid of this…

  8. Maria Evans Avatar
    Maria Evans

    Preaching yesterday at a Mass to celebrate our priest’s Golden Jubilee, a priest friend remarked on the love in our community and the fact that everyone is accepted just as he/ she is. Our Sign of Peace is very exuberant. It reflects who we are. Polite handshakes would be just wrong. When we greet people we love we don’t shake hands. We embrace. I took refuge in my parish at the age of 42 because I had never, despite being a practising Catholic for all of those years, felt accepted in or part of a parish community. 31 years later, I can’t thank God enough for guiding me here. We are a happy community. The love of God is palpable in the way we reach out to each other in practical ways. I have never known any factions among us. When some of us had to leave a church we loved so much, unlike other parishes, we saw the hand of God leading us forward and our spirit has survived in the church into which we were welcomed and with whom we soon felt at one. To us all these things are infinitely more important than rules that want to tidy us up. Cemeteries are tidy but are full of dead people.

  9. Dale Rodrigue Avatar
    Dale Rodrigue

    I sometimes wish that the rite of peace were moved to after the prayer of faithful where it was prior to the 4th century. This is before the Canon begins and reflects the suggestion of Jesus (Mt 5:23-24) that one reconcile with others before presenting gifts at the altar.

    There just seems to be a break in the flow where it is now.

    1. Roger Evans Avatar

      @Dale Rodrigue – comment #10:
      Didn’t Benedict XVI suggest this in one of his writings? The evangelical point is persuasive.

      1. Dale Rodrigue Avatar
        Dale Rodrigue

        @Roger Evans – comment #13:
        Yes, he actually did. As a progressive it was one of the few things I agreed with.
        However, after hinting at this it went nowhere. Unfortunately, there was so much guessing, hints, innuendo during his pontificate it was difficult to figure what was going on. He didn’t have a firm grasp on the men around him, it seemed everyone in the curia developed their own agenda and B16 lost control. Even Guido, the purveyor of Vatican fashionista, had his own agenda when he pulled vestments out of mothballs to “dress him up” like a museum piece. But Vatileaks was the final straw for B16.
        Interestingly, Pope Francis said the other day he was staying out of the papal palace for his own sanity!

  10. Jack Rakosky Avatar
    Jack Rakosky

    My straight jacket metaphor was inspired by Bishop Untener’s article on Ritual and Community which has long been available on the npm website.

    He used videotapes and a stop watch to gather data.

    The Congregation Has Little to Do

    There are at least four major ritual languages “spoken” at Mass: silence, movement and gesture, the spoken word, and the musical word.

    In fact, reviewing the videos with a stopwatch, I have counted at most sixty seconds of such silence at a Mass.

    By my calculations, from joining in the Our Father through the exchange of the peace and processing to communion, the members of the congregation normally get to join in about three-and-a-half minutes of movement.

    As concerns the congregation’s direct involvement in the spoken word (which I have timed with a stopwatch): If there is a creed, the congregation gets to speak for a total of ninety seconds. If there is no creed, fifty-eight seconds. That includes every “Amen,” every “Lord, have mercy,” every spoken word assigned to the congregation.

    Congregational participation in the sung word varies quite a bit from parish to parish and from liturgy to liturgy. But, generally, if there is a sung Gloria, most members of the assembly get to sing for eight to nine minutes. By far, then, the biggest ritual entrée that most of the assembly has to what is going on is the music.

    In sum, then, the total amount of time for direct participation by the congregation–actually “doing” any kind of ritual “language”–in a whole hour- long Mass is about thirteen or fourteen minutes.

    My point again is that the Mass is very much a ministerial happening in which the people do little. We are in our straight jackets; standing, sitting and kneeling when told.

    In that thirteen or fourteen minutes of time that we get to do something, the Sign of Peace is about the only thing other than the sixty seconds of silence that we get to shape much. Why put a damper on people’s exuberance?

    I would agree with Dale about moving the sign of peace back to preparation, i.e. in response to the Liturgy of the Word we profess our faith, pray for one another and the world, share our goods, and express our solidarity and reconciliation in the sign of peace.

    It might be interesting to see if we could combine the sign of peace with the offertory procession (no ushers we go up to the altar like for communion) so that as many who want could walk around the church and meet people. The choir could sing some inspiring background music. Some people now do this meet and greeting during the communion procession.

    1. Jordan Zarembo Avatar
      Jordan Zarembo

      @Jack Rakosky – comment #11:

      It might be interesting to see if we could combine the sign of peace with the offertory procession (no ushers we go up to the altar like for communion) so that as many who want could walk around the church and meet people.

      Even so, persons who decide not to move from their pew should not be stigmatized. Why must I repeat this over and over again? Not everyone is an extrovert. Introversion is not a pathology but a temperament. I have to play an extrovert at work and in daily life; Mass is respite for me. I dread a hypothetical situation where some person comes running at me, arms open, trying to hug me (per charismatic Masses). Who are you? You are not my relative. I do not want to hug you. A bow would be preferable, a handshake if you must. That’s all I can give.

      It’s no wonder that during Greentide I’ve been partial to hearing EF low Mass, happily meditating on three words from the propers until the hanc igitur bell rings. At least there my mind is free to explore the infinite horizon of paschal sacrifice. This contemplation offers a more than rigorous challenge at Mass than conflating socialization with the preparation for communion.

      1. Jack Rakosky Avatar
        Jack Rakosky

        @Jordan Zarembo – comment #22:


        If your EF low Masses involve a religious network of family, or close friends, or small groups, then you will likely have the sociological benefits of better health, life satisfaction, and greater giving of yourself to others. Then don’t worry about your introversion; I am an introvert, too. I don’t like meeting new people. Forget about those people who want you to become an extravert. I gave that up somewhere in my twenties.

        On the other hand if your low Masses don’t involve religious networks like those described above, then I would do some thinking about my religious networks. But I still would not attempt to become an extravert. There is considerable evidence that at least part of introversion is genetic.

        Remember that I am a research not a clinical psychologist so there is no charge for this advice .

      2. Jordan Zarembo Avatar
        Jordan Zarembo

        @Jack Rakosky – comment #24:

        On the other hand if your low Masses don’t involve religious networks like those described above, then I would do some thinking about my religious networks.

        Many of the churches here offer coffee after high Mass. I do not always attend these coffee hours, as attending high Mass every Sunday is spiritually akin to eating an Edwardian feast every Sunday dinner. When I attend a high Mass, I visit with friends.

        I suspect that deep cultural traditions course through a preference for a highly engaged and emotional Pax versus a very muted or even absent Pax. Public emotional exuberance was never a hallmark of my background. Paul Inwood’s [June 11, 2013 – 12:03 am] comment on the extended offering of peace often found in African-American congregations must be an absolutely respected custom. Even so, this unique practice should not be advanced as an exemplar of “a means of expressing the fact that this is a celebrating body of people.” [Paul’s emphasis].

        If we should rightly respect the customs of diverse backgrounds within the Church, then why shouldn’t the decision to not offer the physical gesture of a Pax within the assembly also constitute a respectable cultural and liturgical phenomenon? I often suspect that a number of liturgists refuse to respect the “no-Pax” Mass because this decision ostensibly diminishes the coherence of the assembly. Rather, in certain liturgical cultures the amity of the assembly is structured and strengthened differently.

      3. Jack Rakosky Avatar
        Jack Rakosky

        @Jordan Zarembo – comment #32:


        In almost all the large modern suburban parishes in my area which have four or five weekend liturgies there is plenty of room, except at the main Sunday morning liturgy, for introverts to put plenty of space between themselves and other people and therefore not have to exchange the Sign of Peace with any one, or sing hymns. They could quite easily bury their heads in a Missal or pray the Rosary and no one would bother, not even the ushers when they took up the collection.

        When I was on Pastoral Council I did advocate for people who wanted more silence, and for people who were concerned about the excessive number of people coming later and leaving early. Neither of those issues were important to me but I knew they were important to some people.

        Despite your arguments for the pax less Mass, it simply would not have the slightest chance of getting a hearing with the pastoral council I was on. They were concerned with practical issues such lighting, sound systems, handicapped parking. If someone had come to me with a proposal for a pax less Mass, I would have simply told them there were many Masses already where they could find seating that would avoid the issue, and that whilel I would bring up the issue I would not support it.

    2. Paul Inwood Avatar
      Paul Inwood

      @Jack Rakosky – comment #11:

      For the record, BVXI’s desire is found in footnote 150 of Sacramentum Caritatis:

      Taking into account ancient and venerable customs and the wishes expressed by the Synod Fathers, I have asked the competent curial offices to study the possibility of moving the sign of peace to another place, such as before the presentation of the gifts at the altar. To do so would also serve as a significant reminder of the Lord’s insistence that we be reconciled with others before offering our gifts to God (cf. Mt 5:23 ff.); cf. Propositio 23.

      Evidently the competent curial offices saw fit to ignore this request.

      Jack’s comment about people moving around the church reminded me that this is quite often found at celebrations with African-American congregations, but at a different point in the rite. Immediately following the Great Amen at the end of the Eucharistic Prayer, the entire congregation gets out of the pews and into the central aisle and side aisles if these exist, greeting each other (hugging) at considerable length. Some even go around the church greeting everyone else. It takes a while. As the movement subsides it resolves into the people, still standing in the aisles, holding hands so as to form a human chain of the entire congregation. They then say or sing the Our Father (our family prayer) together, and remain standing and linked to each other through the prayers that follow, including the Ecce Agnus Dei dialogue. There is no additional Sign of Peace. The chain then unfastens and transforms into the Communion procession.

      I have experienced this in a considerable number of churches over the years. It does not seem to be irreverent but rather a means of expressing the fact that this is a celebrating body of people.

      1. Jeffrey Pinyan Avatar

        @Paul Inwood – comment #28:
        Evidently the competent curial offices saw fit to ignore this request.

        Maybe no competent curial office could be found? 😉

      2. Jack Rakosky Avatar
        Jack Rakosky

        @Paul Inwood – comment #28:


        A couple of decades ago when I lived in Toledo and watched Canadian TV they had a Sunday program called Meeting Place which presented recordings of liturgies from various denominations. One Catholic parish had a unique way of doing the Sign of Peace. It was a modern church with a large space for the circular sanctuary which was elevated by a step or two.

        The priest invited the children to assemble around that circle before the Lord’s Prayer, and then at the Sign of Peace sent them back to their pews to give the peace to their parents and neighbors. Really a good way of absorbing the interest and energy of children, as well as bringing out the community nature of the liturgy.

        Of course this idea works well only in certain churches and with certain congregations especially those with a lot of young families.

      3. Paul Inwood Avatar
        Paul Inwood

        @Jack Rakosky – comment #39:

        That is a practice which was formerly quite common in churches in this part of the world, regardless of their layout. It has fallen away somewhat in recent times, mostly because newly-ordained priests do not seem to like it.

      4. Alan Griffiths Avatar
        Alan Griffiths

        @Paul Inwood – comment #28:

        I was struck by the remark above about African congregations and their mobility. This applies, in my experience, also to their reactions to sermons and their behaviour during singing. They seem so much more awake and active than the rest of us.

        There is similar mobility in Orthodox churches, at least in Europe, though that is in a liturgical culture different to our own.

        Of course the ‘straitjacket’ is in no small measure encouraged by the fact that churches tend to be stuffed full of lines of benches, which presume a static, listening, obedient assembly, indeed which hinder any other type of assembly. They encourage isolationism, turn a crowd into a congregation of listeners, and leave people free people to get on with reading the newsletter, or the paper, or just about any other activity rather than the Liturgy.

        I think it was the late Professor Prior, a student of medieval churches in the early last century, who remarked that pews and sermons came into English churches roughly at the same date in the early thirteenth century.

        To see the straitjacket at work, you have only to watch elderly people struggling to escape in order to go to Holy Communion, or children trying to make sense of the panels, struts, kneelers, etc at all times. The more I see of them, the more of an artificial and strangulating environment they seem to be.

        The late Fr. Aidan Kavanagh in one of his books satirised brilliantly the lines of fixed seats,comparing them to the lines of print on a page.

        Alan Griffiths.

  11. Joe McMahon Avatar

    A few days ago, someone provided a link to the Corpus Christi procession around St. James Cathedral in the same Seattle. The exuberance was obvious. The photographer showed that people were glad to be in the procession, playing instruments, singing. I would hate to have a pastor tell me that liturgy is always dry, sober, rote, because only then can it be sacred service.
    A parish near me here on the East Coast has a sign asking lectors and Eucharistic ministers to kneel in silent prayer fifteen minutes before Mass. While I can see the point of preparation (which I do the night before) and deep recollection, I’m not happy with the judgment call, for some of the same reasons given by other posters.

  12. Paul Inwood Avatar
    Paul Inwood

    Many years ago I heard Fr Michael Joncas saying to a group of people on a retreat weekend something along the lines of: when I say “Peace be with you”, it isn’t just a liturgical “Have a nice day”. It means “I would lay down my life for you” in order that you be at peace. That in turn means that this is something that cannot be hurried.

    That exegesis has fed my spirituality for many years, and upon it I have built a whole theology and practicum of the Sign of Peace.

    A data point: When the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales were on their ad limina visit to Rome in the early 2000s, they asked Cardinal Francis Arinze why he was so adamant about priests not leaving the sanctuary at the sign of peace, and how pastorally disastrous this could be at funerals, and so on. The Cardinal’s reply: “Oh, it wouldn’t be right to leave Jesus alone on the altar”. As I have often commented, if this is the level on which ecclesial debate is conducted, we are in serious trouble.

    1. Jordan Zarembo Avatar
      Jordan Zarembo

      @Paul Inwood – comment #15:

      I agree with Fr. Joncas’s understanding of the Pax. Nevertheless, is not the dialogue

      S. pax Domini sit semper vobiscum // P. et cum spiritu tuo

      sufficient to fulfill the symbolic meaning of this “laying down of life”? If the assembly is to be viewed as a unit, a reflection of the body of Christ, then why would the assembly not respond to the priest’s invitation with a corporate answer rather than individual answers?

  13. Fr. Jack Feehily Avatar
    Fr. Jack Feehily

    I do believe it would be far better to move the exchange of peace to the end of the Universal prayers. This is a natural breaking point and with the choir providing some kind of complimentary music the action could flow well. However, as long as it remains where it is, how one gives the introduction can make an impact that doesn’t unduly interrupt the need for folks to interact briefly with four to six people in their immediate vicinity. When I don’t have a deacon to give the intro, here is how I do it: With grace and dignity let us share the peace of Christ with one another. I have also given catechesis which stresses that this is not intended to be a “hi, how are you” moment, but a moment of blessing. We have a lot of interaction before and after Mass, so this is hardly an unreasonable restriction. I liked Ken Untener for many reasons, but I think either his stopwatch wasn’t working well or the places where he did the timing weren’t doing all they can do to promote participation. In my parish we have a total of about four or five minutes of silence (after the invitation to the penitential act, after the invitation to the collect, between the lessons, before the gospel acclamation, after the homily, during the collection, following the communion procession). I would say at least 12-15 minutes of singing God’s praise and another few minutes for the creed and the other spoken prayers. Yes, a great deal of time is taken up by the priest’s prayers, the homily, and the proclamation of the lessons. Our Mass is typically 70-75 minutes of which the priest gets about half. I don’t find that much of an imbalance.

    1. Bill deHaas Avatar
      Bill deHaas

      @Fr. Jack Feehily – comment #17:
      Fr. Jack – unfortunately, in our current parish, Bishop Untener’s stopwatch would hit the mark. There are no silences; both presiders and deacons appear to have no concept of the pace of liturgy; how the liturgy flows; almost never connect the liturgical actions to scripture or connect them via the way you have just shown that the *peace* can be introduced… are left with an overwhelming feeling that they are just rushing through the liturgy piece by piece.

    2. Jack Rakosky Avatar
      Jack Rakosky

      @Fr. Jack Feehily – comment #17:

      As Untener admitted there is great variability in the amount of music. My favorite parish always sings the entire entrance and recessional hymns as printed in the hymnal. However in my experience that is very exceptional; most parishes rarely get beyond two verses.

      I spent my four years on pastoral council listening to the complaints of people who wanted a few minutes of silence after the communion and its song ended. The pastor repeatedly promised but it was rarely delivered by the musicians and the priests. After most Masses I was left with the dismayed looks of the complaintants.

      The American Grace study found that only people who had family, close friends or small groups in the congregation received the measurable benefits of regular church going, namely better health, greater life satisfaction, and greater giving of time and talent in both church and civic life. Those who merely sat in the pews might as well have not attended as measured by these outcomes.

      Unfortunately the clergy far too easily denigrate these social relationships as something not quite spiritual enough. For example in research on small bible study groups pastors were greatly worried that the members were focusing too much on the social aspects and not the bible. I think the people, even without knowing about the research above, sense the important connections between t heir love of God and their love of others.

      If this present discussion about the sign of peace leads to ways to foster and/or deepen relationships in the parish, then it is helpful. However my suspicion is that a part of this denigration of parish social relationships.

      A local parish had a fine Renew program with about two hundred people in twenty small groups. They abandoned that program in favor of a large group program that initially attracted more people but soon fizzled. The staff saw little value to the Renew “social” groups. I lost faith in that pastoral staff, and now give my money to the poor.

      I think most Catholics understand their religion to be about love of God and love of others. Unfortunately many clergy and religious professionals think its about love of God and the religious education they provide to their parish members.

  14. Jim Pauwels Avatar
    Jim Pauwels

    My own experience of the sign of peace is that whatever ‘banter’ takes place are expressions reflecting love, peace, unity and blessing. And, as a previous commenter noted, reconciliation. Seems pretty appropriate to the Communion Rite, no?

    If it seems exuberant, I would guess that there are people in the assembly who are exuberant in their personality, or who come from an exuberant, expressive culture. Part of unity is tolerating people who are different from the rest of us.

    Jack, I wonder if part of the ‘strait jacket’ dynamic to which you refer is that the dialogue throughout the liturgy is between priest and people, and the sign of peace is virtually the only part of mass in which the people are permitted to address one another directly. The dynamic, istm, changes from one of public, formal, prescribed utterance to private or small group communication – to be sure, with a verbal formula, but one that is not positively prescribed but only recommended.

  15. Karl Liam Saur Avatar
    Karl Liam Saur

    I am puzzled at the idea of needing a soundtrack to accompany the Pax. It’s not a ritual moment in need of musical accompaniment.

    At all.

    Adding music to it dilutes the ritual action. It’s not a procession that lends itself to processional accompaniment, nor is it a moment of pause or reflection. There is a liturgical action going on, but music would in no way enhance it.

  16. Brendan Kelleher svd Avatar
    Brendan Kelleher svd

    Working with a multi-cultural community here Japan, the Sign of Peace is always a mix of different options. The “official” Japanese form is for the hands to be joined at the chest level and a bow of the head to be accompanied by exchanging the prescribed formula, “主の平和” “The Peace of the Lord”. Haven’t done a formal survey but I’d say that, even at Masses in Japanese, those who follow that pattern fully are in the minority. At the Masses I celebrate with the ex-pat community the variety is endless, a few cultural clashes, some misunderstandings, so we keep going. Let a hundred flowers bloom, just watch that it doesn’t become chaotic, and stays within the bounds of the norms, reason and propriety.

  17. Dale Rodrigue Avatar
    Dale Rodrigue

    One way we have circumvented the “hi how are you” in the Sign of Peace is to greet one another before Mass begins. Rather than having a commentary before Mass our priest comes out to the nave, welcomes everyone especially visitors, makes a few announcements then asks everyone to rise and greet one another as they wish. He then walks to the narthex and the entrance hymn/procession begins once the ‘welcoming” is done. Seems to reduce the” hello, how are you” during the sign of peace because it’s already done and seems redundant.

  18. Crystal Watson Avatar

    In my church people would nod or shake hands or hug, and the priest would greet and shake hands with those in the front row. It was hard for me because I’m shy, but I liked it – it seemed like the ‘good news’ made real.

  19. Gerard Flynn Avatar
    Gerard Flynn

    The arguments for having the sign of peace between the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist, i.e. “before approaching the altar” are strong. The change would ensure that the tone around the fraction was preserved, and at the same time, enable reconciliation to take place at an appropriate moment.

  20. Samuel J. Howard Avatar

    Evidently the competent curial offices saw fit to ignore this request.

    Or perhaps they concluded that it wasn’t a good idea.

    1. Fritz Bauerschmidt Avatar

      @Samuel J. Howard – comment #33:
      If so, it would be nice if they made this known (I say this as someone who, all other things being equal, would prefer that the sign of peace remain in its current position).

    2. Dale Rodrigue Avatar
      Dale Rodrigue

      @Samuel J. Howard – comment #33:
      I don’t trust their competency at all.
      Good to see that Pope Francis is not staying in the apostolic palace and out of the Vatican burearocracy in order to, as he puts it, “maintain my sanity”.

  21. Brendan McInerny Avatar
    Brendan McInerny

    I’ve always been struck by the Pax in a Maronite liturgy I once attended (unfortunately, I haven’t researched or otherwise determined if it is common to all Maronite liturgy or simply this parish). The sign was offered by the priest to the altar servers in the sanctuary by a firm handshake and eye contact, the altar servers exiting the sanctuary offered it in turn to each of the congregants at the end of the pew on the central aisle of the church, from them it was passed down each aisle. It was orderly, and avoided the tendency to make the Pax a break in the overall ritual. Here, that the peace is Christ’s and not a product of the assembly’s own disposition was particularly evident.

    The ‘exuberant’ Pax can be not only difficult for the introvert, but also alienating for the guest or stranger. If exuberance and chit-chat mark how people who know each other behave during the Pax, then those who know no one can very easily be ignored, or get little more than slight acknowledgment from those nearest. In that case, the strength of exuberance is immediately turned into a weakness.
    More inclusively, though, and regardless of relative ‘sobriety’ or ‘exuberance’, perhaps the Maronite and the black congregation are appealing because there are ritual expectations and demands for the congregation (even if these demands appear free-form) and so even visitors are set within structures that carry them along until they gain some mastery of the ritual.
    Often it strikes me that many parishes lack these expectations/demands and so people are left to there own devices, which may not always be ‘fitting’. The banter is, I think, not so much a function of people needing/desiring an opportunity to chat, which might be why even social hour before/after liturgy may not work to eliminate it, but because many parishes practice the pax as if it was a break in the ritual.

  22. David Philippart Avatar
    David Philippart

    Does any one have documentation or anecdotal memories about how the sign of peace was reintroduced to the Mass? Specifically, did the then-NCCB decide that the handshake was to be the sign in the dioceses of the US, or did it just happen that way, or…? “Shake hands and make up” was a kind of cultural norm in the 60s, at least among middle class, second-generation-plus-born-in-the-US, males of European and African descent. And I can appreciate how hard it would have been with all the new responses in the vernacular being learned and all else happening then to try to teach people how to do the stylized embrace-of-elbows-cheek-to-cheek gesture. Yet I can’t help but thinking–in hindsight, of course, with all its advantages–that the various layers of meaning that the handshake has in contemporary culture made it more difficult for us to appropriate the deep significance of sharing the peace. Thoughts?

    1. Paul Inwood Avatar
      Paul Inwood

      @David Philippart – comment #37:

      Lots of stories from the year 1970.

      Turning to the woman next to me and saying “Peace be with you” and her turning her back on me saying, in a cut-glass Hyacinth Bucket accent, “Thank you, but I don’t.”

      In ireland, offering a double hand-clasp to the man next to me, who then looked with bewilderment in his eyes as if I had just handed him a hot potato and said “What do I do wid dis, den?”

      The woman who coughed and spluttered incessantly throughout the Mass, turning to offer a sign of peace to the man next to her, who expostulated “Peace, woman? I haven’t had a moment’s peace since I arrived here!”

      At Farm Street Jesuit Church a group of ladies would arrange themselves into a kind of rugby scrum, or Roman “tortoise” military formation, presenting a circular phalanx of backs to anyone who tried to come near them. (And some did, tapping them on the back and receiving very unpeaceable responses as a result.)

      One priest introduced it with a routine about the sign of peace in different countries: France, with smacking kisses on both cheeks; Britain, with a formal handshake; Germany, with clicked heels and a stiff bow; the USA, a military-style salute!; Italy, much arm-waving…

      The most notorious incident was, I think, in the following year, when Archbishop Cowderoy of Southwark was scandalised at what he thought was “inappropriate bunny-hugging by seminarians” at an Ordination Mass in the seminary chapel at Wonersh. As a result, and without consulting any of his brother bishops, he issued an edict saying that in the archdiocese there was to be “NO PHYSICAL CONTACT” at the sign of peace. Many amusing hours were spent trying to find pastoral solutions to this statement, ranging from the German example mentioned above to blowing kisses across the aisle at people; but in practice this edict was ignored.

      1. Dale Rodrigue Avatar
        Dale Rodrigue

        @Paul Inwood – comment #46:
        Paul, there also seems to be lots of excuses for not sharing the peace including “I don’t want to catch something”.

        BUT… they are the first to dip their fingers in the holy water font that hundreds have used before mass and after. Since the water isn’t changed often you can be sure that those fonts, especially in summer, are just teeming with staph, strep, pneumonia, e coli etc. They smear that bacteria from hundreds of parishoners all over their foreheads, fingers and clothing. And EVEN if you told them that they wouldn’t stop dipping their fingers in there. So I seriously doubt their motives for not wanting to share Christ’s peace with their neighbor.

  23. Jack Rakosky Avatar
    Jack Rakosky

    A “pax less” sector of the congregation?

    Many elderly are very concerned about the pax for health reasons, and I know some who no longer attend Mass but rather watch it on TV for that reason.

    We have to adapt to our aging population at Mass. Complaints about inability to hear, see, and mobility by the elderly were prominent when I was on pastoral council in a large parish with many young families. Unfortunately redoing the entire church sound and lighting systems would have been very expensive.

    However it seems to me that many of these suburban churches could easily redo a section of the church with better speakers, lighting, large print hymnals and missals, and a variety of seating and other features to meet the various needs of our aging population.

    Included as part of the special etiquette for the section, displayed on signs and printed in missals and hymnals, would be the idea that because of many health issues, the sign of peace should be initiated only with people whom you know well and know they want to participate.

    Other etiquette items could include encouraging people to stand, sit or kneel as befits their own physical condition and need, and provision for receiving communion at your seat.

    1. Jordan Zarembo Avatar
      Jordan Zarembo

      @Jack Rakosky – comment #40:

      No person who declines to exchange the Pax should be sequestered. I am fully convinced that a pastor could pick one Mass per Sunday and state in the bulletin, “this Mass has no exchange of peace.” More than one might think will gladly attend this Mass. Some will attend because of introversion. Others will attend out of qualms about the spread of disease. Still others find the congregational Pax to be a distraction in the “flow” of the Mass. I have never met a pastor who has received a reprimand for deleting the Pax.

      When the priest performs the Lavabo in either rite, I always whisper pes meus stetit in directo in ecclesiis benedicam te Domine. Ps. 25:11-12: “my feet have stood on the straightaway; Lord, I will bless you in the assemblies.” I am convinced that this blessing in the assembly, of those in the assembly, need not be verbalized or realized in gesture for God to know the adoration and intent written on our hearts. Who profits more: a person with no faith who nevertheless participates in the movement and word of assembly, or the nearly silent person whose heart burns with contemplative adoration? God wants shriven, humble, and joyful hearts eager for the sacrament.

      1. Richard Malcolm Avatar
        Richard Malcolm

        @Jordan Zarembo – comment #41:

        Hello Jordan,

        No person who declines to exchange the Pax should be sequestered. I am fully convinced that a pastor could pick one Mass per Sunday and state in the bulletin, “this Mass has no exchange of peace.”

        This seems like a naturally sensible compromise solution to me, not least because the GIRM plainly seems to allow it. I agree: in my experience, some people – more than many might think – not only would prefer to dispense with the pax, but even dread it. Some because they’re introverts, some for health reasons, some because it disrupts their prayer focus, some because they feel it is irreverent.

        Todd suggests @ 343 that he sees “no need to create (another) ghetto at Sunday liturgy by offering a Mass without a public exchange of peace.” But if the alternative is a more sparsely attended Mass where the pax-less desiring congregant has room to sequester himself off sufficiently far away from other people is this not a ghetto of its own? And putting several pew lengths between you and the nearest neighbor absolutely is not, in some parishes I’ve visited, sufficient protection against some of the more…enthusiastic pax-ticioners.

        I’m not as viscerally opposed as you to Jack’s idea of a special section with signs posted, but I agree that it’s not nearly as felicitous (just better than nothing, or forcing Introvert Ian to cower at the back wall of the nave). At any rate, with younger more traditional clergy coming into the ranks, we’re likely to see more and more instances of at least one more traditional N.O. Mass on the Sunday schedule, and this would seem to be a good candidate for the pax-less Mass. Those who value the pax could go to any of the other Masses.

  24. Todd Flowerday Avatar

    I see no need to create (another) ghetto at Sunday liturgy by offering a Mass without a public exchange of peace.

    A caring parish that is truly a community would make provision and understand when if and when members choose not to make physical or even personal contact at Mass.

    If people are concerned about the spread of germs, I sure hope there’s a provision for them not to touch door handles, push bars, and railings.

  25. Paul Inwood Avatar
    Paul Inwood

    The handshake seems to have evolved as a natural way of doing the sign of peace in countries everywhere (though I have often thought how ridiculous it looks when a bride and groom solemnly shake hands at their Nuptial Mass — “For God’s sake, kiss each other!” I always want to shout. The same thing would apply to husbands and wives, parents and their children, close family members, etc).

    In retrospect, the handshake was perhaps not the best solution. The pumping up and down of the right hand is too redolent of the secular “Nice to see you” gesture, and in addition disadvantages people who are left-handed.

    I often recommend to people the double handclasp (not a shake, but a clasp — no up-and-down movement), which could easily become our ritual sacred gesture without the secular overtones if adopted universally. Using both hands removes the right-handed bias just referred to, and takes just a moment longer — something which is badly needed. I often ask people to watch themselves and see if, while they are pumping the hand of one person, their eyes have not already moved on to the next person. We have already started to take this ritual sign for granted. Using both hands gives the opportunity to look for a moment into the eyes of the person you are greeting.

    Another factor in our taking the gesture for granted is the fact that mostly we say “Peace be with you”. I have campaigned for people to put the Lord back into this gesture by saying “The peace of Christ” instead.

    1. Karl Liam Saur Avatar
      Karl Liam Saur

      @Paul Inwood – comment #47:
      +1 to “The peace of Christ”.

      I would also welcome the radiating form of the Pax described earlier.

  26. David Philippart Avatar
    David Philippart

    Thanks, Paul Inwood. Great stories! Gabe Huck also has written about the double handclasp for the benefits you describe.

  27. Fr. Jack Feehily Avatar
    Fr. Jack Feehily

    Interesting suggestions regarding the mechanics of exchanging the peace, but I think that really should be left up to the people. I notice lots of variations extending from hugs, to kisses, to clasping hands, to handshakes. Both introverts and extraverts are called upon regularly to adjust to their social surroundings. Extending oneself during the Sunday Eucharist to greet brothers and sisters with some sign of peace should not be too much to ask. Of course, if the people standing nearby are viewed as total strangers or as individuals not welcome in our personal space, perhaps a change of heart would help. I am uncomfortable with what might be called “pax free for alls”, but those never occur in my church because my catechesis about the pax has been well received. One thing that helps, I find, is that as soon as I finish exchanging the peace with the deacon and the servers, I start the breaking of the bread and the cantor begins the Lamb of God and the focus shifts from Christ in my neighbor to Christ in the Bread of Life. It works here.

  28. Jonathan Day Avatar
    Jonathan Day

    Fr Jack sums it up well for me. Perhaps assemblies in Europe are different, but I rarely see a “free for all”; if anything, some people in London would benefit from being more open with their neighbours.

    I would also be very happy to leave the peace exactly where it is today. First, it involves the body of Christ in the assembly in the Eucharistic action at its very height; second, it allows the celebrant to move on with the Lamb of God and thus to bring the exchange of peace to a speedy close. I think that would be tougher if it were done as the gifts were being brought forward.

    “Extending oneself during the Sunday Eucharist to greet brothers and sisters with some sign of peace should not be too much to ask. ”


  29. Richard Malcolm Avatar
    Richard Malcolm

    Reading through all of this, it’s apparent that, once again, we have one of those issues where the twain simply won’t meet. That’s nothing new. But what is striking is that there is one side that’s quite open about its insistence that its rubric be uniformly imposed upon everyone. Here at least is an instance where pleas for liturgical pluralism seem to be silenced. You might not be able to force me (or Jordan) to shake hands or hug, but we will be made to feel like . . . sociopaths?

    The cold reality is that the pax skeptics don’t have the power, save possibly in the very rare parish, to impose an elimination of the pax. It’s established, it’s allowed in the GIRM, and it seems to be going nowhere for a while. Yet it’s also true that there are growing number of young clergy, esp. in the U.S., who are less comfortable with it. The winds might be shifting a little now, here and there.

    But if neither side has the power now to make its ideal the standard, I really do wonder why compromise isn’t a possibility here. The new pastor of St. Mary’s of the Fields in Random City, USA finds he has five Sunday Masses, a Vigil and ones at 7, 8:30, 10 and 12; he’d like a more traditional liturgy for one, and decides, after talking to parishioners, to make the 8:30am a pax-free zone (with extra Byrd and Latin, perhaps). But all of the other four, including a “prime time” one, still keep the pax in full force: Offérte vobis pacem. Yes, this arrangement might present the sad appearance of a liturgical ghetto to Todd; but in the near future, is it really such a horrible compromise where it’s apparent that there’s some significant support for pax-free Mass? We already have Masses in innumerable languages, and more than one musical style. Would this really be such a terrible outcome?

    I don’t always agree with Jordan, but I commend his posts in this thread for thoughtful contemplation.

    1. Jordan Zarembo Avatar
      Jordan Zarembo

      @Richard Malcolm – comment #52:

      You might not be able to force me (or Jordan) to shake hands or hug, but we will be made to feel like . . . sociopaths?

      I self-identify as “super concentrated INTP”. “Sociopath” is a bit much. 😉 In all seriousness, I understand what you are saying. No one should be ostracized as antisocial for not wanting to participate in the Pax.

      But what is striking is that there is one side that’s quite open about its insistence that its rubric be uniformly imposed upon everyone. Here at least is an instance where pleas for liturgical pluralism seem to be silenced.

      The congregational Pax is for some ‘progressive’ Catholics (‘progressive’ from the perspective of liturgical traditionalists) an emblem of the liturgical reform, as the restoration of altar rails and ad orientem celebration is emblematic of reform-of-the-reform, the Anglican Ordinariate generally, or traditionalists by extension. This is why calls for a “Pax-less Mass” are often ignored, even if a no-Pax Mass would benefit many who are not interested or involved in liturgical debate.

      I strongly doubt that not a few liturgically traditionalist clergy would voluntarily cease ad orientem celebration and use of the altar rail, even if told that these practices disturbed some Catholics.

      For these reasons the discussion of the merits of a no-Pax ordinary form is pointless. I am not angry at my brothers and sisters who demand a congregational Pax at every OF Mass. I must realize, as always, that our liturgical philosophies are radically divergent. A compulsory congregational Pax is integral to a dominant liturgical philosophy, and should be respected even if traditionalism is often not respected.

      1. Jonathan Day Avatar
        Jonathan Day

        @Jordan Zarembo – comment #57:
        I strongly doubt that not a few liturgically traditionalist clergy would voluntarily cease ad orientem celebration and use of the altar rail, even if told that these practices disturbed some Catholics.

        Jordan, the double negatives and subjunctives have me confused here. I think you are saying that, in general, traditionalist clergy who have introduced the altar rail and celebration facing the apse will persist in these practices, even if some of the faithful happen to object. Is that right? If so, I agree with your prediction; these guys often see themselves as missionaries to the heathen, who have to be enlightened whether or not they want it.

        On the peace: it is hard for me to see why anyone would object to it.

        Imagine: you have come to your Lord and Master’s house, where he has promised to make you one of his disciples. Other would-be disciples are there with you; you have not met them before, but you are all there because he has called you to follow him. He asks you to greet one another with a sign of peace. How could you not do so?

        Or: after wandering in the world you have come home to your Mother, who has prepared a banquet the like of which you have never seen before. “This is your long-distant cousin X” she says enthusiastically; “I know you have not met before, but I love you both.” Before you all gather at the table that Mother Church has laid, would you not greet X? Your other cousin, Paul of Tarsus, certainly recommended that (1 Thessalonians 5.26).

        Nobody should be forced to hug or shake hands. But I struggle to see any theological objection, whether or not from a “traditionalist” perspective.

      2. Jordan Zarembo Avatar
        Jordan Zarembo

        @Jonathan Day – comment #61:

        Is that right? If so, I agree with your prediction; these guys often see themselves as missionaries to the heathen, who have to be enlightened whether or not they want it.

        Jonathan, you likely know that I am in complete disagreement (indeed, diametrically opposed) to your position on altar orientation and the altar rail. I cannot let this grave disagreement impede our ability to communicate on the sociocultural and theological significance of liturgy. Indeed I can’t let this impede my discussion on PTB.

        Nobody should be forced to hug or shake hands. But I struggle to see any theological objection, whether or not from a “traditionalist” perspective.

        ἄφες ἐκεῖ τὸ δῶρόν σου ἔμπροσθεν τοῦ θυσιαστηρίου καὶ ὕπαγε πρῶτον διαλλάγηθι τῷ ἀδελφῷ σου, καὶ τότε ἐλθὼν πρόσφερε τὸ δῶρόν σου. (Mt. 5:24 NA 28)

        “Leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.” (Mt. 5:24 NRSV)

        Often this verse is cited as a justification for the congregational peace in modern Christian liturgy. However, the verb structure of the verse suggests another perspective. The morphological mismatch between the aorist second singular passive imperative διαλλάγηθι (diallagēthi, “be reconciled”, from διαλλάσσω) and πρόσφερε (prosphere, “offer”, present second singular active imperative) reveals quite a bit about the nature of reconciliation in this verse.

        Jesus’s injunction contains two levels of action. Aorist verbs do not have a time aspect, while the present tense implies right-now, current action. διαλλάγηθι, “be reconciled”, in the context of this verse, is not necessarily time or place dependent. The sacrifice-offering, πρόσφερε, is extremely time sensitive, as it refers to an action taking place within a definite space-time boundary.

        I often wonder if the vestigial nature of the the Pax in the Byzantine Divine Liturgy and the Solemn Tridentine Mass speaks to the non-temporal and constant nature of “be reconciled”. The act of sacrificial offering can be located within time, but not necessarily forgiveness. Forgiveness must be practiced even before entering the temple. The congregational Pax, then, cannot fully convey what forgiveness means in the light of sacrifice. This is why I am wary of placing an excessive amount of attention or importance on the congregational peace.

      3. Jack Wayne Avatar
        Jack Wayne

        @Jonathan Day – comment #61:
        I don’t think there is a good theological objection to communion rails or ad orientem either, though. Like objections to the pax, they are mostly emotional and seem to be based on bad experiences.

        After all, if you were invited to a family dinner, would you object to gathering around the table to eat, instead demanding you each eat one by one, with each waiting until the person before had finished before the next could be served? Would you object if you were invited to someone’s house and everyone, even the leader, prayed together towards a common object?

        The exchange of peace isn’t something I feel strongly about one way or the other. It doesn’t go on and on or become a moment for chit chat in my experience, but it also isn’t a very important moment in terms of forming a real relationship with my fellow Christians. It’s often too much like the weak meet and greets you have to do at company seminars and inservices. There are things at the OF I sometimes miss now that I don’t really attend it, but the pax isn’t one of them. Conversely, it isn’t really something I am trying to “escape” from when I attend the EF. I might feel differently if it were made to better show we are sharing the peace of Christ rather than a forced “greet your neighbor.”

      4. Richard Malcolm Avatar
        Richard Malcolm

        @Jordan Zarembo – comment #57:

        Hello Jordan,

        Thanks, as always, for the kind reply.

        The congregational Pax is for some ‘progressive’ Catholics (‘progressive’ from the perspective of liturgical traditionalists) an emblem of the liturgical reform…

        Oh, I understand that; it explains the strong theological investment that many have in it, and why we see the insistence on retaining it at all times.

        And yet while I understand it, I hope they can understand that the historical and magisterial foundation for this intensity is…modest. The pax is nowhere mentioned in SC, even implicitly; and the ancient practice was very, very different from what obtains now.

        For these reasons the discussion of the merits of a no-Pax ordinary form is pointless. I am not angry at my brothers and sisters who demand a congregational Pax at every OF Mass. I must realize, as always, that our liturgical philosophies are radically divergent.

        Yes, and because of that, the danger that some, like Jonathan and Todd, see in our ongoing voluntary segregation by our liturgical approaches (and indeed, perhaps much more) is real. Of course, until now, the pax skeptics have had the choice of a) fleeing to a (rare) TLM, or b) putting up with it. It’s the emergence of a growing number of young diocesan priests, especially in the U.S., who share Pope Benedict’s concern, expressed in Saramentum Caritatis, for an urgent need for “greater restraint in this gesture, which can be exaggerated and cause a certain distraction in the assembly just before the reception of Communion.” (SC 49) And, being skeptical that such restraint can be achieved, find it easier to simply omit the pax at times.

        And given this, we’re forced to face a reality: It’s a big Church, with some very different liturgical approaches, and compromise (that no one may be entirely happy with) may be the only way to live together going forward. And, in some places, I think it’s going to happen anyway.

  30. Dale Rodrigue Avatar
    Dale Rodrigue

    Why not have both?

    Both have historical precedence and theological implications. Lord knows parts have been added and removed from Mass over the centuries.

    The first peace at the offertory is more of a reconciliation with our sisters and brothers in Christ, as Christ Himself suggested we do before bringing our gifts to the altar.
    The second peace, at the communion rite, is more solemn, extending the Peace of Christ to others, brief and to the point.

    1. Jeffrey Pinyan Avatar

      @Dale Rodrigue – comment #53:
      How does the first (reconciliatory) peace differ from the penitential act at the beginning of Mass?

  31. Bill deHaas Avatar
    Bill deHaas

    We have historical precedence and theological implications for many parts of the eucharist – does this mean that we begin a process of offering masses so that one does communion kneeling; another standing; one reception by tongue only; etc., etc.

    It reminds me of other posts about parishes/pastors who have *silent* masses; guitar only masses; organ only masses, etc. ignoring that reality that the VII reformed mass shifted so that liturgy/eucharist follows a different and more important decision tree when making musical decisions – do we sing the commons and at processional moments in the liturgy, do we sing the responsorial psalm and alleluia verse?, etc.

    The eucharist is, at the core, a community action (to allow certain parts, decisions, alignment to be trumped by individualism for whatever justification) strikes me as the antithesis of the meaning of Eucharistic sacrament. Where does this type of approach end?

  32. Dale Rodrigue Avatar
    Dale Rodrigue

    Bill, are you responding to my post or Richard’s?
    I suggested the two rites, not an elimination of the rite, that was Richard.
    In my opinion, it’s not about individualism or whatever justification. It’s about two rites that are different and not two interpretations of a single rite to satisfy someone’s personal prejudices against not shaking someone’s hand.

    As you know, the sign of peace in the communion rite is not meant as a meet and greet but rather conveying Christ’s peace to one another. Whereas, when the sign of peace was at the offertory it is my understanding that it was meant as an act of greeting one another and reconciliation. Conveying Christ’s peace has now morphed into hand shaking, hugging and greeting one another (which I support and I still cross the aisle occasionally to greet others)
    And you actually are making my point for celebrating two rites rather than one when you state: “…does this mean that we begin a process of offering masses so that one does communion kneeling; another standing; one reception by tongue only; etc., etc.” Bill, these are singular exclusionary acts, kneeling only, another standing only, reception on the tongue only to satisfy one personal tastes. I’m saying that we need to correctly interpret the rite, not eliminate it.
    No Pax is anathema to me.

    The point is the horses are out of the barn and you cannot stop the exuberant greeting which I happen to agree with but not where it is now. Have the greeting where it used to be historically at the offertory and sharing Christ’s peace where it used to be at the communion rite.

  33. Dale Rodrigue Avatar
    Dale Rodrigue

    Hi Jeff,
    The penitential rite is primarily a confession to God and our neighbor about our sinfulness and asking for prayers to God for us ( “..pray for me to the Lord our God). This is different than reconciling with one another and offering a concrete sign of that reconciliation, the “Kiss of Peace”. Confident that we are forgiven by God (not general absolution) we can then reconcile with one another with The kiss of peace in keeping w/ Christs admonition (Mt 5:23-24) that one reconcile with one other before presenting gifts at the altar. We can begin the Eucharistic prayers after having been reconciled w/ God and one another. I think in the Eastern Orthodox Church they even state: “Let us love one another that with one accord we may confess-”

    The suggestion that I made forhaving both rites of peace is not that far out. As I understand it, the Ambrosian Rite retains the Kiss of Peace in both places.

    In the middle ages (in France?) the Kiss of peace began w/ the priest kissing a tablet after touching the consecrated bread then the Peace of Christ tablet was passed to those in the choir stalls to be kissed then finally passed from one congregant to another to be kissed. The Kiss, Sign, Rite of Peace in the Communion RIte is Christ centered, Christ’s peace being shared from one person to another. It’s not about greeting one another, wishing peace to someone or goodwill. Those are honorable but the Sign of peace in the communion rite is about Christ being shared with one another reverently.

    That is why I wish that the priest would come down during the Rite of Peace ( in the communion rite) and share the Peace of Christ in the first pew then we share the Peace from one pew to another until everyone has shared the Peace (similar to lighting a candle by sharing the flame until the whole church is lit during the Easter Vigil).
    Maybe we should call it the “Peace Wave” 🙂
    (Richard M. is probably rolling his eyes, sorry Richard!)

    1. Paul Inwood Avatar
      Paul Inwood

      @Dale Rodrigue – comment #59:

      The penitential rite is primarily a confession to God and our neighbor about our sinfulness and asking for prayers to God for us ( “..pray for me to the Lord our God).

      Actually, not always.

      Whenever you use the third form of the penitential act, (“Lord Jesus, YOU….” — see Roman Missal, Appendix VI) the emphasis is not at all on our own unworthiness but rather on the mirabilia that God has done for us and continues to do for us. That is why the 1998 Sacramentary (page 422) referred to this option as a Litany of Praise, not a penitential rite.

      1. Dale Rodrigue Avatar
        Dale Rodrigue

        Paul, thank you for the update. I was responding to Jeff's question about the difference between the “penitential act”; and the first Peace. To answer the question I was attempting to contrast an action on the part of the penitent, between the individual and God (found in Form A, “I confess…”; and the penitent asking “… I ask Blessed Mary… “; and “… pray for me..”) found in the Penitential Rite with a different action on the part of the penitent, an act of reconciliation and peace between individuals (found in the Kiss of Peace) a very different kind of action on the part of the penitent.
        Regardless of which form is used,the penitential rite primarily involves acknowlegement/confession of sin on the part of the penitent. As the introduction to the overall penitential rite states: “Brethren, let us acknowledge our sins, and so prepare ourselves to celebrate the sacred mysteries.”

      2. Dale Rodrigue Avatar
        Dale Rodrigue

        @Dale Rodrigue – comment #62:
        Anybody know why my post is underlined and in blue? What in heavens name did I do wrong?

      3. Bill deHaas Avatar
        Bill deHaas

        @Dale Rodrigue – comment #63:
        Obviously, you have been *bad*, Dale. Like Allan’s bombshells, it is the work of the *devil*.

      4. Dale Rodrigue Avatar
        Dale Rodrigue

        @Bill deHaas – comment #66:
        Bill, it’s a progressive’s response to Fr. Z,
        Forget the Red, Do the Blue !

      5. Rita Ferrone Avatar
        Rita Ferrone

        @Dale Rodrigue – comment #63:

        You must have hit the “quote” button. I’ll fix it.

      6. Dale Rodrigue Avatar
        Dale Rodrigue

        @Rita Ferrone – comment #67:

        Thanks Rita!
        I don’t want to draw the attention of the NSA or the IRS…..

      7. Paul Inwood Avatar
        Paul Inwood

        @Dale Rodrigue – comment #62:

        Regardless of which form is used,the penitential rite primarily involves acknowlegement/confession of sin on the part of the penitent.

        Dale, sorry to keep on at this, but no. Only the first and second forms primarily involve an attitude of penitence. The third form doesn’t. All the examples in the 1973 Missal, and the 2010 Missal appendix, demonstrate very clearly that, despite the introduction which is common to all forms, the emphasis in the third form is not on us but on Jesus and what he has done and continues to do for us.

        That is why home-made versions of the third form which say things like “For the times when I/we have done/failed to do whatever it is….” are completely incorrect in their thrust. They’d be fine in a penitential service, but not at Mass. At Mass, it’s not about us and our peccadilloes, it’s about Jesus.

        So, I agree with your distinction between the penitential act and the sign of peace, but my point is that it only holds water when you’re talking about the first two forms. With the third form, which is a series of acclamations in fact, there is no obvious comparison with the sign of peace at all.

        I very often find that people do not understand the difference between (a) Penitential Acts I and II, (b) Penitential Act III (as demonstrated above), and (c) the Rite of Blessing and Sprinkling of Water. The last of these may replace the penitential rite, but, like form III, it is not itself a penitential rite at all.

        Another common error appears with primary-age teachers, who tell their children that we always have to have “sorry prayers” at the beginning of Mass. Well, no we don’t. I maintain that the third form, when properly used, is not a penitential act at all, and this is the one that is most frequently encountered.

        In addition, there are many times in the Church’s year when there is in fact no penitential act, no “sorry prayers”, at the beginning of Mass:
        – the Presentation of the Lord
        – Palm Sunday
        – Ash Wednesday
        – Requiem Mass (it is replaced by a sprinkling of water)
        – at Mass with conferral of baptism and at a Nuptial Mass (both of these now made explicit in the 2010 Roman Missal — though why they didn’t do the same with Mass with Confirmation, heaven alone knows! For years pastors have been starting Wedding Masses with a penitential rite when it was never in the rite, and I expect many will continue, alas. It would also make a lot of sense to remove it from Christmas Midnight Mass and Easter Sunday morning with its blessing and sprinkling of water. Perhaps we may see this in RM4)

        Ash Wednesday is a particularly interesting case, because here the penitential act actually takes place after the Liturgy of the Word, with the imposition of ashes. Liturgists have been saying for years that in general this is a better location for the penitential act because the scriptures give you a context for repentance. It does not take much to see that by doing this, and by having a sign of peace and reconciliation following it, before presenting the gifts, we have come to the point where any distinction between a penitential act and the sign of peace becomes redundant. The two are melded together into one.

      8. Dale Rodrigue Avatar
        Dale Rodrigue

        @Paul Inwood – comment #72:
        Paul, thank you for the explanation. I was attempting to respond to Jeff’s question about the difference between the penitential act and a first Peace.

        Maybe the intro to the Rite needs to be changed? (“Brethren, let us acknowledge our sins, and so prepare ourselves to celebrate the sacred mysteries.”). It appears that Form C should actually have it’s own section in the Intro Rites that can be chosen in lieu of the Penitential rite?

      9. Paul Inwood Avatar
        Paul Inwood

        @Dale Rodrigue – comment #77:

        It appears that Form C should actually have it’s own section in the Intro Rites that can be chosen in lieu of the Penitential rite?

        That’s precisely what ICEL was trying to do in the abortive 1998 Sacramentary. Unfortunately the mandarins in the Congregation did not understand the point. The different options for the introductory rites in that Sacramentary were intended to aid people in tailoring those rites more closely to the mood and tone of the scriptures of the day. They were not attempting to mutilate the Roman Rite, as the mandarins implied; rather, they were trying to make it pastorally more effective, as Sacrosanctum Concilium had mandated.

      10. Dale Rodrigue Avatar
        Dale Rodrigue

        @Paul Inwood – comment #80:

        Paul, as a contributor to PTB any thoughts about posting on the parts of Mass as you have done concerning the Penitential Rite? Lots of interesting material.

        Btw, I recall hearing that in pre VII days, a few minutes before a wedding Mass, the groom needed to step into the confessional to confess before the Mass could begin. I assume that it was to confess any, er, premarital sexual indiscretions? Possibly the use of the penitential rite in the wedding Mass today by some is a carryover from that practice?

  34. Jonathan Day Avatar
    Jonathan Day

    Jordan, my Greek is not very strong.

    I would have read the aorist here as being “reticent” about time and sequence. And therefore, time and sequence are likely to be dependent on context. So I would look to πρῶτον [first] … καὶ τότε [and then] to work out that reconciliation came first, the offering second.

    The Vulgate has prius … et tunc.

    I agree with your statement, by the way, that The congregational Pax … cannot fully convey what forgiveness means in the light of sacrifice. Of course it cannot. It is merely one more symbolic action. But that is no reason to eliminate it.

    In any case I had always thought of Matthew 5.24 as the justification for having the exchange of the peace before the offertory, rather than any reason not to do it or to make it perfunctory.

    Finally, and with respect for the opposing views that you and RIchard have expressed: a view that the exchange of the peace within the assembly is a good thing to do at Mass is hardly giving this element of the liturgy “an excessive amount of attention or importance.”

    All sorts of things could lead to excesses in the assembly, including giving communion in both kinds. That is no reason to stop this practice.
    The abuse doesn’t take away the use, as they say.

    Richard wrote: the historical and magisterial foundation for this intensity is…modest. It certainly seems very old — Justin Martyr, for example, mentions the exchange of the peace. It appears in a number of the epistles.

    I ask again: is there a theological reason (rather than a rubrical one or a matter of liturgical practicality or of personal preference) why the peace should not be exchanged within the assembly?

    1. Richard Malcolm Avatar
      Richard Malcolm

      @Jonathan Day – comment #71:

      Hello Jonathan,

      Richard wrote: the historical and magisterial foundation for this intensity is…modest. It certainly seems very old — Justin Martyr, for example, mentions the exchange of the peace. It appears in a number of the epistles.

      What I meant by that – I’m constrained by the character limit, and that causes me to be terse at times – is not that there is not patristic evidence of the pax, or even of the pax as exchanged within the assembly, but rather that the manner in which it was exchanged differed greatly from what we see today in the Pauline Missal. It was not, as I understand it, shared with strangers, let alone catechumens (who would have been dismissed before the Mass of the Faithful), and it was certainly not done with a handshake. The traditional dissemination of the kiss from the priest, with its paschal meaning, is also lost.

      I find it interesting that the same concerns some have now about the pax echo in certain ways those of medieval and patristic concerns that led in part to its desuetude: in practice, too many abuses. But abuses and introverts aside, I’m concerned that the insistence on the pax as we have it is being made to carry more (and problematic) theological freight than it should. Which raises…

      In any case I had always thought of Matthew 5.24 as the justification for having the exchange of the peace before the offertory, rather than any reason not to do it or to make it perfunctory.

      That’s certainly the Eastern tradition. But that theological justification, the one of conciliation found in the Sermon on the Mount, was different from the meaning purpose of the kiss in the Roman and North African churches, where it was founded on the Paschal mystery. (Redemptionis Sacramentum 71). This is one reason why I found Pope Benedict’s suggestion that the sign of peace be moved to the Offertory perplexing, since the Eastern, conciliation justification is alien to the Roman Rite.

    2. Jordan Zarembo Avatar
      Jordan Zarembo

      @Jonathan Day – comment #71:

      Jonathan, I apologize. I will not speculate about Greek texts again. That is not fair or conducive to good argument.

      It certainly seems very old — Justin Martyr, for example, mentions the exchange of the peace. It appears in a number of the epistles.

      Certainly you are right. The Pax has ancient liturgical roots, and for that reason alone is significant. Regardless of one’s position on its use today, its licety cannot be entirely negated.

      Even so, the possible theological liceity of a liturgical action does not necessarily imply appropriateness for Catholics in our day. The previous practice of the churching of women (Rituale title: de Benedictione Mulieris post Partum, “With regard to the blessing of women after childbirth”) contains no ostensibly heterodox prayers. The rubrics in particular, however, strongly imply that pregnancy and childbirth are impure, and women who have given birth must be readmitted to the sacred. These views and this liturgy are rightly and strongly rejected today.

      If both an esteemed liturgical action (the assembly Pax) and a abhorred liturgy (churching of women) are in some way theologically licit at least at some point in Church history, then theological orthodoxy might not be the best or sole measure of the appropriateness of a liturgical action. Here, the liturgical ressourcement school and the organic liturgical development school have yet another intellectual head-on collision. The dispute lies in ideological deadlock, and not theology per se. Perhaps this is why we Romans are united in polity but separated in worship: and yet, Jesus never commanded his followers to reconcile and then worship separately.

      1. Richard Malcolm Avatar
        Richard Malcolm

        @Jordan Zarembo – comment #74:

        Hello Jordan,

        I don’t quibble with the larger point you make about the distinction between orthodoxy and cultural appropriateness, but I think churching of women is…a perplexing example:

        The rubrics in particular, however, strongly imply that pregnancy and childbirth are impure, and women who have given birth must be readmitted to the sacred. These views and this liturgy are rightly and strongly rejected today.

        Really? I think Jonathan and I find ourselves in some interesting terrain, because I agree with his assessment that there’s nothing pastorally offensive in the old rite. Certainly not any heavy tone of impurity.

        More to the point, churching has taken on a renewed wave of interest in traditionalist communities I know of. I can think of a few women I know with advanced degrees who have chosen to have the rite after every one of their pregnancies.

        But as Jonathan says, I think this may be a rabbit hole. Respond as you like; I only humbly suggest another look at the rite.

      2. Karl Liam Saur Avatar
        Karl Liam Saur

        @Richard Malcolm – comment #82:
        I think churching only implies an element of impurity it is accompanied by the idea that there is any problem with a recent mother accessing the sacred before being churched.

      3. Jordan Zarembo Avatar
        Jordan Zarembo

        @Richard Malcolm – comment #82:

        I will write an article on the rubrics of churching. There I can explore philological nuance in excruciatingly boring detail. I can dig my rabbit holes with great focus and intent. Hold the polemic — but extra semantics, please!

  35. Jonathan Day Avatar
    Jonathan Day

    Jordan, we may be chasing this one down a rabbit hole. I am happy to drop the thread if we are.

    I can see nothing in the Catholic rite for the blessing of a woman after childbirth – text or rubrics – that is theologically or pastorally offensive. I am looking at the 1925 Rituale in Latin. Fr Weller’s translation isn’t bad; his comments are in braces:

    1. After giving birth to a child a mother may wish to give thanks to God in church for a safe delivery, and to obtain the Church’s blessing. This has long been a devout and praiseworthy practice. The priest, vested in surplice and white stole (assisted by a server who carries the aspersory), goes to the threshold of the church. The woman kneels there, holding a lighted candle.

    {The very fact that the priest goes to meet her and escort her into the church is in itself a mark of respect for the mother, and puts one in mind of a bishop who meets a royal personage or anyone of high rank when the latter comes to a cathedral to attend a solemn function. The rest of the rite speaks for itself; but it may be pointed out that psalm 23, which the priest recites over the woman, is a psalm of majesty, praise, and gratitude.}

    The priest sprinkles her with holy water, saying:

    Our help is in the name of the Lord. All: Who made heaven and earth.

    He then says the following antiphon and psalm 23:

    Antiphon: This woman shall receive a blessing from the Lord and mercy from God, her Savior; for she is one of the people who seek the Lord.

    2. Then the priest places the end of the stole hanging from his left shoulder in the hand of the woman and leads her into the church, saying:

    Come into God’s house. Adore the Son of the blessed Virgin Mary, and thank God who has given you the grace of motherhood.

    3. The woman kneels before the altar, giving thanks to God for the benefits He has bestowed on her. The priest continues:

    Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy. Our Father (the rest inaudibly until:)

    P: And lead us not into temptation.

    All: But deliver us from evil.

    P: Save your servant.

    All: Who trusts in you, my God.

    P: Lord, send her aid from your holy place.

    All: And watch over her from Sion.

    P: Let the enemy have no power over her.

    All: And the son of iniquity be powerless to harm her.

    P: Lord, heed my prayer.
    All: And let my cry be heard by you.
    P: The Lord be with you.
    All: May He also be with you.

    Let us pray. Almighty everlasting God, who by means of the blessed Virgin Mary’s childbearing has given every Christian mother joy, even in her pains of bringing forth her child; look kindly on this servant of yours who has come in gladness to your holy dwelling to offer her thanks. And grant that after this life, through the merits and prayers of that same blessed Mary, she and her child may be deemed worthy of attaining the happiness of everlasting life; through Christ our Lord. All: Amen.

    4. The priest again sprinkles her with holy water, saying:

    May the peace and blessing of almighty God, Father, Son, + and Holy Spirit, come upon you and remain with you forever. All: Amen.


    1. Jordan Zarembo Avatar
      Jordan Zarembo

      @Jonathan Day – comment #75:

      Jordan, we may be chasing this one down a rabbit hole. I am happy to drop the thread if we are.

      Very true. “The thread is ended, go in peace to love and serve the Lord.” [“and one another”]. This includes not placing strong judgment on subjects of which I have no experience. I must turn the gears of my mind more cautiously.

  36. Jonathan Day Avatar
    Jonathan Day


    Now, there may be negative theological associations with the rite; Fr Weller adds (my emphasis):

    The practice of “churching a woman” developed out of a related practice in the Old Testament (cf. Lev 12.1-8). According to the Mosaic Law a woman incurred legal uncleanness in childbirth and remained unclean until her legal purification. This view, that a woman incurs some kind of defilement in childbirth, persisted even in Christian times, especially in the East, but in the West too, despite the opposition of Pope Gregory the Great (d. 604). The sufferings of childbirth were looked upon as part of the penalty imposed on Eve and on all her daughters. Yet it must be understood clearly that the Jews did not say there was actually any stain of sin on the mother in consequence of giving birth to a child, but merely a restriction imposed by law. With Christ’s coming womankind was elevated and ennobled, and motherhood too was more clearly seen as something honorable, deserving a blessing rather than a purification.

    I went to the Anglican “Churching of Women” service, expecting to find something about cleansing of impurities. Nothing. Perhaps I missed it.

    There are some weird elements in the Byzantine version, e.g. the Wikipedia article on “churching” says that a newborn boy is carried into the Holy and around the altar, while a girl is left outside, near the icon of the Theotokos.

    These things, I agree, should go. But note that the problem is theological (or anthropological) – in the Western rite, despite nothing to this effect in the text and centuries of different catechesis, there is apparently a message of female impurity. In the Eastern, if Wikipedia is right, a message of female inferiority.

    These associations or ritual actions are not matters of liturgical sensibility, disruption of the atmosphere of reverence, etc. They are in fact unorthodox, i.e. contrary to the Church’s understanding and therefore unfitting for her worship.

    I think we are agreed that there is no such unorthodoxy in the congregational exchange of the peace.

    I would go a step further and say that an attempt to eliminate it – not as a personal idiosyncrasy but as a prescription for ritual practice – is also unorthodox.

  37. Paul R. Schwankl Avatar
    Paul R. Schwankl

    I’m surprised nobody has appealed to Romans 16:16a, ἀσπάσασθε ἀλλήλους ἐν φιλήματι ἁγίῳ—or, as in one of the most famous verses in J. B. Phillips’s New Testament, “Give each other a hearty handshake all round for my sake.”

  38. Ann Olivier Avatar
    Ann Olivier

    About churching — in the 60’s when the American feminist movement burst upon the nation’s consciousness, churching was a particularly sore subject. The notion that a woman was somehow defiled by giving birth and therefore needed to be purified was felt to be particularly odious. Perhaps that is not what the official Church intended by the practice, but that is the message women got.

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