Tuesday, August 12, 2014
I am not one of those who hate the sign of peace. I hate it when it it is trivialised, when Mrs Brown offers a lukewarm handshake to Mr Brown, which hardly seems to symbolise they are 'one flesh' in the Lord, or when Mrs Green wonders why Mrs White hasn't run down the aisle to greet her and comes up to Holy Communion full of resentment or at least wondering at the precariosity of their friendship. Then I also hate being given an enthusiastic 'sign of peace' and then being ignored after Mass. The sign is supposed signify what we are, truly a community of brothers and sisters in the Lord, at peace with God and our neighbour and a source of peace for the world.
I am glad the Holy See has issued a new document on it and decided not to move too, to before the offertory, as in the Ambrosian Rite, after all the 'sign of peace' is intimately connected to Holy Communion. It is simple, if we are not in Communion with our neighbour, then we can't possibly be in Communion with the Lord. It is I think the offering of ourselves at Holy Communion that is more important than our offering of cash at the offertory, it is then that we should be leaving our offering (of ourselves) at the altar in order that we might be reconciled to our neighbour. The procession to communion is about us coming to receive Christ in communion but it also about Him receiving us, bot individually but also collectively as the Church, pure and free from sin. The sign of peace should be a significant pre-Communion rite, therefore it should be solemn and holy, not lightly undertaken. One reason for it remaining where it is is the assertion by liturgical scholars that in ancient times the Pater Noster ended by a kiss of peace.
Joe at Catholic Commentary suggests the sign of peace is meaningless and more about social inclusion than anything else. In the past a paxbrede was often used to take 'the peace' from the celebrant to at least significant members of the congregation. The paxbrede was often a silver or even wax plaque or an icon or a relic or a crucifix. The veneration of the Cross on Good Friday could be sign as a 'Peace' rite, the crucifix, or as our forefathers might have used the relic of the True Cross, being offered to the faithful only at the end of a rigorous Lent during which they were expected to have been reconciled to God and man.
The problem with the 'sign of peace', is like many of our rites, even Holy Communion, that it is trivialsed and without meaning. Amongst our servers, here, the sign of peace is offered in the traditional way, the Agnus Dei starts as soon as I have offered it to the senior server or MC. In the Johannine Missal it always began with the celebrant who in a sense took it from Christ on the altar and it was passed on from to others on the sanctuary and those in choro, in large monasteries it could of course include several hundred people from the abbot down to the newest postulant. In the Pauline Missal it is supposed to bubble up from the community and presumably disappear as quickly as it appeared. What we do is wrong, apparently, though it eliminates on the sanctuary the hug-fest often seen and because it is hierarchical it gives a good indication that the proper for the priest just before Holy Communion is at the altar with the Body and Blood of Christ.
As I say, I think the sign of peace is important, but I can understand the frustration of those who see it as plain silly, the longer it goes on, the sillier it often becomes, we urgently need to find an alternative to the very secular handshake, which in the UK is often associated with dodgie car salesmen. Perhaps the reason why it is often an uninspiring rite is related to the trivialising of Holy Communion itself.
Perhaps it ought to be restricted only to those going to Holy Communion, only to those truly at peace with God and their neighbour. Before the Reformation at York during Christmastide a bough of mistletoe was raised before the rood, it was a sign for reconciliation of enemies, the release of captives and slaves, the forgiveness of debts, the end of conflicts. Under it the estranged would kiss and be reconciled, this is presumably what the sign of peace should be about, a truly sacred rite.
Posted by Fr Ray Blake