Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Osculum Pacis


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.

26 comments:

M. Prodigal said...

I would like the 'sign of peace' to be like it is in he TLM, the priest to the people and the people to the priest--none of this glad handing, hugging, chatting, running about when one is trying to prepare to receive God Himself who is present on the altar at that moment. It takes the focus off Our Lord. I appreciate it when it is omitted as it is an option.

JACK said...

One reason that this is not "solemn and holy" is that much of what remains of the Holy Mass is no longer "solemn and holy." Sad times.

Gungarius said...

I'm just sorry its not been abrogated altogether.

I'm sure I get far fewer colds since I went to the EF and no longer have to shake hands with all the people around me who have been coughing and spluttering all through the sermon and using that same hand to cover their mouth. Ugh.

NBW said...

I also like the sign of peace in the TLM.

Jacobi said...

I can’t stand the sign of peace.
It is counter-cultural to my little part of the globe, although the usual 25%, as always, have taken to it enthusiastically.

I now respond with a polite bow and a “sod off” look to anyone who persists.

I go to Mass not, to commune with my fellow parishioners. Plenty of time for that at coffee afterwards.

It is a prime example of false archaeologism. The original sign was a full kiss, both sexes, but that got out of hand. It continued to be disruptive and our ancestor in their wisdom reduced it to the clergy making a bow/embrace.

Now we are having to learn the same lessons all over again.

Remember Father, it is optional. You don’t have to impose this embarrassing decision on us!

Genty said...

The SoP certainly seems to get people going. You can practically hear the engines revving as it approaches. The problem I have with rhe SoP as currently practised is that often it appears to have replaced the Consecration as the pivotal point of the Mass. Perhaps a slight bow of the head to immediate neighbours would be less disruptive to the flow of the liturgy.

Elizabeth said...

I am in favour of just having the sign of peace like it is at the TLM, like M. Prodigal. However, I have to respectfully take exception to your idea, Father, that only those going to Communion should participate. I have worked at two Catholic schools in England, and one of the hardest concepts for many is the idea that you should only receive Communion if you are in a state of grace (even most of the teachers struggled with that concept). The overwhelming majority of people in any parish I've ever been to (except at TLM Masses)go up for Communion. For those of us who try to adhere to the guidelines on receiving Communion reverently (i.e. not receiving unless in a state of grace), it's hard enough not going up when 99% of the congregation is, but if you also exclude those people from the sign of peace, that just seems malicious. For example, my father, who is a fallen away Catholic, comes with me to Mass every Christmas and Easter, but no other times in the year. Obviously, he does not receive Communion, but he has always been made welcome by the priest and other parishioners. I have always hoped that he will one day return to being a practicing Catholic. But imagine how likely that would be if he were not permitted to shake hands with the other parishioners because he isn't in a state of grace and cannot receive Communion? I would venture to guess highly unlikely. I think that most people who are not practicing/not Catholic/not in a state of grace could probably understand, given how important the sacrament of Communion is and given the doctrine of the Real Presence, that they cannot receive, but I think you'd be putting up a serious obstacle in also suggesting that hand shakes (not a sacrament that I'm aware of and certainly not done with much reverence as I've ever seen) should be limited to Catholics in a state of grace. I think that visible exclusion would be enough to push many who are perhaps in the beginning stages of conversion/reversion or who aren't Catholic but have some ties to the Church (i.e. relatives who aren't Catholic but attend weddings, First Communions, etc) well away from the Church for no reason. Surely, in my opinion, it would be better to just limit the sign of peace to the clergy or remove it entirely.

guinadese said...

My two boys have just come back from a church camp (which shall remain nameless) where the peace is exchanged through making 'bunny ears' to each other (which they thought was a great laugh). Horrifed, I tried to explain to them why this wasn't appropriate but ended up looking like a miserable old grudge as usual. Sigh, swimming against the tide.

Supertradmum said...

Father, I like what the custom is in Malta. People just bow slightly and nod. It is dignified and does not cause noise or disruption. It is a sign of respect for all.

What I hate is the running up and down the aisles and the slapping on the back type stuff. I also, no offense to the married, hate the kissy-face PDAs.

Well, I am happy you like the kiss of peace. I, for one, just nod and bow slightly.

David O'Neill said...

I too would like to see it abrogated as people are dashing all over the church or waving to each from across the church. Surprisingly it was stopped in the diocese of Hexham & Newcastle as was Communion of the Precious Blood when we had a possible outbreak of Avian Flu a few years ago.
Come back Avian Flu (in a very low risk form) all is forgiven

Squashed Sardine said...

I have a largish family and when the SoP comes up we have to all get round each other, which takes time, and we can't shake hands, cos that's silly, we're family, so we hug and kiss on the cheek. Then we have to do all the neighbours, and everyone has to 'do' everyone else so that no-one is left out or offended, and the whole thing is just a ridiculous rigmarole. Of course we wish peace to the entire congregation, that's a given, isn't it? I find it disturbing and intrusive. I wish it was completely done away with, and I am disappointed that the powers that be have decided not to grasp this particular nettle at this time.

Savonarola said...

Substituting kissing of an object for kissing a human person is a good example of how Western Christianity has distanced people from God and from themselves as those in whom God lives: God becomes a mere object of worship and we become only miserable sinners unworthy to approach him. Catholicism in particular has etiolated our sense of incarnation into an abstract piety which enables one to think, Sod off, to fellow worshippers without noticing what a travesty this is of any real communion in the body of Christ.
Much Catholic worship feels devotionally quite dead, so that enthusiastic giving of a sign of peace is the only moment when people's subjugated humanity re-emerges, only to be subsumed immediately with a gloomy Agnus Dei into the usual deadly solemn seriousness. Interesting that the devout cannot bear human beings doing something ordinarily human in their worship, but clearly want the celebration of communion in Christ (God made man) to be isolated in its devotional vacuum from the world of ordinary humanity in which alone we can encounter the divine.

William Tighe said...


"giving of a sign of peace is the only moment when people's subjugated humanity re-emerges ...
doing something ordinarily human in their worship"

I cannot imagine a better example of a complete and total misunderstanding of the nature and purpose of the sign of peace, and, thus, a fine "proof" that its revival was a mistake.

Savonarola said...

Mr. Tighe, by all means disagree, but at least say why you do. Your comment shows a complete and total failure to understand the point I was trying to make about how we know - and can only know - God in our humanity.

Nicolas Bellord said...

In Portugal and I suspect other countries the greeting is "The peace of Christ" (Paz do Cristo) rather than "Peace be with you" so I use that as it brings Christ into the picture.

I do however find some people quite aggressive poking you in the back whilst others seem to think they have to crush my hand. Generally not mad about it.

Patrick Langan said...

The sign of peace in the Nobis Ordo is a perfect representation of human centred nature of the new rite. When attending the new rite I simply kneel down and focus on the agnus dei! This does not say l am not in communion with my friends and fellow Catholics on the contrary I am in communion with them in the real presence of Jesus Christ our Saviour.

William Tighe said...


The "Osculum Pacis" was never meant, in its origins and rationale, as a gesture of "fellow-feeling" or "recognition of common humanity," but, rather, as an enacted fulfillment of Matthew 5:23-24 - which is why, in all ancient eucharistic rites other than the Roman Rite it comes right at the beginning of the Offertory.

Also, if the "Sign of Peace" was not in its origins a formalized rite, it certainly was a solemn one, most unlike the disagreeable and intrusive "gabfest" that one still encounters in many Roman Rite churches. It has become a hieratic and clerical rite in all those rites in which it survives, save the East Syrian Rite (Chaldean Catholic and Assyrian/"Nestorian") in which alone it has been retained - and is there a most dignified, if simple, rite.

William Tighe said...


As I wrote a while back to a friend:

"The way the Nestorians (the only rite that has not reduced it to an exchange among the celebrating clergy) do it is to exchange a ritualized embrace among those in the sanctuary. Then the deacons (and at one point they had lots of deacons, devout old men being regularly, if not routinely, ordained to the diaconate in their old age) or, in America, usually the altar servers, descend into the body of the church and stop at the center aisle end of each pew (I don't know how they do it when there aren't pews). The deacon/altar boy bows towards the person at the end of the pew, while that person holds out to the deacon/altar boy his two hands folded together, the way traditional/conservative Catholics are taught to fold their hands when going up to receive communion. The deacon/altar boy folds his two hands over the two hands of that person, bows again, and moves on to the next pew to do the same. The person receiving this "hand embrace" bows again to the deacon/altar boy, and then turns 180 degrees to the person on his/her other side, and passes on to that person the hand embrace in precisely the same manner that it was conveyed to him by the deacon/altar boy - and so on, through the congregation. It is most dignified, and most impressive. I witnessed it myself when I attended an Assyrian liturgy in San Francisco, California, in January 1989."

Jacobi said...

The question of how we pray, or communicate with God , in worship is critical.

One thing that is clear is that the sense of prayer has effectively disappeared from the Novus Ordo in all its varying constructed forms.

But then, that was no doubt one of the main objectives of the Relativist Reformers who tried to dissolve the idea of a Real God, as in, “and the Word was God” by quite unlawfully suppressing the Mass of Ages.

Man is a Fallen Creature in need of Forgiveness and Grace to attain Salvation.

We get this by seeking union with Him by Loving the Lord our God with our whole heart, soul, mind, and strength, as directly as we can, as Christ specifically instructed us to do, Mark 12:30.
We could at least try to do this in the Mass of Ages, however imperfectively.

Not so in the Novus Ordo with its orientation, not just away from God, but towards the Fallen Human Nature of Man as something near self sufficient in itself. Hints of Pelagianism? The new liturgy of the Mass, valid though it may be, has moved Christ, God and Man, so much further away from us, made it so much more difficult to commune with our God and therefore join with Him - and that is why it will decline and fade.

Lynda said...

It is absurd that it should come after the consecration. The ultimate way that we can be truly united with our brethren in Faith is by worshipping in unison, with full attention, our whole beings, Our Lord Who has come to us Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity, in the consecration.

Lynda said...

Humanity is capable of great holiness. We are spiritual and moral as well as physical. We become more truly human as we reach for God - not less. And humans are most fully united when in unison they give their total attention to worshipping God in the Blessed Sacrament.

John Vasc said...

"we urgently need to find an alternative to the very secular handshake, which in the UK is often associated with dodgie car salesmen."

Nail on head, Father. It's different in Germany, where the handshake is a more everyday greeting. (In fact there are some workplaces in Germany where absolutely everyone in the office shakes everyone else's hand every blessed morning!) Possibly this un-English handshake of peace was imported from the continent post VII?

I'd suggest a simple, brief, static, upraised hand, open-palmed, as a salutation (not a wave) to one's neighbours along the pew, which can be taken as a general greeting to all, and involves no physical contact. An open hand is a traditional frank gesture of peaceful intention, respect and friendship. Even I (who loathe the congregational SOP and will avoid it if at all possible) could manage that...

Jacobi said...

@ John Vasc
Let’s just drop it and get on with the Mass. It is optional after all.

John Vasc said...

Jacobi - I would dearly love to see it thrown into the fiery furnace, but the weeping and gnashing of teeth of its diehard touchy-feely adherents would make for stubborn resistance...:-)

About this 'optional' bit - my reading of the GIRM suggests that the 'option' is one to be exercised by the celebrant, and not ad hoc by the people.

In which case, it would not be enough for the celebrant simply *not* to say 'Let us give one another a Sign of Peace'; and proceeding immediately with the Agnus Dei would not prevent the habitual continuance of the custom regardless.
The priest might need to announce at each Mass, say, after the bidding prayers, certainly before the Canon - maybe repeatedly for several weeks - that the Sign of Peace is no longer to be used in this parish, and (eg) 'Instead, just include all your neighbours at Mass in a brief silent prayer of your own as we say together the Agnus Dei...'

Even then, something tells me it would not be a simple cultural adjustment. In the meantime many of those brought up under the NO have come to see the effusive greeting as a central point of the Mass - unbelievable as that is to us.

Jacobi said...

@John,

The celebrant has a clear choice. He can say ” peace be with you” to the congregation only and get on with the Mass, or, he can also invite, but I think, not instruct, the congregation in addition to offer the sign of peace to each other. Nowhere is the form of the gesture specified. It must be in accordance with local custom. It is to be offered only to those nearest.

I interpret that as those to my right and left, and certainly not behind, (arthritic back). In my part of the world it does not include shaking the flabby damp hand of an embarrassed female altar server sent up the aisles, but I do it, as well as dosie old ladies of course, to avoid embarrassing them. Not so male adults, who if they persist get a polite head bow, and if they still persist as one did on Thursday evening, they get my well practised “sod off” look, which works remarkably well!


Three priests I know do not invite the congregation to exchange the sign, but simply get on with the Mass

Pelerin said...

I'd love to know what Jacobi's 'sod off' look is! I am still recovering from a crushing handshake given to me in June at the SOP and was much relieved that at the church I attended on the last two Sundays the SOP was omitted altogether. I noticed this last year but wondered if it was a mistake, but it looks as if in that particular parish the SOP has indeed been omitted. And the Priest did not say 'let us offer each other the sign of peace' at all but went straight into the Agnus Dei.