I think the sign of peace is very important. It is a sign of the horizontal communion that is necessary before we dare to encounter the vertical communion. I mean if we are not at peace with our brethren we can't be at peace with God. The limpness of the handshake hardly seems to express the intimacy we should have with the Body of Christ.
I remember reading that Henry II always asked for Requiem Mass when Thomas Becket was at court, during their antagonism, just so Henry didn't didn't have to kiss St Thomas, in those days it would have been on the mouth. In the Extra-Ordinary use the priest addresses the words "Pax vobiscum" to the crucifix, presumably symbolising the whole body of Christ.
When I was a monk for a short time junior received the sign of peace by placing his hands under the elbows of the senior, who placed his hands on the shoulders of the Junior, both moved towards one another cheek to cheek but without actually touching, a very formalised, stylised and beautiful gesture.
I remember in Westminster Cathedral ages ago I was hugged, enveloped almost by a large lady, with the words, which didn't quite match the action of, "Pleased to meet you". We didn't exchange another word!
Here, the sign of peace doesn't go on forever, but I get annoyed with a few people who wave across the church to their friends, which of course becomes an act of exclusion to those who are not their friends, or casual visitors. Not quite satisfactory.
I haven't yet catechised people by telling them that the correct response to, "Peace be with you", is "Amen", not "And also with you", according to one Vatican document. It is supposed to be a prayer.
There is an interesting piece on New Liturgical Movements by a Cistercian monk about the Kiss of Peace in his monastery.
The kiss is supposed to have originally taken place before the offertory (with Matt 5:23 in mind), but it was soon moved to its present place precisely because it was able to signify the peace which Holy Communion was about to effect.(7)
The priest used to kiss the altar—and in some churches the chalice, the paten, or even the host—before giving the peace, to show where it came from. “The kiss of Peace is a glorious symbol of the communion of the faithful with each other and with Christ,” writes Pius Parsch,For the kiss comes from the altar, from Christ; that is Christ kisses the sharers in the Holy Sacrifice; the kiss goes from mouth to mouth and unites all the faithful in an intimate unity, a unity in Christ. Thus, that which the Holy Sacrifice and Holy Communion are to effect is beautifully represented by the kiss of peace.
The whole thing is worth reading, though according to another Vatican document the sign of peace is not supposed to come from the altar to the people, but spring from amongst the people, an innovation I think.
My question is, how do we offer the sign of peace in a way that reflect the dignity of what it is actually about, rather than a somewhat empty gesture.
The Holy Father has suggested that it could possibly be moved to the offertory, I am not sure about that.