Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Pleased to meet you!

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.


Ttony said...

Dear Father

it might be better in the Ordinary Use as part of the Reconciliation at the beginning: after the Kyrie and before the Gloria. At least that way we'd get over and done with the modern meaning of the Kiss of Peace: that it's an indication of how chummy we are as we go to the Lord.

There is an awful lot of catechising to do if the Extraordinary Use is to being the Ordinary Use up to scratch.


PS First time round, I wrote "if the Extraordinary Use is to being the Ordinary up to scratch" and changed it in case anybody thought I meant the Bishop. On reflection ...

Anonymous said...

Fr. Blake,

What do you say about people who won't even turn around one pew to offer the sign of peace? I have a few guys in my seminary who won't turn around and extend the sign of peace, and I, personally, find it to be rather annoying and pompous! But, what do you think? I respect your opinion much as I have been a steady visitor to your blog for the last year, almost! Thanks!


Anonymous said...

This is interesting, Father, as it is the first I have known that we are supposed to reply 'Amen' to 'Peace be with you.' I have to admit to replying 'and with you' if I am not the first to say 'peace be with you.' When in France everyone says 'La paix du Christ' - 'The peace of Christ'
Regarding limp handshakes, I have to say that I am always relieved to receive one as a firm handshake can be very painful to an arthritis sufferer! When the handshaking was introduced I wish this had been pointed out as i have often been on the receiving end of a crushing, all enveloping handshake at this point almost reducing me to tears!

Anonymous said...

Just another thought - how does one know whether it is up to us to say the 'Peace be with you' or to reply the 'Amen?' Is it not a bit like the 'After you Claude' 'No after you'waiting to go through a door!!

Fr Ray Blake said...

Thank you, you can't force anyone to participate. I suppose you have to ask why the individuals you mention don't want to offer the sign of peace.
The best way of dealing with most things in a seminary or other community is humour. Humour is the ideal object for deflating pomposity.

JARay said...

After reading what you have written, Father, I'm more disposed towards it. What has put me off is the running around all over the place to this friend and that one, hugging this one , kissing that one and waving to the other one. I think that such carryings on are completely out of place. As a Catenian, we turn to the brother on the left and the one on the right and that's it. When you were in the monastery you did the same sort of thing...at least, when I was in the Seminary we acted as you described receiving the Peace from one and handing it on to the other. But how on earth can you expect a congregation to act in a similar fashion?


Dr. Peter H. Wright said...

I'm sorry to read about your painful arthritis.
I can't bear to let people grasp my arthritic hand.
If they show signs of wanting to do so, I give them a smile, and let them shake my walking stick.

Fr Ray Blake said...

John, I don't know, some Indian sister here in Brighton make the traditional Indian greeting: joined hands with a bow.
Somehow the handshake seems not quite right, not a sign of reverence, not comparable to the traditional liturgical embrace, or even the Indian gesture.
And now kissing is pretty a universal greeting, the sign of peace handshake seems rather cold and empty. For the English especially, it is not a gesture used with friends, unlike the French who all shake hands, even at the bus stop.
It is not the right gesture, is it?

Andrew said...

In Malaysia, Singapore and some other Asian countries, the Sign of Peace is given by clasping the hands together and bowing slightly to the other person in the fashion of the Thai wai or Indian namaste.

In some conservative and traditional Asian societies, it is sometimes considered inappropriate to have physical contact with a person of the opposite sex who is not family and this gesture gets around that and allows one to make a sign of peace to those physically at a distance, across aisles without moving about too much.

The priest also gives this sign to the entire parish, all at once and does not have to move around. The priest and serves just face the people and clasp their hands and bow as he says 'The peace of the Lord be with you all'.

JARay said...

I have experienced Mass in Singapore at the Cathedral there. What Andrew says is quite true. No one moves out of his or her place. They simply join their hands and turn to each other with a bow. I found this to be just right. Nothing was said. I suppose that one would describe this as the traditional oriental greeting.


nickbris said...

The problem with shaking hands is that there's nothing worse than shaking a clammy hand and I must say it took a long time to get used to it,at first a lot of the older members of the congregation used to kneel and keep their heads down.

Johann said...

I actually don't believe that any document has said that the correct response is "Amen". Explain why the response in Latin (for both the extraordinary form and the ordinary form) is "et cum spiritu tuo". It is not a prayer in the same way the canon is a prayer. The priest is not speaking to God for the rest of the congregation as in the canon. It is a prayer which is reciprocated by and for both participating parties. Anyway, the sign shown is to be a sign of friendship and "peace". It is to be adjusted to fit the culture/region where the Mass is being celebrated.

Your claim that a Vatican Document says the response is Amen. Back it up with hard evidence or don't say it.

Personally I do give the sign of peace to people who offer it, but I do not make a huge deal out of the affair. The best Novus Ordo Mass I ever went to was at Ave Maria University in Naples, Florida, USA. It was ad orientam in Latin and without the sign of peace. The Mass is better and more reverent for the lack of this unnecessary distraction.

Stephen Davis said...


I too don't turn around and offer to shake the hands of the people behind me. I don't mean to be pompous(although do the pompous actually mean to be?!). I don't do it because of what I think the sign of peace is. My understanding is that when I offer one the sign of peace I'm offering all, in that church and in the Church - its not a nice social thing its much more important than that. So I don’t see I’m being rude – I’ve just offered everyone the sign of peace, even you Tom though I haven’t met you! It’s the only way of not leaving anyone out!

Fr.Ray mentions

"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."

With this in mind we should remember that it is "a sign of the horizontal communion" - not with my friends or family, or someone I like but with the whole body of Christ. This is present in the person next to me in Church as much as it is in the 25 there for daily Mass. It’s there one offering of that peace of Christ just as much as it is in 24 offerings. Of course wandering around the church takes longer and can be a distraction from the Mass.

From Redeptionis Sacramentum

[72]It is appropriate “that each one give the sign of peace only to those who are nearest and in a sober manner”.

I guess turning around to the people behind you could be included by this, I think someone wiser should make some recommendation perhaps. Maybe I’m being too serious about my conduct in Mass – I am of course happy to be corrected on anything I have written.

God Bless.

Fr Ray Blake said...

The greeting "Dominus vobiscum" with its response, "Et cum Spiritum tuum" is reserved to the priest and deacon, "Pax vobiscum" is reserved to the bishop, in English there is no distinction between plural and singular.
Hence the conern about its use.
I really don't have time to provide you with references,if you don't believe me look it up yourself, it is in recent document (last 5 years), or provide us with the proper words yourself to accompany the action.

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