In another thread in this blog there is heated discussion about whether or not the Sign of Peace is always to be done at Mass, even if and when the priest does not ïnvite it. I (correctly) say that the Sign of Peace is an option at the discretion of the priest celebrant. Others (incorrectly) say that the Sign of Peace must be done anyway, invitation or not.
Today I found a piece on Zenit in the liturgical Q&A section. I will let it speak for itself. I include here the relevant part of the response. Do look at the original for all the quotes of the relevant documents and a great summary of the context of Mass and the rubrics. Emphasis mine in what follows.
ROME, JULY 11, 2006 (Zenit.org).- Answered by Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.
Q: Does the rubric "The priest or deacon may say, ‘Let us offer the sign of peace’" still mean the exchange between the people, rather than that between priest and people? I am informed that the people may never omit this exchange between themselves, even if the invitation to do so is not given. — G.D., Thornley, England
A: …. These documents show that both the invitation and actual exchange of peace form part of a single act and are done "if it is appropriate." If for some good reason the celebrant decides to omit the invitation, then the faithful are not required to exchange the sign of peace among themselves.
"Redemptionis Sacramentum" highlights another reason. The peace exchanged is the Lord’s peace coming from the sacrifice of the altar. An exchange of the sign of peace without an invitation from the altar in a way changes the symbolic value of the rite and could reduce it to signify merely human benevolence.
All the same, pastorally speaking, it is preferable to have some stability in using or omitting the invitation to the sign of peace. If a priest occasionally or irregularly omits the rite he will probably find that the faithful start shaking hands anyway from force of habit. This can lead to confusion.
Some priests omit it for weekday Masses, others include it always. There is no absolute criterion for all cases.
Okay… a couple things are clear. First, the Sign of Peace (= SOP) on the part of the CONGREGATION is not obligatory. It is up to the priest to invite people to do it or not. Nothing prevents people from doing it anyway, but they are not obliged to do it. Furthermore, there is a good theological reason NOT to offer a SOP if the priest has not invited one: the SOP is directly connected to the SACRIFICE OF THE ALTAR and NOT to the good will among the people in the congregation.
POINT SET MATCH