From a reader:
Wait, the sign of peace is an option, not a requirement?!?! How did I not know this? Am I bound by obedience to participate if the priest uses this option? Can I decline the invitation?
The so-called “sign of peace” during the Novus Ordo is an option, not a requirement. Initiating the sign of peace is an option left to the discretion of the priest celebrant. He is not obliged to use this option.
The rubrics in Latin GIRM no. 154 indicate that the invitation to the “sign of peace” is something made pro opportunitate. This is repeated in the rubrics in the Ordo at 128. The phrase pro opportunitate means “insofar as it is fitting, opportune, advantageous”, or otherwise, “as circumstances indicate”. The priest can determine that the circumstances to not call for a “sign of peace” on the part of the people, that it is not, in fact, advantageous. He can make this determination because, for example, the sign of peace is not carried out with the proper decorum and that it therefore is inappropriate.
Can you decline? I guess so.
The Latin for this invitation is “Offerte vobis pacem… Offer ‘the pax‘ to each other.” The pax here being the Roman kiss of peace or its legitimate substitution. That offerte is an imperative. Latin imperatives are not always strict commands. We use imperatives in addressing our liturgical prayers to God all the time. We are not actually bossing God around when we use imperatives. They can be a strong petition or invitation. In any event, offerte isn’t just a suggestion. You are being strongly urged.
So, yes, you can refuse to participate. I don’t, however, think that it is quite right simply to ignore that “Offerte“. That doesn’t mean you have to go bananas or contort yourself to greet everyone within possible reach. It certainly doesn’t mean leaving your place. And it should never mean doing something that is undignified, like the idiot wave at someone on the other side of the building, or overly invasive like hugs and kisses which usually involves the risk of either disease or disgust.
I think the very best option for the sign of peace is for the priest to leave people in peace.