WDTPRS – 33rd Ordinary Sunday: thoughts on the “sign of peace” – POLL

Since the day I was ordained, I have celebrated both forms of the Roman Rite, the Novus Ordo and the TLM.  When I am called upon to say the Novus Ordo, I jump up and help out.  After all, I am not rigid in this regard. I prefer the older, traditional form, but it is also a matter of duty and charity to respond generously to what St. John Paul II called his Motu Proprio Ecclesia Dei adflicta the “legitimate aspirations” of the faithful who desire tradition, to offer for their benefit what Benedict XVI called “sacred and great”, and ruled was never abrogated, always, therefore, legitimate.   This is one of the reasons why I, consistently, as we approach Sunday, post comments about the prayers of Mass in both the Usus Antiquior and the Novus Ordo.   We mustn’t be stingy.

This Sunday’s Collect in the Novus Ordo is rich.  The ancient author was skilled.  The translators of the current ICEL version blew it.  By the way, the way ICEL consistently blew is but one of the myriad reasons why many in English-speaking countries desired Holy Mass in Latin… but I digress.

We will see where they went wrong and then drill into a pair of words leading us back to the 3rd century.

Our Collect for the 33rd Ordinary Sunday was in the 8th century Liber sacramentorum Gellonensis and also in the more ancient Veronese Sacramentary.

Da nobis, quaesumus, Domine Deus noster, in tua semper devotione gaudere, quia perpetua est et plena felicitas, si bonorum omnium iugiter serviamus auctori.

First, the conditional particle si means “if”. Iugiter (related to “yoke”) and servio (constructed with the dative) are old friends now. We can leave them aside. Briefly, devotio can be read as “a devotion to duty”. Our “devotion” must lead the soul to keep the commandments of God and the duties of our state before all else. If we are devout in respect to God and intent on fulfilling the duties of our state in life as it truly is here and now, then God will give us the actual graces we need to fulfill our vocations. He helps us because we are fulfilling our proper role in His great plan.

I like the parallels between perpetua and iugiter, and plena and omnium followed by felicitas and bonorum.  If you work on it, this is an ABCCBA pattern.  Elegant.  Chiasma.

Pay attention to the ideal conditional statement depending on “si…if” with the subjunctive: Y if X.


Grant to us, we beseech You, O Lord our God, always to rejoice in Your devotion, for happiness is perpetual and full, if we serve continually the author of all good things.


Father of all that is good, keep us faithful in serving you, for to serve you is our lasting joy.

What were they thinking?


Grant us, we pray, O Lord our God, the constant gladness of being devoted to you, for it is full and lasting happiness to serve with constancy the author of all that is good.

FAIL. They eliminated the condition! The Latin says that happiness is perpetual and full, IF we serve God.    They eliminated the protasis of an ideal condition.

Why? Is the condition too demanding?

I can’t help but think of the many Catholics today who assume that heaven’s rewards are ours automatically without our having to do anything more than just feel good about ourselves.  The fact is, we can lose what Christ won for us through presumption, neglect, laziness, and sin.  Heaven is not automatic.  We must pray for the dead, examine our lives, go to confession, and perform good works.  We must serve.

As it happens, the 2008 “Gray Book” (draft) version had “if” while the 1998 rejected ICEL version suggested the condition through a paraphrase (“for only through our faithfulness to you…”).

Note the words perpetua and felicitas. The Roman Canon (1st Eucharistic Prayer) raises up the names of two ancient martyrs, Sts Felicity and Perpetua. Coincidence? I think not. In the ancient sacramentaries today’s Collect was used for martyrs.

Who are Sts Felicity and Perpetua?

We have documents from the period of Roman persecutions of Christians in the early 3rd century, including the prison diary and trial accounts of a young noble woman named Perpetua, martyred around 202 in Carthage, North Africa. She was still a catechumen (not yet baptized), who identified herself as Christian. Perpetua gave up her still nursing baby and insisted on being put into the arena during games in honor of the Emperor Geta.  Many tried to dissuade her, but she got her wish. With great heroism she faced the beasts. After many torments a gladiator was sent in to finish her off, but he couldn’t bring himself to do it. Perpetua grabbed his hand and pointed his sword at her own throat. Perpetua’s heroism inspired others to give strong witness to their faith and, subsequently, be imprisoned. A pregnant slave girl name Felicity went to prison with Perpetua.  Felicity had her baby just before they were sent to the arena (from Latin harena, “sand” which covered the surface). The accounts of the trial and deaths of these martyrs attest to the amazing love they had for each other in prison.  They also show that Christian solidarity crossed class boundaries. There is a touching moment in the account when Perpetua and Felicity arrange each other’s clothing so as to preserve their modesty even while they were suffering.  They bade each other farewell with the kiss of peace.

Our Faith was nourished by the blood of martyrs. The farewell gesture of Perpetua and Felicity, the kiss of peace, should remind us today to be dignified during Holy Mass when the entirely optional “sign of peace” is invited for the congregation.

Dignity, people, dignity!  Use some decorum if you have the sign of peace… for the love of all that’s holy.

The congregation’s sign of peace – is entirely optional in the Novus Ordo.  The congregation exchanges the sign of peace at the discretion of the priest or bishop celebrant.

To put it another way, it does not have to be done at all.

However, there is a specific moment when the celebrant extends his sign of peace to those present.  The celebrant’s sign of peace is not an option.

In Redemptionis Sacramentum we read:

[72.] It is appropriate “that each one give the sign of peace only to those who are nearest and in a sober manner”. “The Priest may give the sign of peace to the ministers but always remains within the sanctuary, so as not to disturb the celebration. He does likewise if for a just reason he wishes to extend the sign of peace to some few of the faithful”. “As regards the sign to be exchanged, the manner is to be established by the Conference of Bishops in accordance with the dispositions and customs of the people”, and their acts are subject to the recognitio of the Apostolic See.

Thus, I suppose it depends on what people do during the sign of peace, or more technically, the “pax… peace”.  When I was in Hong Kong years ago I saw people bow to each other.  In the USA and Italy have have seen all dignity and reverence thrown to the winds.

Since in the Ordinary Form the congregational sign of peace is an option left entirely to the discretion of the priest celebrant, until we accomplish a restoration of liturgical decorum my preference would be to opt out of the congregational sign of peace.

That said, the congregational sign of peace is permitted.  As a matter of fact, it is an ancient Christian gesture, rooted in Scripture and the earliest liturgical practice.  It is well attested and its meaning is explained by Fathers of the Church such as St. Augustine.

The manner of giving the sign of peace is usually culturally conditioned.   However, there is a traditional sign of peace, or kiss of peace, the pax, in the Roman Church.

It would be nice for Catholics to use it, instead of the infelicitous foolishness that is perpetually perpetrated.

Remember the POLL that I posted about the sign of peace?  It has also been on and off of the sidebar.

3rd ROUND: The congregation's "sign of peace" during (Novus Ordo) Mass

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About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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30 Responses to WDTPRS – 33rd Ordinary Sunday: thoughts on the “sign of peace” – POLL

  1. Geoffrey says:

    “The manner of giving the sign of peace is usually culturally conditioned. However, there is a traditional sign of peace, or kiss of peace, the pax, in the Roman Church.”

    I would like to see more of this, particularly among the celebrant and ministers in the sanctuary. I would also like to see all of us adopt a little Latin in this regard. “Pax tecum!”

  2. KatieL56 says:

    I wish Father–and the altar servers–would remain in the sanctuary and not traverse halfway through the church hugging and backslapping everyone. (It’s one reason I stay in the back of the church even though the downside is that I can’t hear so well in back. OTOH considering the many, many ad libs and omissions, and the ‘talk after the gospel’, maybe it’s better off that I can’t hear so well). I don’t see so well either but at least I can still see the missal and read all the correct prayers. I wish you could explain to him, Father, that his changing around of the collect prayers and his hybrid Eucharistic Prayers and omission of the Creed and Gloria, in favor of lots of ‘let us extend our hands and bless each other’, ‘everybody say hello” and the ‘kiss of peace’ extended to the ramparts, is not really giving us the active participation he INSISTS is the reason that we don’t ‘look at the front pages of the song book”, but instead is denying us participation. He was very cordial in explaining to me why we ‘do this’ when I asked him and I did not want to be disrespectful or argumentative, but it seems like he gets more and more carried away as the months pass. And yes, there are tambourines now too. “Everything 70s is new again”. . .

  3. LDP says:

    Our priest only gives the kiss of peace, and then only to the altar servers in the sanctuary. He told me not so long ago that he deliberately doesn’t look at the congregation during the sign of peace, not wishing, I think, to be embarrassed by what they may be doing. In truth, the very worst I’ve seen in our church is someone walking to the end of a row, or leaning across the aisle, to shake a fellow’s hand, so not too wild compared with some other parishes I guess. Personally, I dislike the sign of peace, though I put on a false smile and shake the hands of those near to me, grudgingly reminding myself that at least the children present – and sadly not only the children present – seem to think it’s all jolly good fun. Who knows, perhaps I’m just a misery!

  4. SundaySilence says:

    Way back in the day, the nuns drilled into us that greeting the person to our immediate right and to our immediate left was sufficient; that we should remember where we are, and Who we are there for.

    Fast forward to now: I really want to wear a name tag that says “Once the Angus Dei starts, the handshakes stop.”

  5. Lucas Whittaker says:

    A great deal could be said about the placement of the pax today (after the transubstatiation, and at a time when the liturgy shifts from the communal ‘we’ of prayer to the personal ‘I’ who is about to have contact with Jesus in the Eucharist), and the negative impact that it has had on belief in the Real Presence. From what I have heard from a reliable source (so, not studied on my own), the pax used to happen at the beginning of Mass, just after Father kissed the altar, then he extended the peace of Christ, The Rock, to the ecclesia. Asking them to kiss one another as a sign of the same peace. It seems clear that major changes in liturgical praxis, the law of prayer, open the door to confusion regarding belief. And that fact should be a cause of great sorrow for all who grasp the loss caused in Catholics who doubt that Jesus abides with us in the Eucharist.

  6. sirlouis says:

    It strikes me that much of the silliness that goes on under the “sign of peace” is due to its being considered more as a greeting than as an acknowledgment of communion. More and better catechesis about just what is being “signed” is needed. Part of that would be coming up with a gesture more indicative of communion. A handshake is a greeting, I can’t think offhand what gesture already in common use in our culture would be understood immediately as expressing communion.

    My wife and I usually attend the least popular Mass at a small parish. We find ourselves isolated because we sit right up front. (I will someday make my fortune by manufacturing and selling fake front pews. They can be made of cardboard because no one ever sits in them.) We consider ourselves free to exchange the Roman pax. Maybe what has to be done is to encourage this usage and then make it into a sign of communion by telling people that’s what it is. This is what was done during the ’60s to change the meaning of the “V” sign from “victory” to “peace.” If the bishops care to make the effort, they can work the same sort of transformation.

  7. Benedict Joseph says:

    My parish has the Novus Ordo, ad orientum, with NO exchange of the sign of interruption, I mean the “sign of peace.” Despite the fact that our music is barely tolerable, and our church building is wretched, I prefer our practice so much I travel fifteen miles each way, daily, in order to avoid the insanity four miles from my home. I can’t imagine being reimmersed in the insanity, but inevitably it will come to pass some day.
    I hate the sign of peace.

  8. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    Lucas Whittaker,

    There is a lot of interesting matter in the three old Catholic Encyclopedia articles, “Kiss”, “Pax in the Liturgy”, and “Pax”. The first of these describes the “traditional sign of peace, or kiss of peace, the pax, in the Roman Church” in this way: “placing his hands upon the arms of the deacon, he presents his left cheek to the deacon’s left cheek but without actually touching it.”

  9. Lucas Whittaker says:

    Thank you, Venerator Sti Lot. I read the three articles that you recommended. To avoid digressing from this post’s intention I would only add that I am very happy to join the priest in praying the prayer for peace found after the Agnus Dei at the TLM. I see this as preferable to the handshaking that distracts from the reality that Jesus is at that time present on the altar. The same prayer is found in a different place in the Novus Ordo, but it is, in my experience, much more difficult to say it habitually because Father can use any form of the IV Eucharistic prayers on any given day … It is challenging to assist at/participate with the Mass of the Faithful in the Novus Ordo according to the beautiful sentiment/recommendation of Prosper Gueranger. I feel much more ‘at home’ in the Traditional Anaphora.

  10. Grant M says:

    I was in Singapore and saw (as in HK) the congregation briefly bow to one another at the Pax. A silent two-second ceremony and then the Agnus Dei. I felt a vague sense of relief…

  11. Matilda P says:

    Father Z and Grant M —

    I live in Singapore and can vouch for this. Usually the sign of peace is to first bow to the priest with palms together, and then to do the same (with varying degrees of solemnity) to those around you. Families do hug and couples kiss (alas…) but it really varies by parish and individual. The most liturgically “liberal” parish* here has people making peace hand-signs across the square modernist nave.

    (Funnily enough, today when I was in town I popped into a Cantonese mass that caters mostly to Hong Kong expats, and they did the sign of peace as is usually done elsewhere in Singapore.)

    *Still nothing compared to the worst of the US, though.

    Grant M, I hope you enjoyed the rest of your time in Singapore!

  12. pelerin says:

    I try to attend the EF wherever possible but on the occasions where I wish to attend Mass and it is a NO I find it almost impossible to concentrate when the kiss of peace is near. I absolutely dread it.

    For me it is either the embarrassment of merely bowing when someone is thrusting their hand forward and making them think I am being unfriendly or risking what could be a powerful handshake which could leave me in pain for many weeks which has happened to me on more than one occasion.

    At a recent NO Mass I attended I was relieved to see that there was no one nearby with whom I might have to risk a handshake. However the time came and to my horror a gentleman left his pew several pews in front and approached me with hand outstretched. I smiled as best I could with heart pounding remembering the last time I had been in that particular church I had had to attend the Accident department of the local hospital as the handshake I had received had caused my hand to swell and give me considerable pain.

    He was so determined standing there with hand outhrust and looked as if he was not going to budge until he had shaken my hand. In desperation I shook my head and held up my hand so he could see my deformed fingers. Only then did he move.

    So not surprisingly I ticked the box saying ‘I dread it and think of ways to avoid it!’

  13. As a priest I simply do not give the congregation the option and I think most Irish people prefer it that way.

  14. jaykay says:

    Br. Tom Forde: I agree absolutely.

    As to the Collect translation, yep, the translators really blew it there. As Fr. Z. said in relation to the 1973 product: “what were they thinking?” They seem to have reverted to 1973-mode, with the clause of consequence rather than the conditional which the Latin actually has.

    In school, the Marist Fathers wouldn’t have let me/us away with that, at the age of 14, on grammatical grounds alone, never mind the theological ones.

  15. robtbrown says:

    NB: It is ad orientEm not ad orientUm

  16. RocketFish says:

    I’d be perfectly fine if it was with the person to your right and the person to your left. But it seems to be a competition to shake the hand of the person who is as far as possible from you.

  17. surritter says:

    Fr. Z, you claimed that the collect eliminates the conditional: “Grant us, we pray, O Lord our God, the constant gladness of being devoted to you, for it is full and lasting happiness to serve with constancy the author of all that is good.”
    I gently disagree. While the actual word “if” is not in that sentence, it is clear that the “full and lasting happiness” comes directly from the action of serving “with constancy the author of all that is good.”
    A parallel example, if I may (assume that I live south of you): “For it is arriving in Wisconsin to travel northward.” In other words, getting to WI is not an automatic thing; it is conditional on me getting off the couch and hitting the road in the right direction.
    That minor quibble aside, I loved this post :)

    [Nope. I see what you are doing, but don’t buy it, deft as it is.]

  18. mlmc says:

    I don’t like the “break” in decorum that the sign of peace often entails, but it isn’t nearly as bad as the hand holding fetish during the Lord’s Prayer/Our Father. One of my adult sons was greatly relieved when I explained it was completely optional- he detested it. Don’t get me started on lay people standing in the Oren’s position during it….

    [NB: “orans”]

  19. SundaySilence says:

    RocketFish: I think they have to do that, to meet their quota.

  20. oldconvert says:

    I find the “sign of peace” simply embarrassing. I particularly dislike it (a) during funerals, where there are usually non-Catholics and indeed non-believers audibly bemused by everybody suddenly shaking hands with one another for no discernible reason (b) when adults who should know better continue smirking and turning around in their pews after the priest has started the Agnus Dei.

    Thank goodness, in a way, for the lack of weekday altar servers in our parish! Since Father has no-one to shake hands with and won’t leave the sanctuary, he simply omits the nonsense.

  21. Gerhard says:

    Sorry, but do I understand correctly that Ss Felicity and Perpetua made V signs and grinned inanely at each other across the arena before their death? Or that St Mary Magdalene brought her tambourine along to Calvary? The oppressive, asphyxiating, dead hand of infantile, shallow, repetitious, un-believing, vulgar, inclusive, horizontal, anthropocentric, irreverent, sacrilegious, scandalous, indifferent, vacuous, heterodox, inculturated, destructive, blasphemous, protestant-inspired “liturgy”, which most painfully crucifies Our Blessed Lord all over again every week, is everywhere. Smoke of satan in the Vatican? You bet. How heavy must Our Blessed Lord’s arm not be? When will His priests and shepherds REPENT AND TURN AGAIN and properly lead His flock to Heaven? Is it “love”, to lead us on a merrie dance, piping us with catchy ditties and fuzzy feelings of equality to integrate us into perdition? True charity and mercy starts on the Altar in a Mass properly, respectfully, robustly, manfully and intelligently said. Or have I rigidly and insecurely and lovelessly lost the plot?

  22. Sword40 says:

    I attend an FSSP parish so I need not contend with this problem.

  23. Grant M says:

    Matilda P:
    Thanks! I did enjoy my time in Singapore -or all my times in Singapore. I live in Jakarta, and for visa purposes had to visit Singapore about 7 times in 2015. Now my circumstances have changed and I no longer need to travel there. But it was always a delight to visit the city: all Jakartans seem to find it refreshing to visit such a user-friendly city.
    The Pax here is the standard handshake: not as dignified as a bow but better than in some places by all accounts.

  24. hwriggles4 says:

    I attended a “Catholic college” in the mid to late 1980s, and at Mass oftentimes the celebrant encouraged us to be “huggy and kissy” at the sign of peace, like we did in high school on youth retreats. In those days I was very shy with the girls, and it did help me as a man to overcome that obstacle. However, as I have grown wiser and had a reversion story, I have learned that the Mass itself is not a social gathering, and we need to maintain proper decorum and behavior.

  25. Lucas Whittaker says:

    I see a connection between a need for a “reform of the reform” and the sign of peace. The roots of the need to reform the now-‘forma ordinaria’ go all of the way back to the first liturgy in Exodus. Moses read the law (today: the Law of the Gospel is heard by the people), the people said the first Credo, “All that the Lord has said, we will do.” Then came the sacrifice. The blood of which was used to ratify the covenant relationship with God. What mattered was that the people grasped what they were saying yes to. Then, they said ‘Yes’. Today, at our Catholic liturgy people are sprinkled inwardly by the blood of the True Lamb, as the author of the epistle to the Hebrews tells us. The sign of peace has come to confuse many about the meaning of holy Mass (community-centered liturgy), and also why we are there: To renew our ‘Yes’ to the entire content and also object of Faith by receiving the Eucharist with this correct disposition. We then allow ourselves to be transformed inwardly as a means of rational and appropriate worship (cf. Romans 12). Prosper Gueranger submits that our inner attitude should express the desire: “Come, my dear Jesus, come!); such a desire seems greatly to be at odds with turning away from Jesus as he waits for us on the Altar, to turn toward our neighbor for any reason.

  26. surritter says:

    “Nope. I see what you are doing, but don’t buy it, deft as it is.”
    Well, I don’t see what I’m “doing.” Is it true that the conditional idea in a sentence really requires the word “if”?
    BTW, mine was an honest comment; please treat it as such.

  27. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    Lucas Whittaker (12 Nov., 10:34),

    Thanks for the fruits of your varied experiences! I think I’m closest to “I don’t care one way or another”, but it seems good to attend to, and reflect upon, differences (experienced or read-about).

  28. OldLady says:

    I don’t see that it adds anything to Mass to be handshaking or waving at other people. It doesn’t make me feel peaceful or more loving , more like one of those stand up breaks in a seminar. For those of us who are too easily distracted as it is, can we please just focus on the Mass? Id rather recite a prayer that reflects on all of us in the Church as the Body of Christ, that our peace comes from and returns to Christ and affects everyone around us.

  29. cl00bie says:

    At my last formation class in Parish Practicum, the deacon teaching it explained that at his church, they began the Mass by telling everyone to turn to the people near them in the pews and shake hands and introduce themselves.

    I explained that that sort of thing made me very uncomfortable. It was like “contrived community” and he said: “Oh you mean like the sign of peace”?

    I remembered my prayer I start every formation weekend with (and again before some classes):

    Dear Lord: Please drape your arm gently over my shoulders, and place your other hand firmly over my mouth!

  30. un-ionized says:

    Surriter, conditional doesn’t require “if.” I read the two clauses there as being mutual though, both are from the other. But I am just me.