Demystifying the optional “sign of peace”

Over at Catholic Sensibility there is a lengthy post on the infamous "sign of peace" and the way people engage in it.

I bring this up for the sake of reminding you that the "sign of peace" is an OPTION.  The invitation to make a "sign of peace" is at the discretion of the priest.  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 "as circumstances indicate".  The priest can determine that the circumstances to not call for a "sign of peace" on the part of the people. 

In GIRM 154 we find also that the priest "can" (potest) give a sign of peace to the sacred ministers, even if no invitation was extended to the people to exchange a sign of peace.  The priest obvious can also chose not to give a sign of peace to the ministers.

Also, it is to be clearly noted that the language of GIRM 154 indicates that Mass is to be celebrated ad orientem, that is, with the priest and the people facing the same direction.  Why?  The Latin says, "… extendens et iungens manus, pacem annuntiat, versus ad populum, dicens… opening and then joining his hands he announces ‘peace’, having turned toward the people, saying…".  The priest, if he choses to invite the sign of peace, is to turn toward the people to make it that invitation.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. tradteach says:

    Fr. Z,
    When my wife and I were married three years ago at our Cathedral, we took advantage of the options of which you spoke. The priest celebrated mass facing east and at the time for the sign of peace he simply said, “The LORD be with you” and our wedding guests replied. He immediately continued with the Agnus Dei. We were lucky because the celebrant was a long time family friend and on good terms with the rector. Oh, by the way, we had a schola who plainchanted the parts of the mass.

  2. tradteach: That sounds perfectly NORMAL to me!

  3. Joseph says:


    I know this isn’t related to this post, but where can one find a copy of the Proprium Missarum ad usum Sacrosanctae Patriarchalis Basilicae Vaticanae AND its equivalent for the Liturgia Horarum?

  4. Joseph: You can’t, unless you are a Canon of the Basilica or a friend of a Canon.

  5. Joseph says:


    That makes me very sad :( Thanks for the info though!

  6. Tim Ferguson says:

    …but Father, you’re so behind the times. In the Spirit of Vatican II, we’re supposed to take all of those things that are optional and either make them mandatory (the Sign of Peace) or strictly forbidden (Mass ad orientem) and take those things which are mandatory (giving Gregorian chant pride of place) and make them optional.

    I think you need a hug.

  7. Tim: You know… I might. But not right now, okay?

  8. David Nowaczewski says:

    Great blog! This too is unreleated but since readers are requesting liturgical textxts likely onl available in Rome I figured I’d try. Do you know where I can get my hands on the Francisican supplement to the Liturgia Horarum in Latin? Any help would be great. Thanks.

  9. Jeff Miller says:

    I once visited a Dominican parish where they did not have the optional Sign of Peace. It’s absence only proved to me how clumsy it has become and how it has become a roadbump in flow of the Mass. I am sure that it could be done reverently, but so far that seems to be theoretical.

  10. didymus says:

    Father, why oh why do you bother with Todd?

  11. Séamas says:


    I go to a Dominican parish (Holy Rosary in Portland, OR) where the optional sign of peace is not give. Usually.

    On the occasions when it is given, it’s done pretty reverently. It is given to the people immediately next, in front, or behind, and there is no reaching across pews or aisles, waving, flipping peace signs, back slapping, etc. It’s all over by the time the Agnus Dei begins.

    Actually, people are so unused to it, that it takes a moment for it to dawn on people that the priest called for the peace, especially when he does so in Latin.

  12. dudymus: It is sometimes a good idea to use such posts as teachable moments… pro opportunitate, of course!

  13. Mike says:

    I am fortunate to attend a Church in St. Paul, Mn with the priest and the people facing the same direction, and where the optional sign of peace is not given. Whenever I attend a different Church I find the sign of peace is very disruptive at the high point of the Mass where I believe we should be focused on Christ in the Eucharist. To me, the sign of peace is often anything but peaceful.

  14. Norman says:

    Horror story. In my university, Mass is held in a lecture theatre once a week, and at the sign of peace, there is excited hugging and people move around to hug …

  15. Cathy_of_Alex says:

    Occasionally, I attend a small parish in northern MN (St. Charles in Cass Lake)
    where the Sign of Peace is done before the Mass starts.
    I think Father Theverkunnel was very wise in starting this. He gives people
    the social time they were used to having but does not allow the chaos
    to disrupt the Mass.

    I’d love to have a discussion on what to do when you just don’t feel like
    shaking someone’s hand or being crushed in a bear hug by some enthuasistic
    stranger. Run? Knock ’em out? Ignore? Scream? Pull my mace out?

    Oh, and on a seperate issue: How do you avoid holding hands during the
    Pater Noster and not look like a _____? I hate standing their feeling
    like I’m at a Revival Meeting with all these people rolling their eyes and
    lifting their arms all over the place. I wish the USCCB would release a
    definitive guidance banning this lamentable practice.

  16. Jeff Miller says:


    That Dominican church I went to was Holy Rosary in Portland, OR. I am not surprised to find that when they do have the Sign of Peace that they do it reverently. I only attended one daily Mass there while in Portland, but it was a great experience.

  17. Tim Ferguson says:


    All I do when I’m at a hand-holding Church, is fold my hands and close my eyes and it seems to solve the problem. I’ve only had one instance where the insistent woman on one side of me tried to pry my hand out and when she couldn’t, she just kept her hand over my folded hands.

  18. The best and most dignified SOP I ever saw (maybe the only I have ever seen) was in Hong Kong. The priest made a discreet oriental bow to the people who returned it. The folks then made discreet bows to those on either side of them.

  19. Cathy_of_Alex says:

    Thanks my brothers and Father Z, but your comments still make me desire an
    official USCCB pronouncement saying: Stop It.

    Tim Ferguson: LOL.

    Father Z: Bowing sounds great if people watch where they are standing in
    relation to others and don’t go to deep.
    I’m just glad Zinedine Zidane wasn’t visiting that parish
    in Hong Kong that day.

  20. The French Head-But of Peace.

  21. Todd says:

    “Father, why oh why do you bother with Todd?”

    My arguments are irresistible, I guess.

    It’s clear from this thread that people have all sorts of hang-ups
    around the particulars of the Roman Rite as it is celebrated in parishes:
    face this way, face that; hold hands, feel squeamish about holding hands;
    suffer the slings and arrows of people trying to pry one’s hands from prayer–
    how rude.

    In the words of the Roman Missal,
    – the priest does not invite people to come forward for Communion; yet they do.
    – he does not invite them to sing; the rubrics merely say they sing–
    and they do, mostly/
    – the priest does not invite them to stand, kneel, or sit; if the rubrics
    indicate such a direction, the deacon does it.

    My take is that to hinge the expression of the sign of peace
    on the priest’s ritual invitation to do so is flimsy at best.
    The Roman Missal is full of instances in which the people perform ritual acts
    without direction.

    If conservative Catholics want to explore local innovations like bowing and the like,
    more power to ’em: that’s what I say.

    But omitting the sign the GIRM and the rubrics say will be shared by the people?
    Unless you’re a bishop, you’re on less firm ground than Cardinal Mahony’s glass chalices.

  22. Todd: Wow… what you posted is wrong in so many ways I don’t know where to start.

    It is not a hang up to be interested that Holy Mass is celebrated properly and with dignity. It is not a hang up to prefer not to hold hands or hug people or be slapped on the back, etc. Some people find those things to be infra dignitatem. Take that sort of tripe elsewhere.

    When it comes to the moment of Holy Communion the rubrics say that the priest is to go to the communicants (#134). GIRM 160 says, moreover, that communicants draw closer to the priest in a procession: “qui de more processionaliter appropinquant. Since the priest does not leave the sanctuary, the people must come forward and the Missale Romanum explains in a rubric how that is done.

    The word “invitation” to make a sign of peace (=SOP) is, btw, a nicer way of saying “command”, since the actual words of the injunction are in the imperative: Offerte. Nevertheless, it is obligatory for the priest to make a SOP toward the people. This is why he turns to the people and says “Pax Domini sit semper vobiscum. The rubrics are clear on this point. The priest would err greatly in omitting this.

    After that, what happens with the SOP is done pro oportunitate. Get it? … pro oportunitate

    Clearly you did not understand the Latin phrase pro oportunitate at the top of this thread. Let’s review: it means, in brief, “as circumstances indicate”. The priest determines if the circumstances indicate that a sign of peace is “opportune” or not. If he does not think circumstances warrant a SOP on the part of the congregation, then he (or the deacon) does not command them to make the SOP. This is not hard. If a SOP was obligatory, then the rubrics would not say “as circumstances indicate”.

    The GIRM and rubrics do NOT say that the SOP “will be shared by the people”. YOU say that. The rubrics do not.

    Sure there are moments during celebrations of Holy Mass when people do things de more when there are no specific rubrics. However, the SOP is an instance where there are indeed directions in the rubrics. Those rubrics say that, when circumstances indicate, the priest (or deacon) commands the SOP. The rubrics then indicate that he “can” (potest) make a SOP himself (according to the indications in the rubrics). The rubrics also indicate that the SOP, when it is made, is made according to local customs. So, there are directions given.

    I hope this clears up the issue.

  23. Todd says:

    Permit me to add some clarity:

    1. Suggesting the sign of peace is mandatory does not equate with the approval
    of a lack of decorum. I didn’t introduce this “tripe,” and it sure looks
    more like a straw man to me.

    2. Not only do the rubrics instruct the faithful
    to approach the priest for Communion,
    but they also instruct the faithful to share some “sign” of peace,
    approved by the bishops and appropriate to the culture and sensibility
    of the faithful. It’s there in red; and I didn’t write it:
    “All make an appropriate sign of peace.”
    The invitation is pro oportunitate, not the sign.
    The Ordo Missae of Roman Missal III may change this,
    but not by my reading, Latin and English, of the GIRM.

    What is clear is that this persists as a disputed point in the liturgy.
    Maybe the CDWDS will choose to step in.

    But what I fail to see is why Catholics would not approve of a decorous,
    dignified exchange of peace in keeping with the Lord’s words?

  24. Todd: You are confused. The rubrics do not instruct people to share in a SOP.

  25. Guy Power says:

    Cathy_of_Alex writes, “…what to do when you just don’t feel like
    shaking someone’s hand or being crushed in a bear hug by some enthuasistic
    stranger. Run? Knock ‘em out? Ignore? Scream? Pull my mace out?….”

    Try immediately kneeling in prayer. I do that when I cannot get to an indult
    Tridentine Mass; so far, no one has yet had the temerity to disturb someone
    deep in prayer. (Fr. Z: I don’t know if my tactic is wrong; but if it is, I
    can go to confession, right?)

    “…Oh, and on a seperate issue: How do you avoid holding hands during the
    Pater Noster?…”

    Try holding your hands together in prayer….tightly.

    –Guy Power

  26. Priest says:

    What is the best way for a priest to end the hold-holding during the OUR FATHER at a parish where this has been ocurring for many years?

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