Sign of Peace controversy revisted

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 ( 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.


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  1. Diane K says:

    I was very glad to see this, as well. Thanks for posting. Father really clarified things.

  2. Todd says:

    McNamara usually has a good take on matters liturgical, but he is not the CDWDS.
    And on his reasoning that a specific invitation
    from the priest is needed to prevent
    the sign of peace from being reduced to “human benevolence?”
    Most unconvincing.
    The context of the recounting of the Lord’s words
    and the dialogue–two elements which our blog host concedes
    may never be omitted–would seem to guarantee, within human bounds anyway,
    the purpose of a nod, bow, handshake, smooch, or whatever,
    will remain integral to the Eucharist celebrated.

    I heard line judge call double fault on the mention of backslapping,
    handholding and hugging.

    Count up the number of parishes omitting the sign of peace …
    and I’d say I’m on the way to the next round. See ya.

  3. Todd: Get a good night’s sleep and move on to some other topic to get wrong.

  4. Tim Ferguson says:

    Todd’s correct, McNamara is not the CDWDS, nor is any other liturgist – I wonder if he would posit that same logical truism in other cases when liturgists who are not the CDWDS make statements that he agrees with. If you’re trying to argue that the CDWDS is the only liturgical authority competent to make any statement of truth regarding the liturgy, well, that’s quite ultramontane of you, and I hope you maintain that stance comprehensively, casting aside the opinions of all those other liturgical “experts” who are, similarly, not the CDWDS.

    Then, he refers to the number of parishes which omit the sign of peace, signalling his (apparent) belief that the majority sets the rules. Therefore, it would seem logical that he should stop his campaign for better liturgical music in parishes. Most parishes do not omit the sign of peace among the congregation, ergo, the handshaking may not be omitted. Most parishes utilize substandard music in the liturgy, ergo, quality music may not be used. That’s the logic from your statement there Todd.

    Fr. John’s reasoning is sound – the Rite of Peace may not be omitted in the Mass. The Rite of Peace need not involve the entire congregation turning to their neighbor for a handshake, a kiss or a hug. The dialogue between the priest and the congregation constitutes, where it is so determined by the presider, the complete Rite of Peace.

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