QUAERITUR: Sign of Peace questions

From a reader:

I’ve heard that the sign of peace at Mass is optional (for priest and people), and that its position within the Mass can be moved to another part of the liturgy such as the Introductory Rites. Are these points true?

Yes and No.

Yes, the Sign of Peace – and I assume here that you are talking about 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.

No, the Sign of Peace cannot be moved to another place during Mass.  However, it could be done before Mass and then omitted during Mass.

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  1. Gaz says:

    Let’s make it a bit more specific. The celebrant needs to say, “The peace of the Lord be with you always”. The words, “Let us offer each other the sign of peace” are optional at the discretion of the celebrant.

    So, there is a rite of peace in every Mass. I think it’s important that the rite of Holy mass expresses that the sacrifice of Christ has a tangible effect on the world – this it does. This is also true in the Extraordinary Form. That’s FrZ’s “yes”.

    In short, the Church does not provide that we always have to have a handshake etc. That’s the “no” (FrZ, correct me if I’m wrong).

    Although there has been some talk of the rite of peace being moved to another part of Mass, (even the Holy Father has dwelt on this question) these changes have not been made to the rite of Mass. Personally, I’m not in favour of moving it because I’m not convinced that there is any pastoral benefit in doing so. The rite of peace enjoys its current place in the liturgy and this is similar in both forms of the rite. Is an individual member of the faithful obliged to participate? In Fr Z’s words, “yes and no”. Yes, I think it’s important for the faithful to remember that Christ wills that his peace be among his Holy people. No, you don’t have to shake hands with everyone in the church. I have, on occasion, not taken up the invitation to offer a sign of peace to those around me for various reasons. The way I’ve dealt with it is by kneeling down for the Agnus Dei a bit earlier than is customary.

  2. Sarah R. says:

    Our pastor has been for the last few months, omitted the extension of the Sign of Peace to the congregation. Some people are slightly confused and exchange a quick greeting with their family anyways. I do not mind since it keeps the reverent mood after the Consecration.

    In contrast, other parishes I’ve been to, have the congregation exchange greetings before Mass and still do the congregational Sign of Peace. It seems rather redundant to me to have both.

    I try not to refuse to shake anyone’s hand, but I don’t go out of my way to catch someone’s eye.

  3. “However, it could be done before Mass …”

    I assume by that you mean whatever glad-handing is done outside the doors of the church. Surely you do not mean the introduction to one another in the pews before Mass begins.

  4. thereseb says:

    For about 10 years I went to a church where the elderly monsignor kept the altar rails and ignored the congregational sign of peace. What was interesting was that he did not encourage the use of plainchant or latin in any way. In my current parish 3 weeks out of 4 there is OF Solemn Mass (ad orienten latin canon)- 4th week is EF. I turned to shake hands with a fellow traddie during the OF and got a fearsome scowl one week! That didn’t worry me – I respect his position. I used to be a bit precieuse, and ignore the sign for a while – but in the end I thought it was better to be gracious and outgoing, and it works for me.

    The sign of peace did inspire terror in my father, who was first introduced to it in France, in the worst way possible. An ebullient neighbour who had dined lavishly on garlic kissed him on both cheeks. Later on, my father dreaded hearty handshakes and the pain it caused his arthriticky hands.

  5. Corinne says:

    The daily Mass on EWTN omits the congretional sign of peace exchange. The priest just says, “Pax Domini sit semper vobiscum.” and the people respond, “Et cum spiritu tuo.” Then they go right into the Agnus Dei.

  6. Brooklyn says:

    I still remember when the congregational sign of peace was first introduced into the Mass back in the 60’s. Everyone was very uncomfortable with it because we were all use to giving our total attention to what was going on at the altar. The nuns had always warned us not to be looking around during Mass. Suddenly we were told to take our eyes off the altar and shake the hand of the person next to us. People did it, but in a very timid way. I was gone from the Church for 38 years, and when I came back I was shocked at seeing people literally running up and down the aisles shaking hands with each other, and watching this bleed over into the “Lamb of God.” I am always grateful whenver a priest omits its, which is almost never, but on rare occasion it does happen.

  7. Fr. Basil says:

    In the OF, the Pax has been in the form of a ritualized semi-embrace.

    Would it not be wise for the faithful to employ this in the EF?

  8. Fr. Basil says:


    I meant in the EF, the Pax has been…..

    …..to employ this in the OF?

  9. ajbasso says:

    Gaz said, “Yes, I think it’s important for the faithful to remember that Christ wills that his peace be among his Holy people.”

    I couldn’t agree more. Sadly, there is virtually nothing peaceful about the exchange of the sign of peace.

  10. Brooklyn says:

    Fr. Basil – are you suggesting that the congregants semi-embrace each other? That is a nightmare I don’t even want to imagine.

  11. I believe Fr Basil is talking about the Roman Embrace…which isn’t really an embrace. (See the Papal Liturgies for an example)..I’d be fine with that. But I don’t seek the sign of peaee when I’m at Mass.

  12. Brooklyn says:

    I believe what Fr. Basil is talking about is the embrace the priest gives the deacon and the deacon gives the altar server at the EF. That’s way too much touching for me! Most of the time people don’t even shake hands anymore – we just wave at one another. I’d prefer not even to do that because it takes away from the sacrifice of the Mass, but at least I can handle it.

  13. Bryan Boyle says:

    The semi-embrace is actually more dignified that the back-slapping and kiss-blowing I see going on in most OF Masses I’m acquainted with.

    It is wonderful to serve as acolyte for a priest friend of mine, who’s stationed in Rome when he comes back to visit family. He does it the ‘Roman’ way. Caught me off-guard the first time, but, I prefer it, to tell the truth.

    (This, in a local parish that encourages reception on the tongue, has prie-dieus set up for those who wish to receive kneeling, and only has young men serving on the altar….by the by…and Mass is celebrated ad orientem. And NO ONE, according to the pastor, has complained…in fact, he’s seen attendance (and the basket…hey, you have to keep the lights on…) grow since instituting Benedictine orientation and thought. The Holy Father (long may he reign) is on the right track…it’s the rest of the world that should get with the program).

  14. Brooklyn says:

    Do you really think the semi embrace would stay “semi”?

  15. skull kid says:

    The sign of peace – hand shaking – is a complete waste of time. I call it the exchange of sweat. It means nothing to me. I hate it. I have OCD and I HATE touching other people’s hands.

    I am certainly not going to start embracing strangers – touching their dirty, sweaty hands is already too much intimacy with strangers. Try as I might I can’t avoid it. I even try blowing my nose at the right moment but even that is not effective.

  16. marcpuckett says:

    If a celebrant were to announce that the people’s exchange of the pax would occur after the recessional hymn, I wonder how many of those enthusiastic about the so-common glad-handling nonsense would elect to omit rushing for the doors after the singing of the first two or four lines?

  17. i think the exaggerated exchange of peace is most suitable for the congregation when done in the parish hall!

  18. Genna says:

    How very restrained everyone is. There’s a parish priest I know who practically sprints off the sanctuary to glad-hand as many of the congregation as he can. He’s still at it when the choir begins the Agnus Dei!

  19. Katherine says:

    I turned to shake hands with a fellow traddie during the OF and got a fearsome scowl one week!

    I once got the middle finger in return! I rather the scowl.

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