WDTPRS – 33rd Ordinary Sunday: the “sign of peace” – Wherein Fr. Z rants.

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.  I prefer the older, traditional form, but it is also a matter of duty and charity to respond generously when called upon.

However, we priests have also been called upon generously to respond 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.

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.  Chiasmus.

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.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. I attended a Vietnamese Mass years ago. The entire congregation bowed to the priest simultaneously. When I’m with my companion “Sal,” we exchange the “Latin kiss” common to Spanish-speaking countries. As far as the Ordinary Form is concerned, I could do without it, and generally do when I’m alone.

    It helps to have your nose in a missal when the time comes.

  2. JesusFreak84 says:

    Neither the Vote button nor the View Results link are working for me o.o

    I avoid the Sign of Peace like the Plague (I’m autistic, with an obnoxiously-high tactile sensitivity,) and will drive however far I have to to find a parish (Eastern Catholic or TLM) that doesn’t do it. My dad hates the SoP because he’s blind, has NO side-vision, none, gone, kaput, and people give him dirty looks when he doesn’t reach for an extended hand that HE CANNOT SEE, even when he’s holding his blasted blind-man’s cane >.> He’s also half-deaf, so he can’t even hear people trying to get his attention–I usually poke him because he still responds to that.

    TD;DR: Sign of Peace is not friendly to certain disabilities ._.

  3. tradition4all says:

    What would qualify as decorum in the United States of America? I frequently read about obvious abuses, but I seldom read about what I *should* do.

    I live in the Diocese of Madison. When I attend the Novus Ordo, and the Sign of Peace is exchanged, most people exchange it only with the people immediately before, behind, to the left, and to the right of them. Maybe seven people on average, often fewer. We typically shake hands and say, “Peace be with you.”

    Sometimes people will walk a bit down the pew to reach people who are the closest to them, but not immediately accessible. Sometimes, as a form of acknowledgment of someone down the pew but out of reach, they make a small (not dramatic) hand wave. No one does anything dramatic to get another person’s attention. Sometimes we smile when saying, “Peace be with you.” That’s it. I seldom see anything more than that in my home parish.

    My question is, is anything in my description unsuitable for Mass? The handshaking, the turning to either side, the turning around to greet people behind me, the saying of “Peace be with you,” walking a few feet down the pew (not across the aisle), the hand wave, or the smile? Because that’s all we do. Should I refrain from any of these actions as indecorous? I’m guessing some readers here would. Thank you.

  4. KAS says:

    I wish driving to a EF would be an option. Last Sunday a woman walked down the pew to where I was standing, hands folded for the Our Father, head bowed, and REACHING ACROSS my chest made my 8 yr old child hold hands with her. She apologized after but I was livid. I told her not to do that again. If I recall correctly she is a repeat offender so I doubt it will sink in. If I recognize her I will make sure to sit in a different pew. If I wanted to get all snuggly with a complete stranger I would not have been at the far end of a sparsely populated pew. That is only the most recent incident. I know someone who sits at the end of the pew and if someone invades his space he actually gets up and exits through the doors he sits closest to– people ought to keep their hands to themselves!–not everyone is into holding hands with strangers. I am actually rather offended by it.

  5. Credoh says:

    When I was in India in 2003, in Tamil Nadu, the men and women sat separately on either side of the church, and all bowed to each person to each side at the SoP. In Beijing the following year, it was localised handshakes. If we have to have a SoP the bowing gesture would seem to me more appropriate and repectful. It could also, perhaps, be an appropriate gesture to consent to all that has just happened on the altar per Fr Hunwicke’s proposal re the meaning of the old kiss of peace.

  6. Julia_Augusta says:

    I’m very uncomfortable with the sign of peace. People turn to the left, to the right, and turn around 180 degrees. Some start chitchatting (Ohhhh, Janice, I didn’t see you there, blah, blah, blah). It seems like a jarring interruption to the silence and reverent attention that we owe in the presence of God. The sign of peace shouldn’t be optional. It should be banned.

  7. arga says:

    The single most idiotic gesture for the “sign of peace” around here is the V sign with two fingers (“peace” back in the day), flashed frantically in every direction, with a big grin to match. Just how this fits the context of Holy Mass is beyond me. But an awful lot of people don’t see to have any idea why they are there to begin with.

  8. tradition4all says:

    KAS wrote:
    “I wish driving to a EF would be an option. Last Sunday a woman walked down the pew to where I was standing, hands folded for the Our Father, head bowed, and REACHING ACROSS my chest made my 8 yr old child hold hands with her. She apologized after but I was livid. I told her not to do that again. If I recall correctly she is a repeat offender so I doubt it will sink in. If I recognize her I will make sure to sit in a different pew. If I wanted to get all snuggly with a complete stranger I would not have been at the far end of a sparsely populated pew. That is only the most recent incident. I know someone who sits at the end of the pew and if someone invades his space he actually gets up and exits through the doors he sits closest to– people ought to keep their hands to themselves!–not everyone is into holding hands with strangers. I am actually rather offended by it.”

    Reaching across to hold hands with the child is inappropriate, and you’re perfectly in the right to insist that the other person not do this. However, I would point out two things:

    1.) Why are the other people in the church strangers to you? You assume that the Sign of Peace is about interacting with “strangers.” Ideally, the people around you wouldn’t be strangers, if you got to know the fellow Catholics at your parish, which is something we should all do. Where I grew up, the parishioners certainly weren’t strangers to each other, and they could say, “Peace be with you, Bob,” or “Sharon,” etc. You know enough about the other person to regard her as a repeat offender. I suggest actually introducing yourself if the occasion permits, and if you haven’t already. Talk it out. Become more than just “the repeat offender” (your idea of her) and “the person who took offense when I just did what we do at this parish” (her idea of you). That’s a point apart from the Sign of Peace as such.

    2.) Is *lividness* really the appropriate response to this scenario? Annoyance or frustration, sure, but lividness? If nothing else, allowing that sort of attitude makes it more likely that you’ll respond lividly to occasional improprieties like this. You’re also more likely to be distracted at Mass.

    I say this as someone who once became quite irate when some rude, thoughtless people wouldn’t make room for my handicapped mother in a pew. I was in the right, and they were in the wrong, but I was the person who came close to causing a public scene, because of my own lividness.

  9. Benedict Joseph says:

    Our pastor dropped the exchange of the sign of peace years back to my great delight. Certain married couples appear unable to abide by the parish practice, but one can be grateful that they care for each other.
    What are the options for eliminating the “prayer of the faithful”? Regretfully, though always phrased well, it goes on forever in our parish. I’m over it. What can be done?

  10. jaykay says:

    JesusFreak84 says: “My dad hates the SoP because he’s blind”

    I have a very good friend who has been blind since birth who, in his days of attending Mass (sadly doesn’t now) was so irritated by people grabbing his hand that he once loudly exclaimed in frustration: “I wish you’d bloody well do that when I’m standing at the side of the road trying to get across”.

    In his boarding school for the blind back in the early 60s the Priests, Rosminians, taught the boys to serve Mass. He can still recite the entire server’s part. And they managed it all, albeit it was, as he says, somewhat slow, and in an oratory on the flat, no steps.

  11. Suburbanbanshee says:

    arga: That’s a remnant of Catholic parochial school for you. Back in the late 1970’s (when we munchkins were young and had no idea of any unsavory hippie connotations to the two-fingered peace gesture), shaking hands with our munchkin neighbors at the weekly school Mass was a fairly fraught thing.

    I mean, everybody knew that boys had cooties. And many of one’s neighbors were apt to pull pranks when touching your hand. Others were easy to bruise or had bad circulation, and some girls were prone to faint for all sorts of reasons. And there were so many hurt feelings if you didn’t try to reach six pews back to shake your best friend’s hand. What to do? Almost every parochial school kid seems to have figured out that a peace gesture could be easily parsed by its recipients. Nobody taught us this or directed us to do it; we just did it.

    So peace and quiet was maintained by us kiddies, despite all these social pitfalls, by the expedient of flashing peace gestures to all and sundry. This was tolerated by the sisters and nuns in almost all schools, because it really was preferable to the noisy pandemonium and handsiness that prevailed before we got the idea.

    Every so often, my school days arise in me (usually when I am stuck behind a lot of music stands and somebody is trying to knock them over to give me the Sign of Peace), and I will flash a peace sign to prevent pandemonium.

  12. Roy Hobbes says:

    I have never been a fan of the SOP. Growing up, I dreaded it.

    One of the many benefits of having discovered the TLM is that there is no SOP. Deo gratias.

    But during some weekdays, I attend morning mass in NO parishes. Because they are during the work-week, these masses are generally attended by the retired and/or elderly (of which I am neither). In other words, they are not children. But if one were to close their eyes before and after mass (and sometimes during), one would think that they are in the middle of a playground! But I digress. During the SOP, I have noted that at some masses, many of the parishioners give a thumbs-up, or salute their buddy across the room, etc. It has become a point in the mass where, when given an opportunity to do so, the congregation becomes irreverent. So now there is irreverence prior to the mass, in the middle of the mass, and right after the mass. All done by the elderly who should know better, but do not. As for myself, I simply kneel from the Sanctus all the way through to the closing prayer; I try not to at all participate in the SOP, often times making sure I’m sitting either by myself or far enough away from others so I don’t come as being prudish. But I’m sure I still do as there appears to be a hive mentality, and it’s frowned upon not to do as the hive does.

  13. gracie says:

    A note to men (and a few women): My understanding is that you’re taught to give a firm handshake to those you meet in the course of your business day. It’s a cultural imperative that works well in the image you wish to convey to others. However, would you please consider modifying that approach when you’re shaking hands with older people who may be more fragile physically? I look pretty normal on the surface but I’m an older person and my bones are becoming more fragile. They feel as if they’re being literally crunched together by some of the handshakes I get. The rest of the Mass is spent trying to rub the pain out of them. I know the men are simply shaking my hand the way they do in the normal course of their work days and don’t realize that older people they’re giving the SoP to often are suffering from arthritis or osteoporosis. That’s why I’m taking this opportunity to ask those of you in vigorous, hardy, health to adapt your handshakes to the different classes of people you encounter (children’s hands are fragile too).

    I’ve solved the problem by doing the Indian “how” sign at Mass. The trick is to smile on as you do it so people don’t feel rejected when they put out their hand and you don’t take it. They look confused for a second, look at your face, see you’re quite happy to be greeting them, and then they put up their own “how” sign and the deed is done. It works quite well.

  14. NBW says:

    I wish our parish would drop the sign of peace; it’s a distraction. People are going overboard and trying to shake hands with people that are not within an arms distance and it becomes a distraction.

  15. frjim4321 says:

    There is a woman who, leaving church for the past few weeks, does not shake my hand, nor does she kiss it. She takes my hand, bows down, and touches it to her head. Does anyone have any idea what this is about? By appearance she could be Mestizos or Malay … but I have never seen this custom before.

    [I’ve encountered this as well.]

  16. In short, do it right or not at all. At this point, as it is currently practiced and misunderstood today, the Kiss of Peace should be banned from the Novus Ordo.

    The handshake of peace? There is nothing liturgical about a handshake. Some might say this ritual handshake has roots in Freemasonry.
    When I am in the midst of the unavoidable Kiss of Peace, Sign of Peace, I don’t touch anybody. I may be sick, they may be sick, hands just may not be clean. With folded hands in prayer, I bow / nod my head towards others with a smile. Even when a hand is extended towards me, my gesture doesn’t seem to offend anyone as they feel acknowledged and it is clear I don’t want to be touched.
    The whole thing is horribly awkward, disruptive just as we should be recollecting ourselves before receiving Communion. No one seems to be very reverent – it is a circus of hugging, hand shakes, waving, peace signs, turning, reaching, grins, even chit-chat [!!gah!!] rather than properly examining one’s conscience and asking forgiveness.

    99 percent of people don’t understand the Kiss of Peace at ALL. Including most clergy.
    NO it is NOT the time to introduce ourselves and chat. I’m here for Jesus, aren’t you? He is RIGHT THERE.

    The purpose of the Kiss of Peace is to forgive and ask forgiveness of those we may have fussed with – those we know or work with for instance, those in the clerical or religious community traditionally. This about forgiveness before we receive Communion. Bearing a grudge and receiving Communion is very bad – might even make your Communion sacrilegious at worst or ineffective at the least. So again, this is not about glad-handing strangers but making peace with those we know. Fighting with your spouse? Better make up before receiving.
    My parish is about 3,000 families – that doesn’t even count individuals – huge parish. Six Sunday Masses, 2 or more daily Masses, I hardly know anyone! So aside from familiar faces, the Sign of Peace is only a painful distraction for me.

    Nor should it be moved. Traditionally the Kiss of Peace has always been where it is in the Mass – but done only by those within the Sanctuary or Choir – so forget moving it to another spot, it belongs where it is. This Kiss of Peace is supposed to be before Communion and, united with the second Confiteor and general absolution [done right, this wipes out your venial sins], the whole process is to solemnly acknowledge our sins immediately before Communion.

    Ban the KoP from the Novus Ordo. It is awkward, disruptive, utterly misunderstood. And optional.

  17. Gail says:

    I don’t have any problem with the sign of peace. Sshaking hands is the natural thing for our culture. Often, where I usually attend Mass and at other parishes, people who are not directly adjacent to each other — maybe sitting at opposite ends of long pews, etc., will lift a hand in greeting and nod, rather than walking to shake hands — which makes perfect sense to me. If you have a problem doing this, it seems to me that this is more of a personal problem you have in general and not a problem with the liturgy. What I do have a problem with is an extended sign of peace, where people walk around, etc. — unless that is a general cultural norm, which it isn’t here. Our previous pastor solved this problem by saying “extend to one another a sign of peace” and then DIRECTLY starting the next part of the Mass, which made it impossible to do anything more than a few greetings directly around you.

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