01 August 2014, The Tablet

Vatican calls for more sober, less worldly greeting at sign of peace

The Vatican has called for the faithful to be more restrained when offering the sign of peace during Mass.

The Congregation for Divine Worship (CDW) has instructed to bishops to draw up new guidelines so that the gesture can be performed with more sobriety and less “excess”. It advised bishops to find alternatives to the use of “familiar” or “worldly” greetings.

The CDW said it would “offer some practical measures to better express the meaning of the sign of peace and to moderate excesses, which create confusion in the liturgical assembly just prior to Communion”.

It said priests should avoid leaving the altar to offer parishioners the sign of peace, and criticised those who moved from their place or offered congratulations or condolences during the sign of the peace at nuptial or requiem Masses.

“If the faithful do not understand and do not show, in their ritual gestures, the true significance of the rite of peace, they are weakened in the Christian concept of peace, and their fruitful participation in the Eucharist is negatively affected.”

The circular letter was signed by the congregation’s prefect Cardinal Antonio Canizares Llovera and its secretary, Archbishop Arthur Roche. Dated 8 June, it had been approved and confirmed the previous day by Pope Francis.

Fr Jose Maria Gil Tamayo, secretary general of the Spanish bishops' conference, wrote in a 28 July memo to the Spanish bishops that accompanied the document that in some churches a simple handshake has been replaced by “exaggerated” forms of the gesture, which he said could be distracting.

The General Instruction of the Roman Missal on making the sign of the peace states: “the manner is to be established by the conferences of bishops in accordance with the culture and customs of the peoples. However, it is appropriate that each person, in a sober manner, offer the sign of peace only to those who are nearest.” In many countries this typically means shaking hands with those nearest to you.

Although the sign of peace is made after the consecration and just prior to the reception of Communion, the possibility of moving it to earlier in the Mass was discussed at a 2005 synod of bishops on the Eucharist. But this suggestion was not carried forward.

Fr Gil wrote that he had asked the relevant curial offices to look into moving the sign of peace to another place, such as before the presentation of the gifts at the altar, which is where it occurs in the ancient Ambrosian rite still used in Milan.

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI called for restraint in his apostolic exhortation Sacramentum caritatis which drew together themes expressed at the 2005 synod. “During the Synod of Bishops there was discussion about the appropriateness of greater restraint in this gesture, which can be exaggerated and cause a certain distraction in the assembly just before the reception of Communion,” he wrote.

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