At the sign of peace, worshipers are invited to show their
peace and love before receiving the Eucharist, which accomplishes their
unity most perfectly. The nature of the sign is to be determined by the
culture of the people who express it. In the United States, the bishops
let local communities determine the actions and words. We have no set formula
or gesture for extending this sign. Most often worshipers will shake hands
and say, "Peace be with you." But you may also see them kiss or embrace,
wave or flash a two-fingered sign of peace. Although today it would seem
cold to omit the sign of peace, it is optional.
Introduced in the 1960s to a bashful church unaccustomed to speaking
to one another at worship, it broke the silent mood before communion. Now
it has become a welcome expression of unity among those preparing for communion
together in Christ.
The invitation to extend the sign of peace comes from the deacon. The
deacon directs posture, gesture, and action in the liturgy. He tells us
when to stand or sit, when to leave and when to show peace.
The placement of the sign of peace still confuses some who think it
comes too late to say hello and too early to say goodbye. However, the
purpose of the sign is not to extend a greeting. It is to express our love;
it foreshadows our communion. It's like an all-for-one huddle before the
team charges into play. The team should have said hello to each other long
before. In fact, some communities take a few moments before Mass begins
precisely to encourage worshipers to greet those near them. Such a greeting
allows people to feel at home, and it can also be shared by catechumens,
who will be dismissed after the homily.
The sign of peace has a purpose deeper than a greeting -- it expresses
the unity of those baptized in Christ.
When extending the sign of peace, attentive worshipers resist turning
it into a break. This is not the time to congratulate someone on their
anniversary, to set up an appointment, or to exchange messages with the
servers. It is the time to express peace and love.
What do YOU Think?
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© 1998, Resource Publications, Inc. 160 E. Virginia St. #290, San
Jose, CA 95112, (408) 286-8505. This article may not be reproduced in any
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Turner, pastor of St. Munchin Parish in Cameron, MO, holds a doctorate
in sacramental theology from Sant' Anselmo University in Rome.