Pat Archbold of Creative Minority Report recently did a post entitled, "Ditch The Sign of Peace or 'Take your stinking paws off me you darn dirty ape!'" [HERE] Mr. Archbold, if you haven't already surmised from his title, doesn't have a lot of use for the Sign of Peace. Mr. Archbold writes:
I note with no small sense of irony The Congregation for Divine Worship's recent circular letter announcing that the placement of the sign of peace within Mass will not change, though it could be performed with greater dignity, lesser dignity being unavailable, of course.Mr. Archbold related one incident to illustrate his dislike of the sign of peace:
Last year I went to mass while travelling on business and this lady, before my Kung Fu training could kick in, hugged me. Sensing my profound discomfort, she said, "That is how we do it here!" This left me channeling Chuck Heston for my inner dialogue at the unruly and distracting anthropocentric mauling, "Take your stinking paws off me you darn dirty ape! That is Jesus up there!" But hey, that's just me.
All joking aside, it is almost always a terrible interruption to the mass and a distraction from where our collective focus should be at that moment.However, I have now done a complete 180 on this and feel that the sign of peace is one of the most profound moments in the Mass.
There is no doubt that any traditionalists reading this will think I have gone completely off the rails and am in serious danger of losing my salvation. I am not sure that anything I write will convince a Traditionalist of the value of the Sign of Peace, and most especially the value of placing it right after the consecration.
But I am a hopeless optimist and will attempt to do so anyway.
For a long time, my reaction to the Sign of Peace was to keep my head down and refuse to even look at people. But I slowly began to see that this was nothing more than snobbery, so I decided to at least acknowledge those who were right next to me. I found myself unexpectedly touched by the kind and welcoming smiles on people's faces. Then I began turning around and acknowledging those both in front and in back of me.
Now, believe it or not, the Sign of Peace can often move me to tears, and not out of anger, but out of joy and a true feeling of the presence of Jesus Christ.
Trust me, there was a time when I could not have ever imagined voicing such a sentiment. But, unlike many traditionalists who wail and complain about this part of the Mass, I have begun to understand the wisdom of Holy Mother Church in placing the sign of peace directly after the Consecration. I, for one, am very grateful that it is not going to be changed.
Allow me to explain.
At the Consecration, we see the great miracle of transubstantiation, when ordinary bread and wine are literally turned into the Body and Blood of Our Savior, Jesus Christ. It is always, by far, the most dramatic moment of the Mass and quite frankly, it is the most dramatic moment of any day in which I attend Mass. How amazing it is that the One who created the earth, the planets, our sun, the entire universe is now before me under the appearance of bread and wine. It is unfathomable that the One who gave up His place in heaven to take on humanity and pour out His Life on the Cross to save mankind from certain eternal damnation is now before me in the Blessed Sacrament.
At the moment of transubstantiation, there is no great visible display of the greatness of Almighty God. Our omnipotent and unfathomable Creator allows an ordinary man to grasp Him with his fingers and hold Him up for all to see. All we see with our physical eyes, of course, is a piece of bread and a cup. In fact, an observer with no understanding would surely think that people bowing and worshiping a piece of bread and a cup of wine must have completely lost their minds.
After a few more prayers are said by the priest at the Consecration, the congregation then recites the Our Father, using the words given directly to us by the One who is now hidden under the appearance of bread and wine. Truly it is the greatest most perfect prayer in the history of mankind, containing in a few simple words praise, thanksgiving and petition to The Father.
Immediately following the recitation of the perfect Lord's Prayer, we are told to turn and give one another a sign of peace.
This is where the howls of protestation come from the Traditionalists. As Julie of Connecticut Catholic Corner [HERE] stated on her blog:
I don't like the "Sign of Peace" at Mass.
I just don't.
First, it seems like an interruption of the Mass to me. Secondly, it appears to me to be completely out of hand and not at all what it was/is supposed to be. And third...well I am not a touchy-feely type person who wants to be subjected to shaking strangers hands and/or getting hugs or kisses by strangers.
I don't like it.That is a very typical reaction of most traditionalists, almost word-for-word. It certainly reflects the feelings of Pat Archbold in his post when he wanted to say to the person who hugged him, "Take your stinking paws off me you darn dirty ape! That is Jesus up there!"
Yes, that is Jesus up on the altar. But who is the person next to you, the "darn dirty ape" with the "stinking paws"?
We can declare our love for Our Lord by showing great reverence at Mass, refusing to handle the Blessed Sacrament with our hands and receiving on the tongue. I applaud these things. Reverence for the Blessed Sacrament is absolutely vital and necessary.
But as important as reverence towards the Blessed Sacrament is, this is not the standard by which we will be judged. In Matthew 25, Jesus says He will judge us in accordance with how we treat others. Think about the words of Our Lord in verse 40: "Whatsoever you do to the least of these my brethren, you do to me." Jesus is telling us that He basically sees no difference between our treatment of the Blessed Sacrament and the way we treat "the least of these my brethren".
The reason I love the sign of peace and its placement in the Mass is that, just moments after seeing Jesus under the appearance of bread and wine, we now look at our neighbor and see Jesus Christ under a multitude of appearances: young and old, rich and poor, major athlete and sick and handicapped, brilliant minds and simple minds, sinner and saint, black, brown, yellow and white, male and female. These are the ones for whom Jesus gave His Life. He is in all of them. In some ways, it is even more important to see Jesus in the people around us than to see Him in the Blessed Sacrament.
Mother Teresa, in her acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize said,
“It is not enough for us to say: ‘I love God, but I do not love my neighbor.’ Saint John says that you are a liar if you say you love God and you don’t love your neighbor. (1 John 4:20) How can you love God whom you do not see, if you do not love your neighbor whom you see, whom you touch, with whom you live? And so this is very important for us to realize that love, to be true, has to hurt.”
Mother Teresa lived Matthew 25 every moment of her life, as can be seen in this statement from her:
“I see Jesus in every human being. I say to myself, this is hungry Jesus, I must feed him. This is sick Jesus. This one has leprosy or gangrene; I must wash him and tend to him. I serve because I love Jesus.”We are told by those who oppose it that the sign of peace is a "distraction", a "disruption" in the Mass. I say that this attitude is missing a great lesson that we can take with us after we leave Mass. When the priest (or deacon) tell us to offer a sign of peace, look at the other person, and as Mother Teresa did, see Jesus in that person.
Yes, there are valid arguments that the sign of peace could be done in a more dignified way. Certainly people should not start running around the church, as I have seen many times. But that does not take away from the value of the sign of peace. And it does not take away from the fact that we are greeting Jesus as much as we are greeting human beings.
As Mother Teresa said:
“If now we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten how to see God in one another. If each person saw God in his neighbor, do you think we would need guns and bombs?”