Sunday, August 3, 2014

The Sign of Peace: Greeting Jesus

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.
I have to admit that until recently, I would have been in complete sympathy with this sentiment.

Not anymore.

After many years of primarily attending the Extraordinary Form of the Mass, I have now started exclusively attending the Ordinary Form.  Like any good Traditionalist, I struggled with the OF, and at the top of my list of struggles was the Sign of Peace.  My argument was the same as that given by Pat Archbold:
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"?

Well, you say, that is a human being.  Yes, you are looking at a human being who is the very reason Our Lord is on the altar.  That human being reaching out to you in greeting is there because the One on the altar spilled His Precious Blood on the Cross.  That "darn dirty ape" is the reason for the Mass.

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.”
This is the lesson I feel I am learning each time I give the sign of peace to others at Mass. I am greeting them, but through them, I am giving the sign of peace to Jesus Christ.

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?”


  1. Love your posts - charitable & wise - thankyou.

    1. That is very kind of you. My life has been a series of trial and error, but I think I'm getting closer to the truth now.

  2. The only problem with you labeling me a "traditionalist" is that I am NOT a traditionalist. I've never even been to a Latin Mass- never even SEEN a traditionalist parish- ever.
    I simply don't like how the sign of peace is done in my parish - which is a LIBERAL Connecticut parish.
    Please know who you are labeling before you slap the wrong label on someone- proves you don't do your homework.

    In Christ,
    Julie @ Connecticut Catholic Corner

    1. I am glad to hear that you are not part of the Traditionalist movement. Having been personally a part of it for several years, I can attest to how spiritually dangerous it is.

      However, you say you are not a traditional Catholic and have never been to a TLM, yet you post a link to watch the daily Traditional Latin Mass on your blog. That is very confusing to say the least.

      Further, your post did not indicate that you "simply don't like how the sign of peace is done in my parish - which is a LIBERAL Connecticut parish."

      You wrote:

      "I thought at first it might just be me and the particular parishes I have attended (remember I live in liberal Connecticut). But after reading Pat Archbold's piece at the National Catholic Register, I see he too has experienced what I have at some Masses."

      So it would seem that it doesn't much matter where the sign of peace is. You want it eliminated from the Mass, as you wrote:

      "But the Church has decided the "Sign of Peace" will not only remain as part of the Mass but also remain exactly where it is in the Mass. Right smack dab in the middle. So as distasteful as it is to me personally, I have to accept the Church's decision and live with it because that is what Church Authority is all about."

      Your language and opinions echo my own feelings when I was deep into the traditionalist movement, so you must forgive me if I misunderstood. Your language, along with the link you give to the daily Latin Mass, led me to believe that you are a traditionalist. My bad.

      You do not address any of the issues that I have brought up in my post. I would appreciate it if you would do that. Maybe then I could understand your position.

  3. I didn't address your issues in your post because I had already written what MY issues were about the sign of peace in my particular parish.

    The reason I have a link to the Latin Mass on my blog is because I think it is beautiful. I hope that one day I will be fortunate enough to visit such a parish.

    I dislike what I see in most Catholic parishes these days because they are so liberal- I dislike the foot stomping, hand clapping music, I dislike the complete lack of reverence (people talking all through the Mass), I dislike people grabbing the Eucharist in their hands like its a Cheeto at a picnic, I dislike the priest facing us as if he is there to entertain the people. I dislike the people in my parish telling me that "one day women will be priests" who get angry with me when I tell them that will never happen. I dislike that my parish priest MUST tell a joke at every Mass to get people laughing and saying what "fun" priest we have.

    I dislike modernism- especially in the Church. It should have NO PLACE in the Church. I like what little I know of the way Mass used to be celebrated (minus the Latin since I don't understand it and would prefer English) and I wish my parish would incorporate the things that would make worship more reverent and more focused on God (Gregorian Chant etc), rather than making the crowds feel good and sway to the music. We have a Grande Piano and bongo drums and guitars- I object to all of them. It's a racket to my ears, hearing that NOISE does not inspire me to deeper devotion to God- rather it reminds me of the protestant denomination I left years ago. I dislike Catholic parishes that try to mimic protestantism in any way.

    You might say I have a traditionalists heart living my faith inside a liberal Catholic parish to the best of my abilities.

    In Christ,

    Julie @ Connecticut Catholic Corner

    1. Yes, I would say you most definitely have a traditionalist heart. It seems that there is very little that you like about the vast majority of Catholic churches.

      I gave a very different point of view in my post and I was hoping you would address the issues I raised, but I guess that isn't going to happen.

  4. With all due respect your entire article is based on a falsehood. You lied about me when you said " howls of protestation come from the Traditionalists" and linked to my article saying how I disliked the chaos that happens at *MY* parish during the sign of peace.
    We aren't supposed to hug and kiss and wave at others- that is NOT what the Sign of Peace is and that was my gripe. That is also the reason the Church made the statement they did precisely because they KNOW about parishes like mine where chaos erupts.
    If there was no chaos or error in any parish the Church would never have made the statement She did this week. She was CORRECTING parishes like my own.
    I support a simple nod of the head and a "The peace of the Lord be with you"- there is no chaos in that. Personally, I think this greeting would be more fitting at the beginning of the Mass, rather than was Jesus is on the altar- a time I think we should all be on knees worshiping our Lord and Savior, but hey that's just me. I'd rather be worshiping God than being waved at or hugged and kissed by strangers. That was my point and I am so sorry you failed to see it. I thought I was clear.
    Now if YOUR parish doesn't have people hugging, kissing, waving and move from one pew to other to make sure they greet everyone then you don't have the problems my parish has. It is chaos in my parish and that is not what the Apostles taught in Sacred Scripture.

    In Christ,
    Julie @ Connecticut Catholic Corner

    1. You are not representing your blog post correctly. You most definitely stated that you do not like the Sign of Peace in any form at any time or place. You were not just talking about your own parish. I have already quoted from your post to show that.

      Your post and Pat Archbold's post are only two that I pointed out. As you well know, many others have complained loudly about the sign of peace, and they are all traditionalists to one extent or another. As you have admitted, you are a traditionalist in your heart if not in practice by actually going to the Latin Mass.

      Since you either can't or won't recognize the point of my post, it is this: at the Eucharist we recognize Jesus Christ under the form of bread and wine. At the sign of peace, we look at each other and as Mother Teresa said, we see Jesus Christ in one another, not in the literal form of the Eucharist, but as Our Lord told us, whatsoever you do to the least of my brethren, you do to me.

      Why is this such a terrible thing? People are the reason Our Lord came to earth as a human being and died on the cross. Why is it wrong to turn and greet those He has saved and offer them the peace He has given to us? Of course it can be overdone. But to think that you are turning your back on Christ because you turn to greet, with His Love and Peace, those He calls His friends - think about what that says about you.

      As I said in my post, as important as it is to reverence the Blessed Sacrament, Our Lord did not say He would judge us by that but by the way we treat others.

  5. I think you missed the point...the "Sign of Peace" in Mass is not OUR peace we are giving (a greeting), it is CHRIST'S peace we are wishing on to others. I bet if you asked 100 people at Mass what the Sign of Peace was about they would think it was greeting each other. Hence the reason the Church said people need to be educated to know what the heck they are doing. As I said, in my parish and in parishes I have visited people waving, hugging and kissing each other are NOT wish each other Christ's Peace, they are merely greeting each other - that is why it is chaos.
    The Sign of Peace is NOT the "meet and greet" of the Mass.

    From the GIRM of the Church:
    154. Then the Priest, with hands extended, says aloud the prayer Domine Iesu Christe, qui dixisti (Lord Jesus Christ, who said to your Apostles) and when it is concluded, extending and then joining his hands, he announces the greeting of peace, facing the people and saying, The peace of the Lord be with you always. The people reply, And with your spirit. After this, if appropriate, the Priest adds, Let us offer each other the sign of peace.<-**

    The Priest may give the Sign of Peace to the ministers but always remains within the sanctuary, so that the celebration is not disrupted. In the Dioceses of the United States of America, for a good reason, on special occasions (for example, in the case of a funeral, a wedding, or when civic leaders are present), the Priest may offer the Sign of Peace to a small number of the faithful near the sanctuary. According to what is decided by the Conference of Bishops, all express to one another peace, communion, and charity. While the Sign of Peace is being given, it is permissible to say, The peace of the Lord be with you always, to which the reply is Amen.-end quote-

    Note the **above where it says "if its appropriate" - no parish MUST have the "Sign of Peace"- we don't during flu season.

    A writer at Catholic Answers says what I and others have said:

    In Christ,

    Julie @ Connecticut Catholic Corner

    1. Read my previous comment: "But to think that you are turning your back on Christ because you turn to greet, with His Love and Peace, those He calls His friends - think about what that says about you" No where have I said it is a "meet and greet". My point is that it is an important symbol of how we treat one another.

      You are changing your tune from your blog post. You wrote that you don't like it and you would like to get rid of it. Now you are saying you just don't like the way it is done. You need to go back and change your post if that is what you really mean.

      I am not denying that it can be overdone. I said it in my post, and I have said it in my comments. But in your original post you said you don't like it at all and want to see it gone. You said you are not "touchy feeling". I said that you are missing the point, and it seems that is still the case.

      Julie, we can continue this, but you twisting yourself up in knots trying to defend your position, and you will never change my mind that Holy Mother Church was very wise when she gave us this important symbol. And, unlike you, I am very grateful that it will remain.

  6. I am not changing my tune. I do NOT like it. Period. I wish the Church would get rid of it completely. I LIKE not having to give the "Sign of Peace" during flu season at my parish- the Mass (in my opinion) is better without it. It is OPTIONAL, we don't have to have it per the GIRM. My opinion is getting rid of it would be best. BUT, if we are FORCED to endure it, I would rather a simple nod at each other while saying peace RATHER than the hugging, kissing, waving and handshaking. I don't like that. There is no need to get physical with strangers at Mass to offer the Sign of Peace to someone- that is what the Church's statement was about. Stopping the ridiculous chaos that is found in so many parishes- like my own.

    In Christ,
    Julie @ Connecticut Catholic Corner

    1. Thank you for clarifying that, Julie. You said in your previous comment that you agreed with Michelle Arnold at Catholic Answers, and her article was about doing the Sign of Peace correctly, not abolishing it. So I'm not quite sure how that supports your position since you now have clarified that you see no merit in the Sign of Peace at all.

      I once felt just as you do, but now feel completely different. I hope that one day you also will see the wisdom and even beauty that there is in this symbolic gesture. Those strangers who offer you their germ-filled hands and fill you with such disgust are the reason Our Lord is on the altar. If you cannot love your brother whom you can see, how will you love Our Lord whom you cannot see?

      I like the way Michelle Arnold ended her article:

      "Is there a solution to be had to this problem?

      Perhaps we should reclaim the sign of peace for what it is: A ritual at Mass during which the celebrant and the congregation is expected to extend Christ's peace—not necessarily first and foremost to family and friends, for whom there should be plenty of time to greet and chat with after Mass—but to the stranger, the lonely, the isolated, the one who can do nothing but receive without giving back. That does not mean that family and friends need to be ignored; but if they are given a ritual handclasp and a "Peace be with you," then perhaps there will be enough time to greet a few more nearby congregants before the Lamb of God begins. And perhaps the disparity in the treatment of those in nearby pews will be less pronounced.

      Stickler though I can be for liturgical rubrics, I also think the rules can be bent a bit for those in special need. Remember that quadraplegic man I noticed at Mass? When I realized what was happening to him, I walked several rows over to take his hand in mine and say, "Peace be with you." He could not respond; his face did not change. But his mother's eyes filled with tears and she said, "Thank you."

  7. Quoting you: "Thank you for clarifying that, Julie. You said in your previous comment that you agreed with Michelle Arnold at Catholic Answers, and her article was about doing the Sign of Peace correctly, not abolishing it."

    Now quoting what I ACTUALLY said: "A writer at Catholic Answers says what I and others have said: "

    Do you see the difference there?
    The "what I and others have said" is about the CHAOS that is happening during the Sign of Peace.

    That is and was the point of MY blog post, Archbold's article at the National Catholic Register AND the Catholic Answers article.

    I really don't understand how you don't see that. I am done. I can't say it any plainer than I already have.

    In Christ,
    Julie @ Connecticut Catholic Corner

    1. Wow, that is really parsing words.

      You have made it very plain that you have a profound hate for the Sign of Peace. I disagree and so do many others, including the Magesterium and Michelle Arnold. I am really surprised that you linked to her article to try to support your position.

      I have to say, you do seem like a very angry person, which might explain why you don't like the Sign of Peace.


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