Saturday, December 02, 2006

Sign of Peace? Sign of Sociability? Sign of Affection?

Most people either love or hate it. There is no middle ground. To be truthful, I tend to be on the hate it side. I don't object to the concept of it: a token of our willingness to forgive one another being offered before Holy Communion is a good thing. But, the cocktail hour it usually turns to be is not. Glad-handing, kissing, and hugging abound. It usually blows the snot out of any sense of quiet and reverence. This is not the case in the Maronite Rite (in which I have bi-ritual faculties). It is done in a very prayerful manner and is obviously a religious gesture. In the Latin Rite, it usually is anything but. It is the Sign of Sociability or Affection, not peace. There is nothing wrong with these things, but they are for after Mass, not during.

The sign of peace was present in some form during the worship of the early church. But, for some reason it was reduced to a pro forma 'Pax vobiscom. Et cum spirtu tuo.' Some see clericalism as being the reason for this. I suspect it was the things I cite above. I wish that the powers that be, before they 'restore' things to the Mass, would consider the possibility that there may have been very good reasons for their suppression. (See widespread Communion under both species and Communion in the hand for other examples.) Romanticism for past practices untempered by a healthy skepticism can do a lot of damage.

Add to this the possibility that it may be optional. This is the opinion of several respectable authorities. Reasonable interpretations of the rubrics admit this. The rubrics themselves are vague. Either the invitation to the sign of peace is optional or the whole thing is. The later seems the more likely; that whole exchange is optional. Until this is clarified by the competent authority, Rome, this is a legitimate interpretation. Its inclusion depends on whether the Celebrant considers it 'opportune'.
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