ROME, 11 JULY 2006 (ZENIT)
Answered by Father Edward McNamara,
professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.
Q: Does the rubric "The priest or deacon may say, 'Let us offer the sign
of peace'" still mean the exchange between the people, rather than that
between priest and people? I am informed that the people may never omit
this exchange between themselves, even if the invitation to do so is not
G.D., Thornley, England
A: The theme of the rite of peace (or "kiss of peace") is dealt with in
several places in the General Instruction of the Roman Missal. While
giving an overall description of the rites of Mass, it says in No. 82:
"The Rite of Peace follows, by which the Church asks for peace and unity
for herself and for the whole human family, and the faithful express to
each other their ecclesial communion and mutual charity before
communicating in the Sacrament.
"As for the sign of peace to be given, the manner is to be established
by Conferences of Bishops in accordance with the culture and customs of
the peoples. It is, however, appropriate that each person offer the sign
of peace only to those who are nearest and in a sober manner."
Later, when describing the various forms of rite, it adds more details.
Describing Mass with a priest, it says in No. 154:
"Then the priest, with hands extended, says aloud the prayer, 'Domine
Iesu Christe, qui dixisti' (Lord Jesus Christ, you said). After this
prayer is concluded, extending and then joining his hands, he gives the
greeting of peace while facing the people and saying, 'Pax Domini sit
semper vobiscum' (The peace of the Lord be with you always). The people
answer, 'Et cum spiritu tuo' (And also with you). Afterwards, when
appropriate, the priest adds, 'Offerte vobis pacem' (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 as not to disturb the celebration. 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 few of the faithful near the sanctuary. At the same time, in accord
with the decisions of the Conference of Bishops, all offer one another a
sign that expresses peace, communion, and charity. While the sign of
peace is being given, one may say, 'Pax Domini sit semper vobiscum' (The
peace of the Lord be with you always), to which the response is Amen."
No. 181 covers the situation when a deacon is present and No. 239
"181: After the priest has said the prayer at the Rite of Peace and the
greeting 'Pax Domini sit semper vobiscum' (The peace of the Lord be with
you always) and the people have responded, 'Et cum spiritu tuo' (And
also with you), the deacon, if it is appropriate, invites all to
exchange the sign of peace. He faces the people and, with hands joined,
says, 'Offerte vobis pacem pacem' (Let us offer each other the sign of
peace). Then he himself receives the sign of peace from the priest and
may offer it to those other ministers who are closer to him.
"239: After the deacon or, when no deacon is present, one of the
concelebrants has said the invitation 'Offerte vobis pacem pacem' (Let
us offer each other the sign of peace), all exchange the sign of peace
with one another. The concelebrants who are nearer the principal
celebrant receive the sign of peace from him before the deacon does."
Finally, "Redemptionis Sacramentum," No. 71, adds a further note: "The
practice of the Roman Rite is to be maintained according to which the
peace is extended shortly before Holy Communion. For according to the
tradition of the Roman Rite, this practice does not have the connotation
either of reconciliation or of a remission of sins, but instead
signifies peace, communion and charity before the reception of the Most
Holy Eucharist. It is rather the Penitential Act to be carried out at
the beginning of Mass (especially in its first form) which has the
character of reconciliation among brothers and sisters."
These documents show that both the invitation and actual exchange of
peace form part of a single act and are done "if it is appropriate." If
for some good reason the celebrant decides to omit the invitation, then
the faithful are not required to exchange the sign of peace among
"Redemptionis Sacramentum" highlights another reason. The peace
exchanged is the Lord's peace coming from the sacrifice of the altar. An
exchange of the sign of peace without an invitation from the altar in a
way changes the symbolic value of the rite and could reduce it to
signify merely human benevolence.
All the same, pastorally speaking, it is preferable to have some
stability in using or omitting the invitation to the sign of peace. If a
priest occasionally or irregularly omits the rite he will probably find
that the faithful start shaking hands anyway from force of habit. This
can lead to confusion.
Some priests omit it for weekday Masses, others include it always. There
is no absolute criterion for all cases. ZE06071115
Follow-up: Sign of Peace [7-25-2006]
Our column on the sign of peace (July 11) brings to mind a question from
a priest in the Marshall Islands regarding this sign at funeral Masses.
He writes: "There was a time in the past that in funeral Masses, the
'Exchange of Peace' (before the Lamb of God) is omitted. The reason for
it is that the exchange of peace is a joyful expression of greeting one
another but somehow discordant in the time of death, the loss of someone
so dear to the family."
This rule no longer applies, indeed as quoted in the earlier column, the
U.S. adaptations of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal
specifically cite funerals as being among the rare occasions when the
priest is permitted to leave the sanctuary for the exchange of peace.
I believe that the omission at funerals may have stemmed from reducing
the rite to a mere joyful exchange of greetings and forgetting that it
is the peace of Christ, flowing from the holy sacrifice upon the altar
and the source of our mutual peace and charity.
If understood in this way, not only will the rite of peace be habitually
carried out with proper moderation, but its inclusion at funerals adds a
note of spiritual solidarity and comfort that pales mere human