A ZENIT DAILY DISPATCH
CAN PRIEST GO DOWN AISLE AT THE KISS OF PEACE?
ROME, 28 OCT. 2003 (ZENIT).
Answered by Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical Athenaeum.
Q: Is it OK for the priest to come down during the peace offering to shake hands with the congregation? I hear this is wrong and I'd really like to know if it is or not since it makes me uneasy about our doing something inappropriate. — I.S., San Ysidro, California
A: The new General Instruction on the Roman Missal (GIRM), with approved adaptations for the United States, refers to this question in No. 154: "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."
For the moment the above exceptions, which are quite reasonable, apply only within the United States as almost no other episcopal conference has submitted a translation for the Holy See's approval.
The reason the GIRM dwells on this point is to put the kiss of peace into its proper context as a brief, and relatively unimportant rite in preparation for Communion; in fact, few realize that it is actually optional. It is the forthcoming Communion, not the priest, nor the good feelings we harbor toward our neighbors, that is the reason and source of the peace we desire for our fellows and the peace we receive from them. As GIRM 82 says, in the Rite of Peace: "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."
So, when the celebrant walks down the aisle shaking hands, the gesture, despite his good intentions, tends to inordinately draw attention to his person, as if he, and not the Lord, were the source of the peace that only Christ can give. Sometimes we priests can forget that being a "Pontifex" means being a bridge, and a bridge serves its purpose only when we walk over it, not when we admire it from a distance.
The gestures of the faithful, while respecting local custom, they should avoid excess exuberance and ebullience, again according to GIRM 82: "as to 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."
At the same time when this rite is done well it can be very effective spiritually. Dr. Bernard Nathanson, for example, has written of the powerful impression caused by witnessing this gesture at a Catholic Mass as he struggled to leave behind radical atheism and find, first belief in God, and eventually, acceptance of the Catholic faith. ZE03102822
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