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Vatican: avoid 'excesses' in Sign of Peace during Mass

August 01, 2014

The Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship has asked the world’s bishops to “moderate excesses” in the Sign of Peace exchanged during Mass.

The Vatican said that some widespread practices—such as lengthy interludes in which the priest leaves the altar and/or the faithful leave their pews; the introduction of a “song of peace;” and the exchange of congratulations or condolences on special occasions—are inappropriate during the Eucharistic liturgy. These practices, the Vatican’s liturgical office said, create confusion in the liturgical assembly just prior to Communion.”

The Vatican instruction was contained in a letter to the world’s episcopal conferences, signed on June 8 by Cardinal Antonio Canizares Llovera, the prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, and Archbishop Arthur Roche, the congregation’s secretary. The content of the letter became public on July 31.

The Vatican document said that after some discussion, which began at the 2005 meeting of the Synod of Bishops, the decision was reached to retain the sign of peace in its current place during the Mass. But the document called upon bishops to instruct the faithful in the proper understanding of the rite, saying:

If the faithful do not understand and do not show, in their ritual gestures, the true significance of the rite of peace, they are weakened in the Christian concept of peace, and their fruitful participation in the Eucharist is negatively affected.

Following the 2005 Synod meeting, which was dedicated to discussion of the Eucharist, Pope Benedict XVI wrote in his apostolic exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis that the bishops had discussed the Sign of Peace, and “the appropriateness of greater restraint in this gesture, which can be exaggerated and cause a certain distraction in the assembly just before the reception of Communion.” The new note from the Congregation for Divine Worship follows up on on that discussion.

The Congregation reminded bishops that the exchange of peace is optional, and at times may be inappropriate; it should not be carried out “mechanistically.” The document recommended that national bishops’ conferences consider different ways of making the Sign of Peace, to avoid “familiar or worldly gestures of greeting.”


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Show 10 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: Brian0101 - Aug. 05, 2014 10:04 PM ET USA

    I find it excessive, when the sign of peace is finished, and then moving onto the next prayer, our Eucharistic Ministers are walking through the church to their staging line, that they continue to greet friends etc., when we have moved on to another important part of the Mass.

  • Posted by: james-w-anderson8230 - Aug. 05, 2014 8:27 PM ET USA

    I occasionally attend a parish where people in opposing pews used to come out into the aisle during the Our Father so the people in both pews made a long line. The sign of peace went downhill from there. The new pastor reined that in. Unfortunately I was not there during the transition, so I don't know how he did it.

  • Posted by: BobJ70777069 - Aug. 05, 2014 8:09 PM ET USA

    I can't say that I've seen excessive demonstrations, but there doesn't seem to be any awareness that it's the "peace OF CHRIST", not, " Peace, Bro." or a greeting to one's friends. How about showing one's hands, held up and clasped in prayer toward all sides?

  • Posted by: bruno - Aug. 05, 2014 7:04 PM ET USA

    The Carthusians also have a wonderful ritual in which the priest begins the sign and it is 'passed on' by touching of right temple of the giver to the receiver's right temple. This eliminates the frustration associated with the common form in the US where one must worry about who they've missed.

  • Posted by: nix898049 - Aug. 05, 2014 6:48 PM ET USA

    The Agnus Dei has always been for me a significant part of the prayers before communion. That significance is routinely diminished by the placement of the sign of peace just before it as it gets lost in the shuffle as people return to their seats.

  • Posted by: fenton1015153 - Aug. 02, 2014 9:17 AM ET USA

    I welcome this but have little hope of seeing it acted upon. Most priests choose their battles so as to confront as few people as possible. What priest would want the whole parish mad at him and then find out that his Bishop will not support him? If a priest will not enforce that which has always been in the rubrics will he support this? Oh I pray they will!

  • Posted by: unum - Aug. 02, 2014 8:09 AM ET USA

    So the need for change was discussed in 2005, followed by papal attention in Sacramentum Caritatis, but the Vatican is just getting around to instructing the bishops in 2014! Perhaps the faithful will hear from their bishops by 2023 or so. The winds of change certainly need to blow harder and faster through the Vatican!

  • Posted by: Gregory0101 - Aug. 02, 2014 4:43 AM ET USA

    Thanks be to God!

  • Posted by: mrschips19308196 - Aug. 01, 2014 11:02 PM ET USA

    When we lived in Taiwan we attended Mass in a Chinese church on the mountain above Taipei where we had our home. They had a lovely custom at the sign of peace....the whole congregation ,with folded hands, bowed to the priest and he to them. Then the left and right sides of the congregation turned toward each other and bow again with folded hands. Very reverent. mrschips

  • Posted by: 1Jn416 - Aug. 01, 2014 8:13 PM ET USA

    This offers priests so inclined a wonderful opportunity to instruct their parishioners that the 1960s-era "peace" sign (two fingers held up in a V shape) and waving that at others is not an appropriate sign of peace. They could even perhaps explain what the "pax" is truly is about: What is this "peace of Christ"? Alas, I doubt many pastors will avail themselves of this opportunity, which is a shame.