Ordinarily, I’m against the Sign of Peace. Yes. I did just say that.
But Michael! MIIIICHAEL! Are you an old man???
Ha! No. But I do want the Mass to have only that which is appropriate to the Mass and not any inappropriate people-centric occurrences. I’m not entirely against the signum pacis, IF–and this is a big if, since I’ve never seen this be the case–it is handled as the Church desires. How does the Church desire the Sign of Peace be done? For that we can look to Redemptionis Sacramentum, an instruction on the Sacred Liturgy from 2004. Regarding the Sign of Peace, it says the following:
It is appropriate “that each one give the sign of peace only to those who are nearest and in a sober manner”. “The Priest may give the sign of peace to the ministers but always remains within the sanctuary, so as not to disturb the celebration. He does likewise if for a just reason he wishes to extend the sign of peace to some few of the faithful”. “As regards the sign to be exchanged, the manner is to be established by the Conference of Bishops in accordance with the dispositions and customs of the people”, and their acts are subject to the recognitio of the Apostolic See.
Now, my friends, we all know that this is rarely done as specified. It’s not at all uncommon to see priests leaving the altar to shake hands with the congregation, or people moving across the church to give someone a hug, or the multitude of voices that create a large noise with all their acclamations of, “Peace! Peace! Peace be with you! Peace!”
Furthermore, I’ve seen many, many people who still continue the Sign of Peace when the Lamb of God is said. That’s a time when we are most certainly supposed to focus on the Lamb of God, not ignore Him for those whom He created.
I’d like to bring up two reasons why the Sign of Peace just isn’t all that good. For those of you who don’t know, it’s an optional practice anyway and it need not be done at all. Therefore, I’m allowed to be against it if I wish.
Reason #1: It is unnecessarily centered on the congregation at a time when the Lord is truly present in the most profound sense
I think it would be one thing if the Sign of Peace were done before the Consecration. Yes, the Mass should be God-centered all throughout, but specifically once the Precious Body and Blood are present on the altar, since it is then that God is not only spiritually, but physically present as well. After the Consecration, the Mass should focus on Jesus and on Jesus only. The Sign of Peace puts a heavy focus on the congregation and often carries over, as I said above, into the Agnus Dei, a moment to and about Jesus, not the congregation. If it could be more restrained, I’d give it a chance. But since most of the time it presents nothing short of chaos, it should be done away with. Unless someone wants to impose the correct rubrics. Thing is, no one does that.
Reason #2: It doesn’t present peace
A lot of folks seem to be under the impression that if the Sign of Peace isn’t done, they’re somehow lacking in love of their neighbor. Is it really likely that a handshake or a smile is going to have such a profound effect on someone? Honestly. You can do that before Mass or after Mass or any other time outside of Mass, and it should not be thought of as an issue on which personal charity stands or falls. In addition, it doesn’t present “peace”. The definition of peace is “free from disturbance; quiet; tranquility”. People bustling around the church loudly wishing peace to each other, who often end up interrupting the Eucharistic celebration itself, do not present peace.
Think about it. If you do participate in the Sign of Peace, please do it as Redemptionis Sacramentum says. Although I do recognize that it can be incredibly hard, since no one wants to appear flat-out rude. That includes me.
God bless you.