There has been talk about moving the Sign of Peace during the Eucharistic Liturgy to another location. In some cultures there has been a feeling that the Sign of Peace gets “out of hand”. I’m not sure what that means… perhaps it’s not what Western Europeans consider prayerful. The National Catholic Reporter in the US has a good editorial about this that I would like to share. It really captures my feelings. Another point around this is the reference to the Emmaus Journey and the disciples who recognized the Lord in the Breaking of the The Bread. In the Breaking of the Bread we recognize what is on the altar, and we recognize, and exchange peace with Body of Christ in the pew next to us.
Taking community out of Communion
As happened in 2007 when rumors circulated that Pope Benedict XVI would restore the Tridentine Mass as an option for Catholics unhappy with the Second Vatican Council, trial balloons are once again going up about another change to the Mass most Catholics celebrate and find meaningful.
During a Nov. 24 interview, Cardinal Francis Arinze, prefect for the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments, said that the pope is considering moving the sign of peace from within the Communion rite — after the Our Father and before the assembly receives Communion — to another place in the Mass, possibly before or during the offertory rite.
The stated reasons for the move, which has the support of many of the U.S. bishops, reflect some long-standing differences among bishops and their liturgical experts over questions of theological emphasis, church history and the liturgical appropriateness of what clearly became a hallmark of the new way of celebrating Mass after Vatican II.
While public statements talk about correcting abuses and restoring reverence to the liturgy, the change would signal another, deeper victory for those who have resisted the council’s horizontal theology — God with the community — in favor of the vertical theology of the Tridentine Mass — God above, mediated by the clergy to the laity below.
Repositioning the rite of peace would be a noticeable change for a whole generation of Catholics. For almost 40 years, the “kiss of peace,” a gesture deeply rooted in the scriptures and the Eucharist, has been the approved expression of love and reconciliation by the community about to receive holy Communion. As liturgy is meant to do, this gesture helped catechize the assembly to be the Communion they were receiving and to be the body of Christ they were then to carry out into the world. Where it was placed was significant.
By invoking the peace of Christ, then inviting the community to express that peace to one another immediately before Communion, the eucharistic species and the community were united in a single real presence of Christ. Removing the sign of peace from the Communion rite eliminates this potent sign.
For many Catholics who have understood the connection, the proposed change will only add to the palpable sense that Rome is listening to a vocal minority who have campaigned and complained that the renewed liturgy interrupts their personal prayer and forces them to shake hands with strangers at Mass. Ordinary Catholics who either don’t care or are weary of finding worship caught up in these quarrels will probably do what the pope decides, but they should not be faulted if it feels to them that, bit by bit, community is being taken out of Communion.
And while these ritual tempests come and go, we might all lament that the deeper meaning of Eucharist as bread for the world, the nonviolent leaven of history, as body and blood being broken and spilled to bring justice, as incarnate God among us, still waits to be fully acknowledged and celebrated.
National Catholic Reporter December 12, 2008