ROME, 28 AUG. 2012 (ZENIT)
Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.
Q: My fiancée and I have noticed married couples who, at the sign of peace, give each other a kiss on the cheek rather than a handshake. My fiancée likes the idea as a special sign between couples. Is this encouraged or prohibited? My only concern is that it could be an exclusive greeting (one which I would not share with others) when the sign of peace is supposed to be something you share with all others around you. — N.M., Canberra, Australia
A: The rules are very open with regard to the means of making the sign of peace. The General Instruction of the Roman Missal, in No. 82, says:
"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."
To this the instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum added further specifications:
"72. 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."
Benedict XVI in his apostolic exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis made the following reflections in the light of the 2005 Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist:
"The sign of peace
"49. By its nature the Eucharist is the sacrament of peace. At Mass this dimension of the eucharistic mystery finds specific expression in the sign of peace. Certainly this sign has great value (cf. Jn 14:27). In our times, fraught with fear and conflict, this gesture has become particularly eloquent, as the Church has become increasingly conscious of her responsibility to pray insistently for the gift of peace and unity for herself and for the whole human family. Certainly there is an irrepressible desire for peace present in every heart. The Church gives voice to the hope for peace and reconciliation rising up from every man and woman of good will, directing it towards the one who 'is our peace' (Eph 2:14) and who can bring peace to individuals and peoples when all human efforts fail. We can thus understand the emotion so often felt during the sign of peace at a liturgical celebration. Even so, during the Synod of Bishops there was discussion about 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. It should be kept in mind that nothing is lost when the sign of peace is marked by a sobriety which preserves the proper spirit of the celebration, as, for example, when it is restricted to one's immediate neighbors."
After the synod there was some discussion and widespread consultation on the possibility of changing the moment of the sign of peace. The overall results were inconclusive but with a general tendency recommending keeping the traditional position before communion.
Keeping in mind the above documents we can say the following:
— If the bishops' conference has legislated regarding the form of carrying out the sign of peace, and this legislation has received Roman recognition, then this form is obligatory.
— If the bishops have not legislated, then the sign should be carried out according to local custom, to those nearest, and in a sober manner.
— Local custom can vary. In some countries a bow and a smile is common, in others a handshake, in others joining one's hands and bowing.
— It could well be argued that in some cultures a brief kiss on the cheek among spouses is a fitting sign of peace while a handshake would be rather formal. Local customs could well tolerate a difference of gestures for immediate family and toward others, with nobody taking offense.
In other words, there is no reason why the gesture has to be universal if local custom readily accepts differences, provided that unnecessary movement and exaggerated gestures are avoided.
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Follow-up: Kissing at the Sign of Peace [9-11-2012]
In the wake of our Aug. 21 piece on kissing at the sign of peace, a reader asked, "I see many people exchanging the sign of peace well into the communion rite. Is this acceptable?"
It must be remembered that the "sign of peace," however commendable, is an optional rite which may be omitted for a good reason.
As we saw in the original article, the Holy Father has frequently suggested that its importance not be exaggerated and that it should be a sober gesture made to those nearby and without leaving one's pew.
If carried out correctly, the rite should last between 30 and 45 seconds after which the greetings should cease and everybody should participate in singing or reciting the "Lamb of God" so as to prepare for communion.
Our reader also inquired if other invocations may be added to those of the "Lamb of God," such as "Prince of Peace," "Jesus," etc.
Here the general rule should be followed. The "Lamb of God" may be repeated more times if necessary for the fraction rite to be carried out but always finishing with "grant us peace."
There is no provision and no authorization to add any other invocations. Such additions would require the approval of the bishops' conference and of the Holy See.