An Optional Peace


It’s sort of like the urban legend of alligators roaming the Big Apple sewers or the cult of Aliens at Roswell. I managed to land hip deep in a discussion not about Mass in a time of pestilence, but the optionality of certain elements of the Rite of Peace at Mass.

In an NLM post, one contributor muses:

Why should there be no Masses in the event of an epidemic? Could it be because of the danger of contamination posed by the sign of peace? I presume the bishops realize that the sign of peace is optional, even if most of the faithful don’t know that.

Nobody denies that, for some, interacting with other people, even other Catholics, is a detestable experience. The introduction of the Rite of Peace is something a lot of Catholics resisted in ’69, and they still wish it would just go away with love beads and groovy vans.

Personally, I long for a parish where such a sign would be rendered redundant by worshippers arriving early and exchanging friendly and loving greetings before Mass. I might also say that moving the Rite of Peace to a time immediately before the Preparation of the Gifts might be good. But with the onset of the new-and-improved ICEL, you can bet that trial balloon has about as much chance of floating as a Tridentine thurible in the Tiber River.

I remain amazed that some people cherish personal memory above the GIRM. Here’s what the document says about the sign of peace, people are to exchange it:

Rite of peace: before they share in the same bread, the faithful implore peace and unity for the Church and for the whole human family and offer some sign of their love for one another.


The form the sign of peace should take is left to the conference of bishops to determine, in accord with the culture and customs of the people. (56b)

Forgive me if this seems crystal clear. The priest follows up the Lord’s Prayer with, “Lord Jesus Christ, you said to your apostles …” Then he has a brief dialogue begun by “The peace of the Lord be with you always.” The people respond, “And also with you.” Then in accord with local custom, the people exchange some “sign” of peace. Mostly in the US, if it’s not a hug and a kiss (as I share with my wife and daughter) it’s a handshake and a brief, but kind word. Like “Peace.”

Once a travelling priest friend related a visit to a retreat center during a flu epidemic or something. People bowed to one another in silence–no touching or smooching. He told me it was profoundly moving, and he didn’t expect it would be. There. That’s a sign of peace.

Surprisingly enough, the gesture of peace is now optional for the priest. In my ’74 Sacramentary, the deacon or priest “may” invite the people with the phrase, “Let us offer each other the sign of peace.” But the sacramentary rubrics in 1974 say, “All make an appropriate sign of peace, according to local custom. The priest gives the sign of peace to the deacon or minister.”

GIRM 112 reads:

All exchange some sign of peace and love, according to local custom. The priest may give the sign of peace to the ministers.


In sum, this is the Roman Rite:

1. The priest leads a brief prayer alluding to Christ’s gift of peace to his disciples.
2. The priest and people engage in a brief ritual dialogue.
3. The people exchange “some sign” of peace.

Optional elements:

1. The priest or deacon invite the people to exchange peace, if they require prompting.
2. The priest may choose to share peace or decline to do so and remain at the altar.
3. The particular form of the “sign.” It could be a handshake. It could be a smooch. It could be a simple smile, nod and/or bow.

I think that covers it.

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About catholicsensibility

Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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