Very interesting discussion on the Rite of Peace at Mass below. I don’t intend to short-circuit it, but to branch off and explore a bit more in depth than I might in a comment box.
The first mention of Peace in the Roman Missal–GIRM 82–seems clear:
(T)he faithful express to each other their ecclesial communion and mutual charity before communicating in the Sacrament.
The Order of Mass, which appears later in MR3, is pretty explicit in the English translation, that the faithful are to exchange some sign. Liam’s point about “pro opportunitate” seems to me to apply to the deacon’s invitation to exchange peace. In English, the instruction to the assembly is what seems optional. Here’s the whole rubric in Latin:
128. Deinde, pro opportunitate, diaconus, vel sacerdos, subiungit.
Which gets translated:
128. Then, if appropriate, the Deacon, or the Priest, adds:
And here’s the rubric that follows:
Et omnes, iuxta locorum consuetudines, pacem, communionem et caritatem sibi invicem significant. Sacerdos pacem dat diacono vel ministro.
And here’s how it gets translated into English:
And all offer one another a sign, in keeping with local customs, that expresses peace, communion, and charity. The Priest gives the sign of peace to a Deacon or minister.
With respect to my friends, I don’t find this unclear at all. The minimal rite involves the narration of the presider, his exchange with the assembly, followed by the offering of “a sign” amongst the people nearest to one another.
My own sense is that the Mass gets bogged down with wordiness, our desire to fill in the silent, empty spaces with our own narratives, music, and such. If a regular Catholic congregation is inclined to begin the exchange of some “sign” almost immediately on the heels of, “And with your spirit,” I don’t see any point in a deacon saying, “Let us offer each other the sign of peace.”
Most of us don’t need to be told.
Y’all can thank this rubric and maybe the Holy Spirit on this account, because it’s what got me involved in liturgy in the first place when I was a senior in college. Our chaplain, a Notre Dame-trained liturgy guy (and actually an outstanding liturgical presider and gifted preacher, in my opinion) determined that we would give up the Sign of Peace in Lent 1980. I thought to myself that can’t be right. So I complained. Father Bill’s response was to invite me to join the liturgy committee.*
One of my objections was that my university didn’t have an abundance of school spirit. It seemed that “giving up” for Lent shouldn’t involve giving up something people were inclined to skip or minimize in the first place.
I continue to note the avoidance of peace at Mass. Even one small, mostly symbolic gesture. Like many others I do find a handshake rather limp, even when it’s not. Over the years, as I’ve drifted in and out of hugging communities and situations, I’ve settled on different methods, depending on the people. Wife: always hug. Daughter: used to hug, but now she doesn’t like parental affection in public. Go figure. With other people, I usually clasp hands rather than shake. If a student initiates a hug, I will respond appropriately and sometimes add a clap on the shoulder.
When flu season flares up and people don’t touch, I find a brief mutual bow to be quite nice, even without words. Note that in the Roman Missal, no words are given to accompany the “sign” of the assembly exchanging peace.
In conclusion, some sign is needed. The omission of any sign is unlawful. If that’s not a concern, I would challenge a believer, a priest, or a community to examine the avoidance of peace. Looking at what I avoid is not easy, but often gives me a window into some insight in the spiritual life. In a time when the Church is breaking apart at the seams, it seems to me we need a Rite of Peace more than ever.
* One pastoral lesson I learned from this experience was to make a point of seeking out dissenting voices and make sure they surrounded me and got involved. If nothing else, committee discussions can get pretty lively.
Image credit: The Pastor’s Wife Speaks