The Sign (Act?) of Peace is considered. RS got some attention because of the tone of the restriction of the priest to the sanctuary for the time of it. Let’s read first a clarification of the significance of the act:
[71.] The practice of the Roman Rite is to be maintained according to which the peace is extended shortly before Holy Communion. For according to the tradition of the Roman Rite, this practice does not have the connotation either of reconciliation or of a remission of sins, but instead signifies peace, communion and charity before the reception of the Most Holy Eucharist. [Cf. GIRM 154] It is rather the Penitential Act to be carried out at the beginning of Mass (especially in its first form) which has the character of reconciliation among brothers and sisters.
The Gospel passage which this act echoes (Matthew 5:21-26) does indeed represent an act of reconciliation, as least as Jesus taught it. If the derivation of the Sign of Peace is different, then its placement here may be a problem. The association with the Lord’s teaching in the Sermon on the Mount is rather well-known among lay Catholics.
That said, I think the clarification that the Penitential Act takes place once, at the beginning of Mass. And that act should be differentiated from the Peace.
[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.[Cf. GIRM 82, 154]
Does a prolonged Sign of Peace “disturb” the liturgy. It might be more accurate to say it disturbs some believers. Can it and has it gone on too long? Sure it has. I’ve been in many Masses where it extended several minutes, though that was more a generation ago than today.
RS 72 strikes me as needless centralization. It should be for the bishop to make the case for the local clergy. One size does not fit all in the Roman Rite. The tone of the clergy remaining in the sanctuary where lay people receive a grudging welcome is not a good one. Nevertheless, an extended Sign of Peace does indeed deserve careful attention. Including the possibility that the social chit-chat we lay people are often accused of may well undergo a certain transformation when held this deep into the Liturgy of the Eucharist.