PrayTell reports on the new circular letter from the CDWDS on the Rite/Sign/Kiss/Mêlée of Peace. Honestly, Pope Francis has got to do something with this dicastery. They are getting rebuffed by German-speaking bishops in the translation department, so I guess they have to throw around their weight somehow.
I’ll wait to see the document itself before making further comment, but based on what I’ve seen at PrayTell and the CNA, a few observations on the four abuses are mentioned: a peace song, people leaving their places, clergy leaving their places, and special occasions.
1. Are people still doing this? Most musicians I know are mixing it up in the crowd like everybody else. We don’t always receive the Eucharist, so the least we can do is reconcile without even thinking of approaching the altar.
1a. I will affirm the practice of one of my parish’s music directors. After the pre-Mass warm-up, the group prays and exchanges peace. This, about ten to twenty minutes before Mass. At the sign of peace, the group does not offer peace to one another, but moves to the nearby pews. Sometimes it’s family, and often it is to exchange with acquaintances or strangers.
2. Some people feel reticent about sharing peace, even with loved ones. Others are putting what I see is a fuller expression of incarnation into the gesture. There is some meaning to the movement behind this. My sense would be to let it continue within a modest time frame.
3. Maybe if some priests devoted more attention to giving and receiving peace, they wouldn’t notice what’s going on in the pews.
4. In most American parishes, there is a sense of familiarity, community, and belonging at special occasions. A priest who did not comfort mourners, congratulate wedded couples, or otherwise go slightly out of his way to leave the altar area would be viewed with confusion, suspicion, and as “too good” for the laity. I think priests are free to misbehave socially to adhere to the letter of liturgy legislation, but such a stance does not come with certain consequences. It’s just foolish to think otherwise.
I think the CDWDS was wise not to tamper much more with the Sign of Peace at this time. The climate is not right in much of the First World. Lay people are not confused. They want their bishops to be good and virtuous administrators. They want the serious ecclesiological issues tackled. They want the prelates to say to Pope Benedict, “Thank you for your input on the Sign of Peace, Holiness, but the people want us to move on other matters at this time. They are not confused about simple expressions of affection. They want to know why we are so distant from their concerns.”