A PrayTell essay on the Sign of Peace. There’s the liturgical discussion, initiated by Msgr Francis Mannion, and important one to engage:
(I)t should be kept in mind that when we gather for the Eucharist we come together as sons and daughters of God who are all equally related by baptism. For the moment, the stranger and the marginal person are as close to us as spouse and children.
(T)he Sign of Peace is not meaningless when shared between strangers and only meaningful when exchanged between intimates. Indeed, the peace sign is never more meaningful than when shared between strangers, or those separated by human barriers of various kinds. The Sign of Peace declares: “We may be strangers at the human level, but not in God’s scheme of things.”
Always, of course, there is the discussion around this taking place during the Mass. Is liturgy the best place for this? Can we achieve a recognition of the baptismal relationship with other believers at another time and in another way? There might be an affirmative answer to that. Some liturgists have promoted the idea of moving the Peace to another part of the Mass. Many critics would cheer an omission. Do they miss a connection between the Eucharist and that Communion of (living) saints?
A point of interest from Fritz Bauerschmidt, frequent PrayTell writer and commentator:
(V)isitors to our parish often comment on how much they love the lengthy sign of peace and the genuine warmth with which it is carried out. And they don’t seem to feel excluded by the fact that they don’t know anyone. So obviously lots of people do not share my particular liturgical sensibility.
Somehow, I am not surprised by the statement of these visitors. Individual persons may be hypocritical in their offering of peace. But only their friends and acquaintances would know for sure. Communities might seem false or fake in their collective expression of “community,” but again, only those familiar would make that assessment.
Newcomers likely would not, unless they had a mission for being present. What they might seek is the expression of baptismal communion, that breaking down the barriers between persons. I might suggest that in many places in western society, this is a deeply felt need. We live in a time that values corporate culture over collaborative, the individual over the community, the cog over the person.
God made us to be communal beings. When we find an expression of community that seems the least bit genuine, we are attracted to it as a thirsty person desire a guzzle of water.
In this post-modern era, perhaps the Sign of Peace is exactly what most people need. If it draws people to Christ and to Communion, maybe it’s a worthy thing to engage. Or to suffer for the greater good.