What's the purpose of the Sign of Peace?

Why do we do it? And why is it placed where it is in the Mass? And shouldn’t we greet other Christians with the Sign of Peace?

In the Gospel, Jesus said that before we go and present our gift at the altar, we must first reconcile with our brethren. Our pewmates at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass are our brethren. We extend to them the Sign of Peace right before the Fraction Rite. Of course, this simple gesture can get out of hand, as our Holy Father indicates (and also explains) in Sacramentum Caritatis:

The sign of peace

  1. By its nature the Eucharist is the sacrament of peace. At Mass this dimension of the eucharistic mystery finds specific expression in the sign of peace. Certainly this sign has great value (cf. Jn 14:27). In our times, fraught with fear and conflict, this gesture has become particularly eloquent, as the Church has become increasingly conscious of her responsibility to pray insistently for the gift of peace and unity for herself and for the whole human family. Certainly there is an irrepressible desire for peace present in every heart. The Church gives voice to the hope for peace and reconciliation rising up from every man and woman of good will, directing it towards the one who “is our peace” (Eph 2:14) and who can bring peace to individuals and peoples when all human efforts fail. We can thus understand the emotion so often felt during the sign of peace at a liturgical celebration. Even so, during the Synod of Bishops there was discussion about the appropriateness of greater restraint in this gesture, which can be exaggerated and cause a certain distraction in the assembly just before the reception of Communion. It should be kept in mind that nothing is lost when the sign of peace is marked by a sobriety which preserves the proper spirit of the celebration, as, for example, when it is restricted to one’s immediate neighbor s (150).

Again, even though this ritual is important, we shouldn’t get carried away with it. As far as greeting other people with the Sign of Peace, I would be a little cautious. In this day and age, people might react rather strangely, especially if they don’t understand quite what you are doing.

I dont’ know if this answers your questions sufficiently, but, I’ll try to dig up some more information for you.

Sort of on topic-

I was was watching Father Mitch on EWTN with a Maronite bishop. The Kiss of Peace in that rite seemed to not involve touching, but what looked to be a sort of mime action (it was reverent, but I don’t have another term for it). The action involved a sort of “passing” Peace, as if one were handing the other a box.

In any event, the Sign of Peace is very ancient, and different in different rites (all of them Catholic).

:wink: Although at this time of year, I’m beginning to think the ushers should walk down the aisles offering waterless hand cleaner after the Sign of Peace.

I’m not sure what they do on EWTN but the Maronites here practice a gesture that is kind of common among others Eastern/Oriental churches (Coptic, etc.) also with some variation. It is like a hand clasp (both hands placed over the other’s joined hands). A variation which preserves the “kiss” bit is after the hand clasp, you raise your hands (joined at the palms) to your lips and kiss it.

I served at a Mass with Archbishop Chaput of Denver and he had some of his…entourage for lack of better terms, there and one of them was a priest from some Asian country and when he was giving the Sign of Peace he would take our head and press his forehead on ours and said Peace be with you. I thought that was interesting and I figured it was just how they did it in his culture.

Actually, what the Holy Father does during the Sign of Peace at Papal Masses is to “embrace” by touching shoulders. My PV touches the shoulders of the altar servers. He said that since he doesn’t know where the kids’ hands have been (he was a kid himself), he would rather touch the shoulders. :smiley:

The “Sign of Peace” doesn’t have the character of reconcilling with those who have wronged us, that is the purpose of the Penitential Rite.

The Reconcilliation that the Sign of Peace asks for is a prayer for reconcillation between mankind and Christ and for the gift of the Virtue of Charity

Redemptionis Sacramentum

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.151 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…

We should not look at the “Sign of Peace” as some sort of fullfilllment of Matthew 5 on several fronts

First of all, Matthew 5 calls for the reconcilliation to happen before the Gifts are brought to the altar. If we are talking about material gifts, that means that the Sign of Peace would have to happen before the Offertory in order to fulfill this command. If we are talking about the gift of ourselves, as offered by us as members of the Common Priesthood, that takes place during the Eucharistic Prayer, when the Ministerial Priest offers Christ Himself.

In addition, since the Penitential Rite, especially in the Form A, involves the seeking of reconcilliation, Christians do not seek to reconcille that which has already been reconcilled. The only personal reconcilliation that the Sign of Peace could ask for is for transgression that have occured since the Penitential Rite (as all others have, or should have, been forgiven)

Brendan, I think you are mixing multiple distinct acts. This is how my former Pastor explained the linkage.

The Penitential Rite is our request for forgiveness and the celebrants blessing is absolution of venial sin. We need to ask for this forgiveness at the beginning so we have the grace to properly and fully enter into the Mass.

During the Offertory we are to bring ourselves fully to the altar (our financial gifts, our pain, our joy, our suffering, etc.) and place them before our Savior in love, hope, and trust. It is a means for us to magnify in our minds and heart that our God si greater than all of them and to minimize our gifts and problems in comparison to the love of our God.

The Sign of Peace is a communal expression of Christ that our our request of forgiveness has been accepted. It is done where it is because it is done in the physical presence of Jesus Christ. Because we are both spirit beings and physical beings, the transmittal of the SOP at this time is a full expression (spiritual and physical) of Peace. And in this act, we are fulfilling our call to be physical instruments of Christ to communicate the Good News to others.

I believe it is a sign of unity among the Body of Christ. Archbishop Fulton Sheen, in his book This is the Mass says: “beyond all claims of time and space, beyond the all-compelling exactions of death itself, we make ourselves ready for union with God **in just the degree that we are joined in fellowship one with another; and this is the whole sense and burden of the Communion of Saints.” ** He goes on to say the meaning of the Mass is unrealized unless it be shared in fellowship by me with all the children of God, unless they somehow join me in the path that leads to the Light, for the soul when lifted up, shall draw the world unto itself."

While I’m learning from the answers given in other posts, I’ll tell you what I do - when I’m at a Mass where the Sign of Peace is requested (since during TLM it’s not)…I don’t kiss anybody (that’s when it really gets carried away and the meaning gets a bit lost) - nor do I say “Peace be with you”.

If someone offers me their hand, I watch their surprised faces when I say, “God Bless You.”

They don’t expect it - and I think it has an interesting effect. Somehow, after saying “Peace be with you” a few times, it seems to become mechanical - can’t explain it. God Bless You? Says it all.

First, why do you want to surprise them?

Second, who do you think you are to change the Mass? The prayer “God Bless You” is a intercessory prayer for another. To say “Peace be with you” is to physically act on behalf of and for Christ to do as he did when he came back to the upper room: physically and spiritually assure those around you that Christ is with them, that they are forgiven, grant them the graces to properly recieve.

“God Bless You” is more appropriate outside of the liturgy.

Dominus vobiscum - The Lord be with you - to which the answer is Et cum spiritu tuo - And with your spirit. …

I understand in the future the response in english will be “And with your spirit.”

I think you’re splitting hairs here. There is no prescribed statement for congregants to make as they are sharing the sign of peace. Rather, they are to do so “according to the local custom.” The usual local custom here is shaking hands, and essentially repeating what the priest said, “peace be with you.” However, sometimes people wave, or hug, or nod, or even give a light peck. The statement they make also varies somewhat, and I think “God bless you,” while slightly unusual, falls within the general sentiment of this act.

A sign of Peace of some sort has been practiced since at least since the year 155.

Justin Martyr dictated to the Roman Emperor what occurs at Mass in the year 155 to defend Christian practices. And it just so happens that right before the Eucharist it says “we exchange the kiss”.

Very similar in it’s timing in the Mass and also in the participants behavior.

See The Lamb’s Supper by Scott Hahn.

You are very correct here. I would also like to add that this was such a tradition that this is how Jesus was to be betrayed, with the sign of peace, the kiss of peace, from Judas.

Archbishop Fulton Sheen says before we partake of the Body of Christ it is fitting that we share in His Spirit.

Probably a bit and in reaction to a so-called traditionalist who has his own manner of changing the Mass to fit his own agenda. But as you will see at the end which I underlined, there is a suggestion which is a long ways from “God Bless you”. If the purpose was to invoke a blessing, the Church would have clearly said so. Instead, it was clear that it is to be a communication that the Peace of Christ be with them.

However, the GIRM is clear on the purpose which is to express communion and charity. The prayer the innovator uses is an intercessory prayer which is a request for an action of God vs. responding to the call to express peace, communion and charity on behalf of Christ.

  1. The Rite of Peace follows, by which the Church asks for peace and unity for herself and for the whole human family, and the faithful express to each other their ecclesial communion and mutual charity before communicating in the Sacrament.

As for the sign of peace to be given, the manner is to be established by Conferences of Bishops in accordance with the culture and customs of the peoples. It is, however, appropriate that each person offer the sign of peace only to those who are nearest and in a sober manner.

And then says later in paragraph 154:

The priest may give the sign of peace to the ministers but always remains within the sanctuary, so as not to disturb the celebration. In the dioceses of the United States of America, for a good reason, on special occasions (for example, in the case of a funeral, a wedding, or when civic leaders are present) the priest may offer the sign of peace to a few of the faithful near the sanctuary. At the same time, in accord with the decisions of the Conference of Bishops, all offer one another a sign that expresses peace, communion, and charity. While the sign of peace is being given, one may say, Pax Domini sit semper vobiscum (The peace of the Lord be with you always), to which the response is Amen.

In Vietnam, the sign of peace is exchanged through a simple, slight bow of the head from the waist,first to the celebrant and then to others in close proximity. there is actually no physical contact.

I never liked nor understood the so called ‘sign of peace’…when our catholic (small C) had a liturgy…a modified mass with guitars,dance etc…and when the sign came in…the auditorium went wild…teens jumping over seats and aisles to greet,hug and kiss each other…etc…Im hardly a prude,being a daddy of seven kids…but frankly we always disgusted me!.Once several years ago a local turned and when he saw me,turned back…he refused to shake my hand…shocking…he was a local cafeteria catholic and I have always taken a stand on values in my little hamlet…so much for toleration etc…its to laugh!..I sincerely hope with this new Pope this practice will cease and we can become more God centered then Man centered during the holy Mass…

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit www.catholic.com.