The Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments wrote a letter regarding the sign of peace.
In 2014, under the leadership of Pope Francis, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments (CDWDS) released a letter regarding the sign of peace at Mass.
In the Upper Room, Jesus said to his disciples, “Peace I leave you; my peace I give you.” This promise of peace is one of the last things that the Lord gives to his disciples before going to Calvary. The promise is fulfilled when the Risen Lord appears among the terrified disciples, announcing, “Peace be with you!” Christ’s peace is the fruit of the redemption he brought.
The letter states, “In the Roman liturgical tradition, the exchange of peace is placed before Holy Communion with its own specific theological significance. Its point of reference is found in the Eucharistic contemplation of the Paschal mystery as the ‘Paschal kiss’ of the Risen Christ present on the altar…” It goes on to explain that each ritual element before Holy Communion has its own significance, contributing to the “overall ritual sequence of sacramental participation in the mystery being celebrated.”
Sacrament of Peace
The CDWDS cites Sacramentum caritatis. In this apostolic exhortation given by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, we read:
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 neighbours.
In fact, the CDWS approached the bishops of the world in 2008 to ask them whether they felt it might be more appropriate to move the sign of peace “with a view to improving the understanding and carrying out of this gesture.” In the end, it was thought that structural changes to the Roman Missal should be avoided. Thus, the need for guidelines regarding the sign of peace.
When Christians, through their ritual gestures, fail to appreciate and do not show themselves to be living “the authentic meaning of the rite of peace, the Christian concept of peace is weakened and their fruitful participation at the Eucharist is impaired.” Therefore:
- “If it is foreseen that [the exchange of the sign of peace] will not take place properly due to specific circumstances or if it is not considered pedagogically wise to carry it out on certain occasions, it can be omitted, and sometimes ought to be omitted.”
- “In those places where familiar and profane gestures of greeting were previously chosen, they could be replaced with other more appropriate gestures [in future editions of the Roman Missal].”
- It is “necessary, at the time of the exchange of peace, to definitively avoid abuses such as:
- the introduction of a ‘song for peace’, which is non-existent in the Roman Rite;
- the movement of the faithful from their places to exchange the sign of peace amongst themselves;
- the departure of the priest from the altar in order to give the sign of peace to some of the faithful;
- that in certain circumstances, such as at the Solemnity of Easter or of Christmas, or during ritual celebrations such as Baptism, First Communion, Confirmation, Matrimony, Sacred Ordinations, Religious Professions, and Funerals, the exchange of peace being the occasion for expressing congratulations, best wishes or condolences among those present.”
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Read the entire letter by clicking here.