Thursday, 13 January 2011

Warm fuzzies and the great sign of peace debate....

A few days ago Fr Zulsdorf put up a post addressing that ongoing source of angst for many: do I really have to do the sign of peace thingy when I attend a Novus Ordo Mass? 

The short answer is yes.

Still, the sign of peace is only an option in the mass, albeit one used almost universally.  But maybe the time has come once more to reconsider it, and encourage priests to drop it. 

Why the sign of peace is actually confrontational

Like most people, my biggest problem with the sign of peace is as much emotional as theological. 

Far from expressing solidarity with one's fellow mass attendees, to me at least, not being exactly a touchy feely sort of person, it is actually deeply alienating, as well as disrupting the flow of the Mass. 

Because the reality is, out in the real world, people who rush around shaking hands or hugging all and sundry are regarded as nutters, breaking the normal bounds of proper behaviour. 

Shaking hands isn't something you generally do when you meet up with friends, at least in Australian culture, it's most often a business ritual.

Now I admit, in part it is what you are used to. 

When I was in the process of converting (technically reverting as I was baptised a catholic though not brought up as one) over thirty years ago, I used to go to Latin Mass each day at the Brompton Oratory - where the sign of peace amongst the people is never used. 

Now I knew full well that the Brompton experience was completely atypical of what a Mass was generally like, and I remember deciding to go to a 'normal' mass elsewhere in order to prepare myself for what I was likely to experience when I returned to Australia and see if I could really cope with it.  Now I have to say rather I think God tricked me on that one, as the English Mass I ended up going to was very reverent - and also with no sign of peace. 

So the first time I encountered it was when I arrived in Australia.  And it quickly came to symbolise for me the studied irreverence and abuses that were and remain the norm at most masses in this country, in stark contrast to the Brompton model of the Novus Ordo Mass made as best as it possibly can be.

For me it was and remains incredibly jarring - a bit of fake solidarity than belies the reality and disrupts the sense of sanctity that has been building through the ritual.

Bad theology?

It seem to me that there are also good theological reasons for angst about the sign of peace:
  • the traditional origin of the gesture reflects a hierarchical conception of the Church, starting with the celebrant and passing it down the chain.  The novus ordo gesture subverts that stressing the 'equality of all the baptised' - and that's a particularly problematic message in the context of the Mass where affirming the critical role of the celebrant is actually kind of important these days;
  •  Mass is about the sacred; the sign of peace has been subverted into a secular break in the ritual at a fairly crucial point in the mass.  If we must have it, why not turn it into a more formal body posture - like say the traditionally used one, or a bow?;
  • it is the source of endless abuses, with priests bounding down from the altar to shake hands with all and sundry for example, or extended gab fests amongst the laity.
What to do?

Still, as much as I hate the sign of peace thing, I do agree with Fr Z that if the priest chooses to employ the option to instruct everyone to give the sign of peace, it is part of the rubrics. So traddies can hardly complain about liturgical abuses and then themselves sink to their knees in (seeming) prayer, or adopt many of the other tactics suggested in the combox to his post on how to avoid it!

The first best option of course would be to ask your bishop and/or priest to consider not inviting everyone to give the sign of peace (coupled with some appropriate catechesis). 

A second best option would be for bishops individually or collectively to prescribe some more formal gesture to be used.

And where it can't be avoided, as far as I know there is no actual instruction in Australia that requires the shaking of hands. 

So my own approach is to simply keep my hands together, bow and say the response to those nearest me.  Sometimes I get odd looks, but mostly people are ok with it.  And I've discovered that some ethnic groups don't seem to much like the hand shaking thing either, so sitting near them is always a good tactic!

Is that a reasonable degree of compliance?  I'm never sure.  Which always make me dread it when the moment approaches....

So do go and vote in Fr Z's poll on this subject !

1 comment:

Tommy G said...

What does Pope Benedict XVI think about the sign of peace?