Pray Tell and other blogs are reporting on a copy of the newly issued (July 12th) Circular Letter on the Ritual Expression of the Gift of Peace at Mass. After the Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist in 2005, the question was raised about whether the sign of peace should be maintained “in its present form” and location. Pope Benedict at the time requested that the “pertinent Congregations” study the question. The Congregation for the Divine Worship and the Discipline of Sacraments studied the question and consulted Episcopal Conferences from around the world. According to Antonio Cardinal Cañizares Llovera in his introduction to the Circular Letter, the results of the consultation were as follows:
A great majority of them [Episcopal Conferences] pronounced favorably in maintaining the “rite” and the “sign” of peace in its present form and time, as it is presently found in the Ordinary of the Mass, considering it as a characteristic of the Roman rite and therefore not convenient for the faithful, at this time, to introduce structural changes during the Eucharistic celebration.
After consultations with “both Supreme Pontiffs, Benedict XVI and Francis” a Circular Letter was issued. According to Cardinal Cañizares, it is hoped that this Circular Letter
will become an opportunity for all the Episcopal Conferences to reflect on this question and to present and study the proposed adaptations for the “sign of peace” in respect of the different cultures and sensibilities of the different peoples around the world.
The Circular Letter makes it clear what this means:
It may be advisable that, on the occasion of the publication of the translation of the third typical edition of the Roman Missal in their own country, or when new editions of the same Missal are undertaken in the future, Conferences of Bishops should consider whether it might not be fitting to change the manner of giving peace which had been established earlier. For example, following these years of experience, in those places where familiar and profane gestures of greeting were previously chosen, they could be replaced with other more appropriate gestures.
The following section discusses liturgical abuses to be avoided. The Circular Letter mentions four specifically:
- 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 form 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.
My comments: At our school Masses I catechize our children about purpose of the Sign of Peace, that it is a symbol (meaning not a literal time to glad hand people) of the Peace that is present when the Kingdom of God is fully established at the Second Coming and the Resurrection of the Body. It is eschatological (although I don't use that word with little children). The Mass is a foretaste of the Peace of Christ when all are gathered around Christ's throne in heaven.
Then I ask the children to turn to one person and quietly say "peace be with you." This captures the purpose of this symbol. Usually children at school Masses turn the Sign of Peace into an uproar and a distraction, but not when I remind them what to do.
A similar catechesis could be undertaken with the laity at normal Sunday Masses.
The other point of the circular letter is that the Sign of Peace is optional. And certainly the laity need not, even if invited to do so, extend or receive any Sign of Peace they find offensive, especially a stranger trying to hug or kiss you literally.
The writer of the Praytell blog which reported the circular letter is in disbelief that Pope Francis would allow this letter to be published. But yes, the letter's release is from Pope Francis approval.
As I mentioned before, Pope Francis hides his personality during Mass and become very ad orientem even when celebrating the Mass facing the congregation. He doesn't like antics or abuse during Mass and applause for him as pope has ceased during his Masses. For example even during Pope Benedict's time, there was all kind of applause as the pope entered for Mass at St. Peter's and Pope Benedict would gesture and acknowledge those doing so thus encouraging it. Pope Francis is self-enclosed as he enters for Mass and the applause has ceased!
So I suspect we will see more from Pope Francis as he strives to clean up liturgical abuses. I think we will also see in the future a revised Roman Missal allowing what the Anglican Use Mass has recently incorporated in its liturgical options in the appendix: The restoration of the Prayers at the Foot of the Altar, the Offertory Prayers of the EF Mass and the Last Gospel as well as revised rubrics for the Roman Canon similar to the EF's rubrics. These options were approved by Pope Francis too!