The Sign of Peace at Mass
God made us as creatures of body and soul. Because of this, as St. Thomas Aquinas says, we must give God a two-fold act of adoration, adoring God in our heart, and adoring Him in outward actions. The Catholic Encyclopedia defines “ceremony” of the Liturgy as, “an external action, gesture, or movement which accompanies the prayers and public exercise of divine worship.” They are given to us by Jesus and the Church to give beauty and reverence to our worship of God, to teach us the attitudes we should have toward God, and to help us better understand what we are doing.
The ceremonies in the Mass are given to us by the Church as a wise Mother. Every part of the Mass is meant to be a deliberate union of each person present with the Jesus on the Cross. They are things that are given to us, and which we do in obedience and according to our particular role in the Mass: the congregation has their own unique gestures and prayers, the choir has theirs, and so, too, the priest.
Every part of Mass should lead us to God, and should express outwardly the Worship of God. Each part of the Mass should be said with attention, devotion, and reverence.
This is true of the Sign of Peace just as it is with the Our Father and the Consecration.
The Peace is not at all the same as the greeting we would give to a friend outside of Mass, since it is not an arbitrary expression of our own personalities, but is a ceremony like any other, pointing to God and part of our worship of Him during the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
This is why Pope Francis recently approved a letter from the Congregation of Divine Worship regarding the Sign of Peace, explaining the purpose of the Sign of Peace and warning about certain abuses. The English translation was made public on August 25th of 2014.
In it we are reminded about the purpose of the Peace: “In the Roman liturgical tradition, the exchange of peace is placed before Holy Communion…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… With this gesture, whose ‘function is to manifest peace, communion and charity’, the Church ‘implores 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’, that is, the Body of Christ the Lord.” The document reminds us that the Peace cannot be a mechanical gesture, but must be lived outside of the Mass.
The document also tells us that there are times that the Peace can and even ought to be omitted. It warns us to “definitively avoid abuses”, giving four examples: adding a “song for peace” to the Mass, which would be the invention of a Liturgical ceremony; the faithful moving from their places to exchange the sign of peace amongst themselves; the priest leaving the altar in order to give the sign of peace to some of the faithful; and using the exchange of peace to express congratulations, best wishes or condolences among those present, even during funerals, weddings, or Confirmation. All of these make the ceremony about the people, and not about God.
The document ends with the following words, “In conclusion, the Bishops and, under their guidance, the priests are urged, therefore, to give careful consideration to these observations and to deepen the spiritual significance of the rite of peace in the celebration of the Holy Mass…Christ is our peace, that divine peace, announced by the prophets and by the angels, and which he brought to the world by means of his paschal mystery. This peace of the Risen Lord is invoked, preached and spread in the celebration, even by means of a human gesture lifted up to the realm of the sacred.”
Father Nathanael Block
[The full text of the document is available online at