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Sign of peace will stay put, but “abuses” must be curbed
People exchange a sign of peace during Christmas Eve Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception Dec. 24, 2012 in Washington. (CNS photo/Daniel Sone)

Today the Vatican confirmed the authenticity of a letter on the “sign of peace” that was released by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments and appeared on the website of the Spanish bishops’ conference. Catholic News Service reportedly obtained the English text of the letter, which was approved by Pope Francis, and which stated that the sign of peace—currently placed after the consecration and before the recitation of the Agnus Dei in the Roman Rite—will not be moved to another part of the Mass, as had been proposed by some bishops. From the CNS report:

After nine years of study and consultation, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments has told Latin-rite bishops around the world that the sign of peace will stay where it is in the Mass.

However, the congregation said, "if it is foreseen that it will not take place properly," it can be omitted. But when it is used, it must be done with dignity and awareness that it is not a liturgical form of "good morning," but a witness to the Christian belief that true peace is a gift of Christ's death and resurrection. …

Cardinal Antonio Canizares Llovera, current prefect of the congregation, and Archbishop Arthur Roche, the congregation's current secretary, said Pope Benedict XVI had asked the congregation to study the matter and, after doing so, in 2008 it asked bishops' conferences around the world whether to keep the sign of peace where it is or move it to another moment "with a view to improving the understanding and carrying out of this gesture."

"After further reflection," the letter said, "it was considered appropriate to retain the rite of peace in its traditional place in the Roman liturgy and not to introduce structural changes in the Roman Missal."

But that does not exclude the need for new or renewed efforts to explain the importance of the sign of peace so that the faithful understand it and participate in it correctly, the congregation's letter said.

It asked bishops to study whether it might be time to find "more appropriate gestures" to replace a sign of peace using "familiar and profane gestures of greeting."

And, it said, they should do everything possible to end "abuses" such as:

-- "The introduction of a 'song for peace,' which is nonexistent 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."

-- People using the sign of peace at Christmas, Easter, baptisms, weddings, ordinations and funerals to offer holiday greetings, congratulations or condolences.


About the Author
Catherine Harmon

Catherine Harmon is managing editor of Catholic World Report.
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