Sign of Peace
by Paul Turner

At the sign of peace, worshippers are invited to show their peace and love before receiving the Eucharist, which accomplishes their unity most perfectly. The nature of the sign is to be determined by the culture of the people who express it. In the United States, the bishops let local communities determine the actions and words. We have no set formula or gesture for extending this sign. Most often worshippers will shake hands and say, "Peace be with you." But you may also see them kiss or embrace, wave or flash a two-fingered sign of peace. Although today it would seem cold to omit the sign of peace, it is optional. Introduced in the 1960s to at bashful church unaccustomed to speaking to one another at worship, it broke the silent mood before communion. Now it has become a welcome expression of unity among those preparing for communion together in Christ.

The invitation to extend the sign of peace comes from the deacon. The deacon directs posture, gesture, and action in the liturgy. He tells us when to stand or sit, when to leave and when to show peace.

The placement of the sign of peace still confuses some who think it comes too late to say hello and too early to say goodbye. However, the purpose of the sign is not to extend a greeting. It is to express our love: it foreshadows our communion. It's like an all-for-one huddle before the team charges into play. The team should have said hello to each other long before. In fact, some communities take a few moments before Mass begins precisely to encourage worshippers to greet those near them. Such a greeting allows people to feel at home, and it can also be shared by catechumens, who will be dismissed after the homily. The sign of peace has a purpose deeper than a greeting - it expresses the unity of those baptized in Christ.

When extending the sign of peace, attentive worshippers resist turning it into a break. This is not the time to congratulate someone on their anniversary, to set up an appointment, or to exchange messages with the servers. It is the time to express peace and love.

Holy Cross Reflections are articles which were previously published in the Holy Cross bulletin.