The following is a transcript from the Raised Catholic podcast. To listen to the podcast, click here.
Today is episode 26: Sign of Peace
Well, hey, friends, peace be with you. Ah, I can almost hear you replying from here. Did you say ‘and also with you’ or ‘and with your spirit’ back to me just now? We just can’t help it, can we, friends? Well, this week we’re talking about the sign of peace, and if you were born and raised Catholic, you know well that I’m talking about that time in the mass when we extend a greeting to each other: a handshake, a hug, or more likely in these pandemical days, a wave, a bow or a smile. Some Catholics love the sign of peace, and some really do not love it, and if you don’t believe me, just google it, and read all about it, but it is my hope today that understanding why we extend the sign of peace will help us to see why it’s so important for ourselves and for the future of the Church both inside and outside of church walls.
We were in Nashville last Sunday and really wanted to experience a church that was different from our own, so we headed to a modern, non-denominal church – you know, the kind with professional lighting, recording, and sound equipment, a stage, very comfortable seating, even an espresso bar. The band was amazing, and the message from the teaching pastor was so, so good. Really, it was like eight homilies in one, really, and I’ll link to a video of that message in today’s show notes if you’re interested in checking that out. But the thing that really stood out to me was the warmth and kindness of the people we met there. As we walked in, we saw smiling faces and ‘welcome home’ signs on the large screens on the stage. There were ‘welcome home’ cards in the seatbacks in front of us, giving us a way to let them know who we were, to connect. And all of this is kind of the culture of this style of church, I know, and maybe most especially in the South, and all of it might have seemed a little glossy to me maybe, but the people of the church backed it up with their authenticity. A few of them engaged with us in conversation. They asked where we were from, invited us to coffee and, learning we were music ministers, even offered to show us around their backstage set-up. It was all friendly without feeling aggressive, so kind and open-hearted that it was clear in their words and actions, that they were extending to us a sign of Christ’s peace.
In our Catholic tradition, the sign of peace was first introduced in the fourth century with a document called the Apostolic Constitutions, and this instructed that after the prayers of the faithful, “let the bishop salute the Church and say, ‘the peace of God be with you all.’ And let the people answer, ‘and with your spirit’ and let the deacon say to all, ‘salute one another with a holy kiss.’”
From the time of St. Gregory the Great, this holy kiss was considered a prerequisite for receiving communion. It was that important. By extending Christ’s peace to one another, we are reminded that our worship is communal – that together we’re all the Body of Christ. So, in extending and receiving peace with each other, our hearts are disposed to become exactly that – one body – as we receive Him in the Eucharist. Isn’t that so cool?
According to that document, first the priest would kiss the altar and then that gesture would be extended out person-by-person, like a candle, one to another, and this was meant to be a picture of the peace of Christ flowing from God through the sanctuary and then passing onto and through all God’s people. Having received the peace of Christ, we could now receive His Body. Ah, I really love that symbolism, it is so beautiful! Anyway, by the seventeenth century, the kiss of peace was restricted to only those in the sanctuary and not the faithful in the pews. Some clergy even used a ‘pax’ or ‘peace’ board, a wooden paddle that each minister would kiss and then pass on to the next person but again, only the ones in the sanctuary.
Oh, Catholics. Even then, we were putting limits on how and to whom we would extend peace. Gosh, what a shame.
Anyway, the good news is that after the second Vatican council, the ancient practice of passing the peace was restored, with individual conferences of bishops deciding on the cultural sign that was most appropriate for their location. So, in Kenya, they clapped. In India, they offered a bow. And here, well, you know, handshakes, hugs, awkward waves. There were Catholics that weren’t too happy about bringing this practice back in the 1960s, and unfortunately, the same is true today. Those who lean toward more traditional practices believe the sign of peace among the faithful is us taking our eyes off of worship of God and, in a way, worshipping each other during the mass. Believe it or not, there is a group of Catholics who find the sign of peace a sacrilege. Sadly, I believe they’re missing the point entirely.
In my life, I have felt literally and viscerally loved by God during the sign of peace many times, and I’ve asked that God’s love would flow through me in the same way, person to person. I bet you have stories of seeing or feeling the love of Jesus in the eyes of someone at church during that time in the mass, or at least I hope you do. And when we’re filled up with that peace, we pass it on, at church and ideally, outside the doors as we go. And this is how the sign of peace was designed, not as a casual greeting, but as a means of conveying the real grace that we really need. We are God’s Hands.
The Prayer of St. Francis, also known as the Peace Prayer, entreats God to let us be ‘channels’ or ‘instruments’ of His peace. And what better time to offer ourselves as available pathways of peace to one another than during the Holy Mass where we seek to love the Lord with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and since we can’t love in a vacuum, to love our neighbor as ourselves. The Body of Christ is a family system – and the sign of peace reminds us of that reality in a way we can see, feel and experience.
Still, some people are just uncomfortable around this practice, and I get it, I guess. Maybe it feels awkward and in these COVID days even more so. I get it – I’ll probably offer a contactless sign of peace for a good long while and thankfully, there are lots of approaches to do just that in a meaningful way: waving, touching our hearts, a little bow, a smile. Yet some priests haven’t brought back the invitation for those in the pews to extend any kind of sign of peace to each other, though I noticed one week with pure joy that our community was doing it anyway, because they know how important it really is. The sign of peace among the family of God is really quite a beautiful practice, and I guess it just seems to me that this is how we will all meet each other in Heaven one day so why not start now, building the kingdom of God with His peace, one to another. We’re sisters and brothers after all, just walking with each other on the journey home. Also, when we extend and receive peace, it forces us to recognize God living in another person, and more of that kind of intentionality is just what the Church and the world needs right now, don’t you think?
Mother Teresa once said, “Works of love are peace. Whenever you share love with others, you’ll notice the peace that comes to you and to them. If we have no peace, it’s because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”
We belong to each other in the Body of Christ.
This a reality that we can so easily forget sometimes, but the second Vatican council was designed around the idea that the faithful ought not come to mass as outsiders and observers, but as participants in a Body. We’re not two parts. We’re not ‘laity’ and ‘clergy’, one not better than the other. We’re all one Body. By allowing Christ’s peace to flow to and through us in a simple smile or a wave or a bow, we are doing just that. It’s a holy practice on holy ground and we carry that very real peace out to a waiting world that is counting on us. I experienced that peace in Nashville and many, many times in churches around here as well, maybe even from you, and it’s not overstating it to say that the peace I’ve received has helped form me as a Christian. When it comes to peace, let’s receive it and pass it on, one to another as it was meant to be from the start, and then, let’s take it out the doors.
Friend, thank you so much for listening today. If you liked this podcast, would you consider sharing it with a friend, rating, or reviewing. That’s all so helpful and I appreciate that, so thanks! If you need me, you can find me on Instagram @kerrycampbellwrites or on my blog at mylittleepiphanies.com. As we close today, let us pray together:
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, amen.
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace:
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.
O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
Okay family of God, peace be with you and all those you love today, and I’ll see you next time.