day 9 – the sign of peace

Here’s a great catholic conversation starter. Are you in favor of the sign of peace at mass? The gesture is meant to be a symbol of reconciliation and unity before receiving Communion.  It’s usually a friendly hand-shake or a hug if you happen to really like the person next to you. In the early days of the church it was a kiss of peace. Well, thank goodness we don’t go that far in today’s paranoid society! A hand-shake is quite enough, thank you!

For many, a hand-shake is too much to ask. Have you ever been offered the dead fish? It’s the flaccid hand that barely twitches in response to your efforts at a hearty sign of friendship and warmth. Or, has your out-stretched hand been greeted by crossed arms and a head-shake? Shut down and denied! I understand that some people have serious immune deficiencies and have to be careful of germs and cross contamination. But, it seems to have reached epidemic proportions.

Last winter, during the H1N1 outbreak, we had a forced reprieve from hand-shakes. Sanitary guide-lines issued forth from diocesan offices mandating compulsory hand-sanitation pumps at church entrances and banning the sign of peace. Sorry, I can’t shake your hand. The bishop said so! And some folks take their episcopal pronouncements very seriously. My husband and I had been away from our parish for several weeks, and weren’t aware of the new regulations. As we headed up the stairs, the ushers barked at us to come back and sanitize our hands. (And a good morning and warm welcome to you too!) And there were many embarrassing moments when visitors to the parish eagerly outstretched their hands to you. Do I ignore the rules, or give them a quick lesson on the dangers of skin contact?

Thankfully all is back to normal. But, now the gesture of greeting and hand-shaking has been doubled in our parish. We have to greet each other before mass as well as at the sign of peace. Can we handle all this niceness?! 😉

6 thoughts on “day 9 – the sign of peace

  1. Like you, I am saddened by those who are so worried about germs. I even like the hand-holding (across aisles in some churches!!) during the Our Father! But that, too, has pretty much gone by the wayside. I still make my family hold hands during the Our Father, though. Recently I have been to two predominantly Mexican American churches in different towns. They have both been especially warm and welcoming. I really like that as a guest!

    1. Hi Marceta! It`s interesting that you mentioned the hand-holding during the Our Father. It can be another post topic…thanks! I have a list of 170 topics so far. I`m not too worried about reaching 365 – at least not yet. I appreciate any ideas that come my way.

  2. At my parish in Nairobi, handshaking is very normal. I am glad we still maintain that. Holding hands during Our Father is not so common. I cannot imagine not shaking hands as a sign of peace….

  3. “In the early days of the church it was a kiss of peace. Well, thank goodness we don’t go that far in today’s paranoid society!”

    Ah, come to France! The kiss of peace is alive and well. Vive la bise !!

  4. The invitation to the congregation to give each other the sign of peace is, of course, optional. It has so often uttered, of course, that it is now mistaken as the norm. But you may have noticed at daily Masses that priests may omit it.

    “Sign of peace” doesn’t have to mean a handshake. Pity the arthritic for whom a hearty handshake means absolute agony. If an elderly person gives you a weak smile and a little wave, consider how frail her/his hands might be. A smile, a wave, or a slight bow certainly works as a sign of peace. And try to forgive the person who avoids the Sign of Peace at all, either by staring straight ahead or sinking to their knees. They’re either embarrassed by hearty bonhomerie in the middle of Mass, or they wish to make a quiet preparation for receiving the Blessed Sacrament.

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