Patrick Archbold is co-founder of Creative Minority Report, a Catholic website that puts a refreshing spin on the intersection of religion, culture, and politics. When not writing, Patrick is director of information technology at a large international logistics company in New York.
I note with no small sense of irony the The Congregation for Divine Worship's recent circular letter announcing that the placement of the sign of peace within Mass will not change, though it could be performed with greater dignity, lesser dignity being unavailable, of course.
“The Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments … pronounced in favor of maintaining the 'rite' and 'sign' of peace in the place it has now in the Ordinary of the Mass,” Fr. Jose Maria Gil Tamayo, secretary general of the Spanish bishops' conference, related in a July 28 memo.
He noted that this was done out of consideration of the placement of the rite of peace as “a characteristic of the Roman rite,” and “not believing it to be suitable for the faithful to introduce structural changes in the Eucharistic Celebration, at this time.”
That the Vatican now finds it unsuitable to make structural changes to those things characteristic of the Roman rite is a welcome realization, even 45 years after the horses left the barn in pursuit of glorious novelty.
So, what are the suggestions to add greater dignity?
Suggestion numero uno and my personal favorite. Don't do it. They remind us that the participation of the faithful is entirely optional and, as the letter says, "the rite is optional, the congregation reminded, and there certainly are times and places where it is not fitting."
I will admit that most times, the ridiculousness that ensues during the sign of peace has me cringing. Worse, I have had perfect strangers hug me. Last year I went to mass while travelling on business and this lady, before my Kung Fu training could kick in, hugged me. Sensing my profound discomfort, she said, "That is how we do it here!" This left me channeling Chuck Heston for my inner dialogue at the unruly and distracting anthropocentric mauling, "Take your stinking paws off me you darn dirty ape! That is Jesus up there!" But hey, that's just me.
Other suggestions included replacing common methods of greeting with something more appropriate. (Might I suggest telepathy?)
They also suggested that the priest and faithful stay put and avoid the liturgical mosh pit that sometimes occurs with your more freewheeling types. And lastly they suggested that the local Bishops' conferences try to educate the peeps in the way of more appropriate behavior, 'cause Bishops conferences are notoriously good at that kind of thing.
In my mind, there is only one reasonable suggestion. Exercise the option for the faithful NOT to exchange the sign of peace. All joking aside, it is almost always a terrible interruption to the mass and a distraction from where our collective focus should be at that moment.
Ditch the sign of peace. Let's us exercise our entirely legitimate option NOT to exchange the sign of peace.