Friday, January 14, 2011

Making Peace with the Sign of Peace?

You might not be able to tell from my blog, but I’m really very introverted.

Years ago I used to make an effort to be outgoing, but as the years have gone by I’ve come to the conclusion that the exhausting effort to act like I’m an extrovert, just isn’t worth it. However, the other day when I saw this article on Father Z’s blog, I thought that I might be making little teeny baby steps of progress. Had I really made peace with the often stressful Sign of Peace?

The question, which I first saw in poll form, asked readers what they thought of the Sign of Peace during the NO Mass.

I read through the choices and they were:
1) I like it and am happy to do it.
2) I don’t care one way or another.
3) I tolerate it.
4) I dread it as it approaches and think of ways to avoid it.
5) I hate it so much I won’t go to Mass where it is done.

I’ll admit that my first reaction, and the answer that I quickly clicked, was #4 (which ended up coming in second behind “I tolerate it”). Then I thought about it a little bit more and realized that I don’t dread it nearly as much as I used to.

See, I’ve never been a big “hugger” with people that I don’t know extremely well. In high school I’d get comments about my “fake hugs” which was a weak, one armed pat on the back when someone I wasn’t exceptionally close to tried to hug me.

One of the great things about our parish is that it’s very warm and welcoming. But that also means, for introverts, a little more hugging that we’d probably chose for ourselves. Or wish upon anyone who’s hugging impaired. Anyways, I digress. Back to the Sign of Peace…

Could it really be that the Sign of Peace no longer bothered me? Had I actually gotten used to it?

I tried to think back. I’d dreaded it and desperately thought of ways to avoid it for the first year or so after my conversion. After Sadie was born, however, my tactics changed. Paul and I both began to compete to see who would be holding the baby when it came time for the Sign of Peace.

It was kind of funny when I think about it. My arms would be exhausted, straining after holding a twenty pound baby for more than half an hour and suddenly it would almost be time for the Our Father and Paul would look over, quite concerned, and offer to take the baby (I’m not sure how he feels about the Sign of Peace, but I know how he feels about holding hands during the Our Father!). At that point, however, I wasn’t about to give her up. I’d held her until my arms were about to fall off. And no one could hug me when my arms were full of 20-lbs of baby!

That hasn’t happened for a while now, and I’ve finally realized why I moved from the “dread” to the “tolerate” category: two babies. With Maggie and Sadie there’s no jockeying to hold a baby. We both have one and that means 1) no hand holding during the Our Father and 2) no hugging during the Sign of Peace.

So I have to come to the conclusion that I really haven’t “gotten used to it.” I just have a better excuse these days for my non-huggable status. I have a feeling that when our little ones are old enough to sit on their own and not be held I’ll be back to “dreading” the Sign of Peace.


  1. I'm a tolerator. But one of the reasons I love Latin Mass is that it's not there. For me it's a real distraction from what I understand the purpose of the mass is. I don't think it's an appropriate gesture for the mass. I think hugging is totally inappropriate. As for the Our Father, I fold my hands and put my head down and close my eyes. Seems to work. The only time I liked these practices was when I was would take a group of developmentally disabled adults to mass, and this was a gesture that was truly meaningful and enjoyable to them, and to me it felt like it flowed perfectly within the context of the mass. I'm not sure why this is, except for their beautiful simplicity: "Peace be with you, my Queen! You look very skinny in those shoes!" And I knew that was him expressing that he was truly happy to be at mass with me. But otherwise, it pulls me out of my focus, and I don't like it.

  2. I read his blog also, and was bothered by the tone of the comments. It was as though many of them felt so much more holy than those around them or who enjoyed the sign of peace. I almost quit reading Father Z's blog at that point, because I felt it wasn't helping me in my faith. What you just described is totally different. I can absolutely understand being introverted and struggling with it. I can be somewhat introverted myself, but as a convert what I have missed so much is the fellowship of church. After 10 years as a Catholic, I have finally found a parish where a few people have bothered to know my name and be friendly to me. The sign of peace is a rare moment of contact with my fellow believers, and I cherish it. But it's good to see your perspective.

  3. I often go to an Anglican Use mass. I realize that most are very unfamiliar with this term. Anglican use is a melding of Catholic and Anglican traditions. The way it was explained to me was that it's the catholic mass done in English from before King Henry IIIV (not good a roman numerals) broke from the church. It is a catholic church (no worries there) but it has that traditional feel that I don't get going to the NO mass but the familiarity of English that I don't get at a Latin mass. I think it's a nice fit for me. Ok now that that explained I'll get to why I am mentioning that in this comment. In the Anglican use mass there is a natural break in the middle of mass where those who are not fully accepted into the church leave. (this existed in the mass prior to Vatican two I believe maybe as far back as pre-vatican.) Those who are not yet baptized leave the mass and go to get religious education. This means they are not present for Liturgy of the Eucharist. This is where the announcements, special blessings such as anniversary and birthday blessings, and the sign of piece are done. But The sign of piece is very strictly a non-contact sign. I am comfortable with this. I have included the link to the parish I attend when I go to the Anglican use mass for those who may be interested.

  4. The Byzantine rite only has priests and deacons do a kiss of peace (if there is only one priest- nothing happens at this time)

    if I am at a NO Latin-rite mass, I turn to anyone on both my sides and to my front and shake their Hands, saying the Peace of Christ- even if I am in a line of my extended family. I don't 'search' anyone out. I do see the theological reason for this (make peace with your brother before you approach the altar)- I prefer to talk it out with someone I have wronged before Mass (and get to confession)- if I can't do this, I forgo receiving the Eucharist. This is just me.

  5. I was interested to read your post on the sign of peace in the Mass. It's good to know how others experience it. I am also a convert who came into the church 21 years ago. I love the Mass, both Novus Ordo and Latin Mass. The first time I went to a Catholic Church I was amazed , in a good way, by the sign of Peace. Even though I knew only the person I had come with, it seemed as though everyone around us was welcoming me. I have never forgotten that moment which seemed to be an invitation to see the Catholic Church as the true family of God. I only hope that when I "pass the peace", others will feel welcomed as I did 21 years ago.

  6. I am a dreader and getting worse all the time. We have a TLM an hour away and at an inconvenient time so sometimes we go to the local parish. The priest says a very reverent Mass and his homilies are always sound but the congregation doesn't seem to get it. This priest doesn't do the "handshake of confusion" during daily Masses but does on Sundays. It was great back when I had babies and toddlers. I could hold a child and, oh golly!, my hands are occupied so I just nodded and smiled. (the child in the arms also worked for Communion where the congregations wanted to receive in the hand. When you are holding a baby or toddler you just have to receive on the tongue) This is terribly disruptive in the middle of the Mass, especially since the Host is already consecrated. I've seen people turn their backs on the Altar so they can high five someone in another pew. Faking a little cough into your hands just before the person in front turns around to "peace" you works, too.

  7. It is possible to get used to. When I was younger I hugged like you... was just not comfortable with that.. Outside of Church that is, noone did anything but shake hands briefly where I lived. Went to college in a very huggy school lol. That plus a Church that did it too... I loosened up a lot. Moved here... and well like priests wife, our sign of peace is different - comes from the alter, from priests to alterservers to ushers to us and we wait for someone who's already gotten it in our row before passing it on - cuts out a lot of the craziness that can happen, but there are just as many kiss on the cheeks as anything. I've gotten used to that now too.


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