Twenty Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

September 20, 2014 Column Father De Celles

Parish Picnic. Last Sunday’s picnic was a great success, with hundreds of parishioners and friends coming to enjoy good Christian fellowship, great fun and delicious food. Thanks to all who came, and especially all who worked so hard to make everything come together. Special thanks to the Knights and to Kirsti Tyson. And above all, thanks be to God for the beautiful weather and the grace of Christian communion.


Helping FOCUS. You may recall that one of our parishioners, Daniel Parish, has spent the last 2 years evangelizing on college campuses with the Fellowship of Catholic University Students. During this time Daniel has depended on the financial support of various donors, including many of you. This year Daniel has joined the staff of FOCUS at their headquarters in Denver, but he is still depending on our/your support. He will be in town in late October, so if you are interested in discussing this with him please let the parish office know.

The Exchange of the Sign of Peace. I have spoken and written many times about the importance of developing a clearer understanding of the practice of exchanging the “Sign of Peace” at Mass. In particular I believe I have noted that both the 2005 Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist and Pope Benedict XVI (Sacramentum Caritatis, 2007) had called for “greater restraint in this gesture” and a renewal of our understanding of this ritual. To these ends, Pope Benedict commissioned the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship (CDW) to study the issue further and make recommendations.


This last month CDW released its finalized report, issuing a “circular letter,” approved and confirmed directly by Pope Francis, to all the world’s Bishops. This letter made no changes in the rite itself, but simply pointed out ways in which the rite is often abused and corrections that should be made, as well as clarifying the meaning of the rite. It then called on the conferences of Bishops in each country to propose clear norms and catechetical material for their own people.


In particular CDW made the following observations:

— The sign of peace is not a rite of reconciliation rooted in Gospel passage: “if you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift …; first be reconciled to your brother…” (Mt 5: 23-24).

— Rather, the sign of peace is rooted in Jesus’ promise to the apostles at the Last Supper, the first Eucharist, “Peace I leave you; my peace I give you,” a promise fulfilled as Jesus appears to the apostles in that same upper room on Easter, saying, “Peace be with you.” So that “its point of reference is found in the Eucharistic contemplation of the Paschal mystery as the “Paschal kiss” of the Risen Christ present on the altar.”

–So, this is not a mere exchange of greetings, but a ritualized form of prayer: “The sign of peace…is placed between the Lord’s Prayer, to which is joined the embolism which prepares for the gesture of peace, and the breaking of the bread, in the course of which the Lamb of God is implored to give us His peace. With this gesture, whose function is to manifest peace, communion and charity, the Church implores peace and unity for herself and for the whole human family, and the faithful express to each other their ecclesial communion and mutual charity before communicating in the Sacrament, that is, the Body of Christ the Lord.”

–Thus, the sign of peace inherently flows from and leads back to the Eucharist: “By its nature the Eucharist is the sacrament of peace.…[T]his dimension of the Eucharistic mystery finds specific expression in the sign of peace.” “It should be made clear once and for all that the rite of peace already has its own profound meaning of prayer and offering of peace in the context of the Eucharist.”


Therefore, in order not to distract from the Eucharist the CDW calls us to consider:

–“[T]he appropriateness of greater restraint in this gesture, which can be exaggerated and cause a certain distraction…just before the reception of Communion.”

— “[N]othing is lost when the sign of peace is marked by a sobriety…as, for example, when it is restricted to one’s immediate neighbors.” Nota bene: the Roman Missal states that the exchange is given, “in a sober manner…only to those who are nearest.”

— “[T] his liturgical gesture [should] be done with religious sensibility and sobriety,” and efforts should be made “to moderate excessive expressions that give rise to disarray in the liturgical assembly before Communion.”


The CDW warns us that “Consideration of this theme is important. If the faithful through their ritual gestures do not appreciate and do not show themselves to be living the authentic meaning of the rite of peace, the Christian concept of peace is weakened and their fruitful participation at the Eucharist is impaired.” So CDW reminds us:

–“If it is foreseen that it will not take place properly …or if it is not considered pedagogically wise…on certain occasions, it can …and sometimes ought to be omitted.”

— “[I]n those places where familiar and profane gestures of greeting were previously chosen, they could be replaced with other more appropriate gestures.”


Finally, the CDW cited specific “abuses” which must be eliminated:

— “the introduction of a “song for peace…””

— prolongation of the exchange: “only the briefest of time is envisaged for the exchange of peace to those are who nearest.”

— “the movement of the faithful from their places to exchange the sign of peace amongst themselves.”

— “the departure of the priest from the altar…to give the sign of peace to some of the faithful.”

— “the exchange of peace being the occasion for expressing congratulations, best wishes or condolences….” This particularly happens at Easter and Christmas, and at Masses celebrating “Baptism, First Communion, Confirmation, Matrimony, …and Funerals.”


As the CDW tells us, quoting Benedict XVI: “In our times, fraught with fear and conflict…[w]e can thus understand the emotion so often felt during the sign of peace.” So I offer all of this as an instruction in charity, not as a reprimand. Please, try to incorporate the instructions from CDW, specifically approved by Pope Francis, in your exchange of the sign of peace at Mass. Remember, when the Agnus Dei (Lamb of God) begins, the rite of peace is over and we move on to say this next beautiful prayer with one voice from one body. And let us pray for the peace of Christ to descend on our parish, the Church and the world. Peace be with you.


Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles