Fr Z has put up a poll on his blog asking for people to say how they feel about the Sign of Peace and inviting bloggers to spread the word. I'm happy do so, and to provide a link to the poll in question.
Damian Thompson has responded with his customary waspishness, rubbing his hands with glee over one comment on Fr Z's blog which mocks older people who seem to like the practice and congratualate each other on making it through another week alive. At my recent wedding, which was celebrated in a highly 'Benedictine' form of the New Mass - ad orientem, half in Latin, chant, etc. - my wife gave the Sign of Peace to her family, while I didn't even look at my lot who were presumably (as I say, I didn't even look at them) burying their heads in their Tridentine missals. I've done it often enough.
But what about the Sign of Peace in itself? Well, we know the arguments. Some say it should never have been grubbed up from the annals of liturgical history, having become a matter for the clergy alone at solemn ceremonies in the Roman Rite; others say it detracts from the approaching moment of Holy Communion when we ought to be focused on Jesus alone. On the other hand, its supporters cite as justification Christ's command to be reconciled to our brethren when offering sacrifice; others, with more loveydoveyness than liturgical sense, say it is a moment for the community to express its lurrrvvvv... We have all seen, and withered interiorly at the sight of, old ladies coo-eeing at each other across the aisle.
The problems with the latter position are obvious, but what about the objections? Well, the idea that the moment of Communion is a time for blotting everyone except Christ out of your attention, is a little on the individualist/subjectivist side of piety for my liking. And why should it be only the clergy who share the sign? The peace of Christ is a universal gift given to his Mystical Body, not a ministerial act reserved to the clergy. If people could be taught to do it properly - just as people learn to genuflect or make the sign of the cross - then it would be an excellent way of objectively marking the unity of love of God and love of neighbour just at the point of our receiving the Sacrament of Unity. I'm reminded of some lines from 'The Unknown God', a poem by Alice Meynell, as the poet contemplates someone else who has just received Communion:
‘Christ in his numbered breath,
Christ in his beating heart and in his death,
Christ in his mystery! From that secret place,
And from that separate dwelling, give me grace!’
In the liturgy, the peace of Christ is part of the interior ecology of Christ's entire body. THAT after all is why it is still a feature of the Extraordinary Form, and for that reason we cannot urge against the Sign of Peace arguments that would make it absolutely inappropriate even there.
In my view the essential problems of the Sign of Peace in the Ordinary Form are the way it is done and the false gloss that it receives. I've already stated what my gloss is, but how would the SoP be done in Ches's liturgical reform (Lawd 'elp us!)?
1) The Sign of Peace, as in the Extraordinary Form, would begin with the priest kissing the altar and passing it to the servers who then pass it to the congregation, to show the origin of the peace that is shared: Christ.
2) The layfolk would share the traditional kiss of peace (touching temples) with those either side of them.
Ta da! No fuss, no handshaking, no secularised glad-handing of everyone within reach, no selective snubbing of the ugly or the old! Moving the Sign of Peace to just before the Offertory, where it is located in the Ambrosian Rite, might also be a good compromise.
Failing that, well, we should remember that in the new liturgy the Sign of Peace is ( I think) always optional.
And, failing that, we could always adopt Mrs Beamish's tactic, as practised in the C of E.
Does ayone know if Mrs Beamish has joined the Ordinariate yet?