Subscribe via RSS Feed

Sign of Peace…or Discord?

7 August, 2014 0 Comments

By Tony Pead.

The false notion of ‘active participation’ has become deeply embedded in the psyche of many good Catholics who could not be described as liberal dissenters from Catholic doctrine, but who have, nevertheless, accepted the ‘post-conciliar liturgical settlement’.

Pax at a Mass in Holywell, Wales, July 6, 2014. Credit: Joseph Shaw via Flickr via CNA. Instructive that a Pax from an EF Mass is shown.

‘Peace, peace’, they say, when there is no peace. [Jeremiah 8:11]

According to the Catholic News Agency,  the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments last month pronounced in favour of maintaining the ‘rite’ and ‘sign’ of peace in the place it has now in the Mass, though conceding it could be performed with ‘greater dignity’.

Pope Benedict had asked them to ‘study the possibility of moving the sign of peace to another place, such as before the presentation of the gifts at the altar’ – where it would have been arguably less disruptive, at least in the present NO group-love-in form.

Instead, the Congregation offered a number of suggestions for increasing dignity, with, one suspects, the aim of making it less disruptive in nature. These included remembering that it is not compulsory, and omitting it when pastorally appropriate; Bishops’ Conferences issuing instructions to replace ‘familiar and profane gestures of greeting… with other more appropriate gestures’; and, in any case, avoiding abuses such as people leaving their pews, priests leaving the sanctuary, or the introduction of a ‘song of peace’. (And you thought you’d heard it all!)

Well-intentioned sentiments – and perhaps they’ll be acted upon by some Bishops’ conferences. Don’t hold your breath, though.

The rite of the Pax, or the ‘Sign of Peace’ as practised in the Novus Ordo Mass – immediately before the Agnus Dei and Holy Communion – has long been a controversial issue.

A recent piece in the National Catholic Register by journalist Patrick Archbold, provocatively entitled Ditch The Sign of Peace or ‘Take your stinking paws off me you darn dirty ape!’ [a line from Charlton Heston in Planet of the Apes – please note that Oriens in no way endorses vilification of our fellow hominids, including over-enthusiastic peace-kissers. Ed.] has hit a raw nerve and unleashed a torrent of reaction in the NCR combox across the ecclesiastical neo-conservative to traditionalist continuum. There are no prizes for guessing Archbold’s stance.

Happily Heston's character recovered from his anti-simian prejudice.

I think it heartening that Archbold could print such a rambunctious post on the ‘Sign of Peace’ – with such a title! – in a mainstream Catholic newspaper, given the apparent renaissance of old-guard liturgical liberalism under Pope Francis.

Nonetheless there were plenty of passionately expressed combox face-offs between traditionalists and others, ranging from a horror of the congregational burlesque unleashed by the SoP just before Communion – with its attendant Mexican wave of meetin’-an’-greetin’, ranging from crushing handshakes to sloppy kisses – to the defence that the SoP greeting is imperative, given Our Lord’s admonition that we make peace with our brother before receiving Him in Holy Communion.

There was much mention of SoP avoidance strategies at NO Masses such as the pre-emptive kneel, or the Japanese and Korean approach of bowing with arms folded. One might imagine that neighbours would take the hint that if you merely nod to family members, you’re not up for a long-lost-brother embrace from a stranger – but the consensus was…apparently not!

My reflection on the Pax/SoP controversy – and one that is essentially missed by almost all commentators across the spectrum – is that it is, in fact, a ritual action between the sacred ministers, in the solemn forms of both Ordinary and Extraordinary Forms of the Mass, who are participating in the conduct of the liturgy. That is why it is merely optional (albeit ubiquitous!) in non-solemn celebrations of the Ordinary Form/Novus Ordo Mass.

However the storming of the liturgical ramparts in 1972 (NB, after the intro of the Novus Ordo) led to the breakdown of the distinction between ‘assisting’ at Mass by the faithful, and the ‘participation in the conduct of the liturgy’ by the clergy (and altar servers as potential clerics). This was aided by the popularisation of a false idea of congregational participation understood solely in terms of superficial words and actions, rather than receptivity and interior assent.

In consequence, anything that got in the way of congregational ‘participation’ in liturgical externals, or emphasised distinctions between lay and clerical roles – altar rails, for instance – just had to go.

The congregation-centred dynamic inherent in the Novus Ordo as we now know it was thus set in place, and it is quite evident from many commentators on Archbold’s article that its concomitant – that false notion of ‘active participation’ – has become deeply embedded in the psyche of many good Catholics who could not be described as liberal dissenters from Catholic doctrine, but who have, nevertheless, accepted what I call the ‘post-conciliar liturgical settlement’.

Against this background, it is not surprising that the Sign of Peace has metamorphosed from a formal, ritual action between the sacred ministers to something approaching a love-in, shorn of symbolic significance.

In spite of all that, though, I am glad that they are leaving the Pax where it is.

It has been there in the Latin Rite since time immemorial, and the discrediting of it in its current form is due not to its location, but the novel, transgressive and chaotic modern notion that the congregation ‘act out’ the Pax, rather than reflecting upon it. The fact that Bugnini and his Consilium colleagues thought it would be grand for everybody to get involved in the Pax is one of the plainest examples of both re-imagined antiquarianism, and that innate characteristic of the Novus Ordo Mass: the ‘participative’ fetish that proclaims it’s ‘all about us!’

In the Traditional Latin Mass, the ritual action of the Pax is made by priest, deacon and subdeacon at Solemn Mass, and thence to other clergy in the sanctuary, on behalf of the congregation, while the congregation soberly reflects on its duty of fraternal charity and peace towards their brethren before receiving Holy Communion. Regardless of the ritual action, the congregation should participate by reflecting on, and being receptive to, the prayer associated with Our Lord’s command: ‘Peace I leave with you, My peace I give unto you…’.

The Pax is both a beautiful prayer and/or ritual action and directly relevant to its place within the Communion Rite at Mass.  At the Ite Missa est – ‘G,o the Mass is ended’ – we, as laymen, are called to go out and be the salt of the earth – and it is surely there, armed with the graces received at Mass, that we must be loving and live out the peace of Christ with our neighbour.

Leave a Reply