Sign of Peace

Q. Is the sign of peace during Mass a requirement? I’ve notices that some people don’t seem to like it.

A. Here’s a reply from Father Reginald Martin:

In the Roman Missal, at the close of the prayer for peace, the priest-celebrant says, “The peace of the Lord be with you always,” and the congregation replies, “And with your Spirit.”

The rubrics (instructions) then state, “if appropriate, the Deacon, or the Priest, adds: ‘Let us offer each other the sign of peace.’ ” At this point the rubrics state, “And all offer one another a sign, in keeping with local customs, that expresses peace, communion, and charity.” The rubrics do not indicate when the sign of peace is appropriate, but the language indicates the gesture is not always necessary.

Sadly, the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) is not more enlightening. It remarks that the gesture allows “the faithful [to] express to each other their…mutual charity before communicating in the Sacrament.” The text continues, “As for the actual sign of peace to be given, the manner is to be determined by the Conference of Bishops.… However, it is appropriate that each person, in a sober manner, offer the sign of peace only to those who are nearest” (No. 82). This seems to presuppose the sign of peace will be exchanged, but that it will be a formal, non-intrusive gesture.