The Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship (CDW) has urged the church’s bishops to crack down on boisterous exchanges of peace during the Eucharist service. In a letter dated 8 June 2014 and approved by Pope Francis the previous day, the CDW asked bishops guide their priests in the proper celebration of the Roman rite and to discourage “familiar and worldly gestures of greeting” which should be substituted with “other, more appropriate gestures.”
The CDW letter also stated proposals to move the exchange of peace from its present place after the consecration and prior to the reception of Communion to before the presentation of gifts, as practiced in the Anglican and Orthodox traditions and in the Ambrosian rite of Milan and Mozarabic rite of Toledo would not be contemplated at this time.
In the Tridentine Mass, an extraordinary form of the Roman Rite, the sign of peace is given by the celebrant to the deacon, who in turn gives it to the subdeacon by extending both arms in a slight embrace followed by the words “Pax tecum” (Peace be with you). The clergy do not exchange the peace with the congregation.
The sign of peace is an optional part of the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite of the Mass the sign of peace, and if used, is exchanged by the clergy and congregation after the Lord’s Prayer and before the Agnus Dei.
However, the Anglican tradition was not maintained in the new Eucharistic Rite of the Anglican Ordinariate, as the exchange of peace now follows the Lord’s Prayer.
A 2005 meeting of bishops called to discuss the Eucharist suggested moving the exchange of peace to before the presentation of gifts (the bread and wine). However Pope Benedict XVI declined to accept the suggestion. In his apostolic exhortation Sacramentum caritatis issued after the 2005 synod, Benedict also criticized the modern practice of seeing the peace as a mini-social hour within the service.
He wrote: “During the Synod of Bishops there was discussion about the appropriateness of greater restraint in this gesture, which can be exaggerated and cause a certain distraction in the assembly just before the reception of Communion.”
In its letter of 8 June, the CDW criticized priests who left the altar to join their parishioners in exchanging the peace during the Mass, or who offered congratulations or condolences during the peace at nuptial or requiem Masses, or introduced a “song of peace” into the service.
Liturgical catechesis for the clergy on the principles of the Roman rite from bishops would “offer some practical measures to better express the meaning of the sign of peace and to moderate excesses, which create confusion in the liturgical assembly just prior to Communion.”
“If the faithful do not understand and do not show, in their ritual gestures, the true significance of the rite of peace, they are weakened in the Christian concept of peace, and their fruitful participation in the Eucharist is negatively affected,” the letter stated.
“The intimate relation between ‘lex orandi’ and ‘lex credendi’ should obviously be extended to ‘lex vivendi’,” concluded the CDW letter.
“That Catholics are today faced with the grave commitment to build a more just and peaceful world, implies a more profound understanding of the Christian meaning of peace and of its expression in liturgical celebration.”