Category Archives: Sacred Liturgy & Sacraments

Sign of Peace at Mass

Recently, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments published a Circular Letter entitled “The Ritual Expression of the Gift of Peace at Mass” (July 8, 2014).  Pope Francis approved and ordered its publication. The letter deals with the question of the Sign of Peace resolving the question whether the Holy See would move the Sign of Peace to an earlier part in the Mass; a question bantered around by liturgists for years. As a note, the Eastern Churches place the Sign of Peace before the Eucharistic prayer; I am speaking about the Western Church here.

At the 2005 Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist, the synod fathers raised the question of the moving of the Sign of Peace because of the perceived disruption of what the Sign of Peace  has become. Pope emeritus Benedict XVI noted in his Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum caritas (2007), stated:

“[D]uring 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. It should be kept in mind that nothing is lost when the sign of peace is marked by a sobriety which preserves the proper spirit of the celebration, as, for example, when it is restricted to one’s immediate neighbors.”

The Church made the decision to leave the Sign of Peace where it is. The Letter explains:

In the Roman liturgical tradition, the exchange of peace is placed before Holy Communion with its own specific theological significance. 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 as in contradistinction to that done by other liturgical traditions which are inspired by the Gospel passage from St. Matthew (cf. Mt 5: 23: “So if you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift”).

The ritual gesture needs to cohere with the theology. The Church makes a crucial distinction that we need to be aware of: the sign of peace at Mass refers to the Risen Christ’s gift of His peace, it is paschal in nature. The fitting-ness of this rite is placed just before the moment when Jesus will feed His people with His own Body and Blood in Holy Communion. Jesus Christ is our peace, and only from Him is our peace known, lived and an invitation to our conversion. The sign of peace, as a minor rite in the Mass, must reflect this divine gift and not distract us as we prepare to receive that gift of Christ’s peace in the Holy Eucharist. The exchange of peace in many places is done with a superficial and sentimental bearing no mind to who is before us.

 Too often the sign of peace is a breaking of contemplation, a turning away from the Eucharistic Lord present before us on the altar; too often the focus is on the person and community.

Now with the Circular Letter the application of the rite calls for the need to be reverent and sober in the exchange of a sign of the Lord’s peace. It gives “practical guidelines. . .to better explain the content of the exchange of peace and to moderate excessive expressions that give rise to disarray in the liturgical assembly before Communion.”

Moreover: “If it is foreseen that it will not take place properly due to specific circumstances or if it is not considered pedagogically wise to carry it out on certain occasions, it can be omitted, and sometimes ought to be omitted. It is worth recalling that the rubric from the Missal states: ‘Then, if appropriate, the Deacon of the Priest, adds: Let us offer each other the sign of peace.’”

The Sign of Peace, therefore, is not required at Mass. The Holy See is clearly concerned that this optional rite has become the occasion for all sorts of problems and distractions. The Letter lists “abuses” that we must “definitively avoid”: singing a song of peace during the exchange of the sign of peace, people moving around the church to exchange the sign of peace with others, the priest leaving the altar to give the sign of peace to the faithful in the pews, and the not uncommon practice of using the sign of peace at special Masses such as weddings or funerals as an “occasion for expressing congratulations, best wishes or condolences among those present.”

The faithful accustomed to a more free manner of the sign of peace will say that “this is a key moment of connection with others at Mass, it helps to focus on what we are doing, I like saying hello to my friends, and meeting new people,” or some such thing. At a local parish the people are now waving at each other, which is yet another problem. While all of these things are good, they are not fitting in the praying of the Mass. Let me say decisively, we are not under attack from Rome; we are asked to consider what we are doing, why we are doing it, and to be coherent in liturgical practice and tradition.

Liturgical order in Mass is important in the worship of God. I have come to worship the Trinity; not to be distracted.

Holy Trinity Sunday

Today, on the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity we think of, and relate to, a most profound Christian dogma of Love.

“You made us in your image and likeness so that, by the three powers which we possess in one soul, we reflect your Trinity and Unity. They not only create a resemblance but a unity. Thus by memory we resemble and are united to the Father, to whom Power is attributed; by the intellect we resemble and are united to the Son, to whom Wisdom is attributed; and by the will we resemble and are united to the Holy Spirit to whom Clemency is attributed and who is the love of the Father and the Son.”

Reflection from St. Catherine of Siena

Can lay ministers give blessings?

The question always surfaces about the fittingness, according to Catholic liturgical theology and supported by  Canon Law, for the lay minister of Holy Communion to impart a blessing. The quick answer is that the Church does not offer this as a legitimate possibility for good reasons.

Recently, the priest offering Mass invited all people to the communion line to receive the Eucharist, and if not, to receive a blessing “because we are in communion with the deceased person” –the reason for all of us gathered at the Mass. Father missed the point. While we are in communion with the deceased in some sort of metaphysical level known only to God, the Church teaches what is revealed to us: we are first in communion with God the Holy Trinity, then the sacrament of the Church, and with one another. We have first principles. Coming forward to receive a blessing is a symbolic act reinforcing the painful separation of Christians, and it is clearly a second rate manner of being in communion which says to the person receiving such blessing that they are not good enough to receive the real thing. This priest confuses the faithful and opens the door to even more problems.

The exercise of the priesthood of the faithful is not expressed in giving blessings in the communion line, but it does demonstrate the error of clericalizing the laity. Therefore, let’s say from the outset that a person distributing the Eucharistic species may not bestow a blessing on a person because this is not one of the gifts given by the Church to the priesthood of the faithful. In fact, it is a serious cross-over from the laity to the ordained person.

Parishes rely, with good reason, on the extraordinary minister of Holy Communion because of the sizable the numbers of communicants and the lack of extra ordained ministers: priests and deacons, and the institute acolyte. The lay minister, as well as the clergy, have to respect the dignity of the Eucharist and the administration of the sacrament. But do we tend to see when a person has no intention of receiving the Eucharistic Lord? Typically, we encounter one of three things when the person presents him or herself with arms crossed over the chest:

1. they speak and gesture a sign of the cross over persons;
2. lay hands on such persons’ heads or shoulders while voicing a blessing;
3. waive or place the Holy Eucharist over them while speaking a blessing.

All three actions are liturgical abuses.

Ed Peters, a rather well-regarded canonist, teacher, and author, articulates why these acts are abuses in the sacred Liturgy. Professor Peters states,

Let’s consider them in order of gravity:

1. Blessing the faithful with the Most August Sacrament is expressly reserved to the ordained. Lay persons may not confer any blessings with the Host (Eucharistic worship outside of Mass nn. 91, 97-99, and 1983 CIC 1168). This practice should therefore be immediately halted wherever it has cropped up.

2. Touching many persons’ hair, faces, and/or garments while serving food (albeit divine Food) to the public has to be a violation of some health and safety regulation somewhere, not to mention its being poor manners. If the swine flu makes distribution from a common Cup an issue, surely touching hair and heads while serving others food from a common Plate is a problem. This particular practice should therefore be halted promptly, regardless of what one might think about lay blessings during Mass.

3. Ministers of holy Communion have, I suggest, no authority by their office to confer any sort of blessing on anyone. Neither the General Instruction on the Roman Missal nor the Book of Blessings (which later source makes provisions for laity to administer certain blessings) authorizes ministers of Communion to confer blessings during Mass. Given that lay persons serving as extraordinary ministers of holy Communion have no liturgical duties besides the administration of Communion, the introduction of a mini-blessing rite to be performed by them seems to me a plain violation of Canon 846. This practice should, I think, be halted pending a study of its liceity by qualified persons and, if appropriate, its authorization by the competent authority (1983 CIC 838,1167).

In brief, I suggest that lay ministers of holy Communion have no authority to bless anyone in Communion lines, they should refrain from touching people while distributing holy Communion, and they should immediately cease using the Blessed Sacrament for mini-Benediction rites.

If you are looking for another way of knowing what the Church teaches, Paul Matenaer gives  a response in his 2011 article “Can lay ministers give blessings during Communion?” which is worth reading critically as this is no small thing in the Ordinary Form of the Mass. He gives more detail to the answer than Ed Peters did.

Let me conclude: we want to be welcoming to all people, but there are appropriate places, actions and times for one to be hospitable. The communion line is not one of those places.

Bishops introduce social media to the Liturgy

bishops with cell cameras

Realize what this Mass is

Misa de San Gregorio (cerca de 1500). Libro de Horas de Enrique VIII, Jean Poyer. Tours, FranciaThomas Merton on attending Mass at Gethsemani monastery on his first visit:

See Who God is! Realize what this Mass is! See Christ here, on the Cross! See His wounds, see His torn hands, see how the King of Glory is crowned with thorns! Do you know what Love is? Here is Love, here on this Cross, here is Love, suffering these nails, these thorns, that scourge loaded with lead, smashed to pieces, bleeding to death because of your sins and bleeding to death because of people that will never know Him, and never think of Him and will never remember His Sacrifice. Learn from Him how to love God and how to love men! Learn of this Cross, this Love, how to give your life away to Him.

See, see Who God is, see the glory of God, going up to Him out of this incomprehensible and infinite Sacrifice in which all history be­gins and ends, all individual lives begin and end, in which every story is told, and finished, and settled for joy or for sorrow: the one point of reference for all the truths that are outside of God, their center, their focus: Love.

Do you know what Love is? You have never known the meaning of Love, never, you who have always drawn all things to the center of your own nothingness. Here is Love in this chalice full of Blood, Sacri­fice, mactation. Do you not know that to love means to be killed for glory of the Beloved? And where is your love? Where is now your Cross, if you say you want to follow Me, if you pretend you love Me?

(The Seven Storey Mountain, pp.323f.)

About the author

Paul A. Zalonski is from New Haven, CT. He is a member of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, a Catholic ecclesial movement, and an Oblate of Saint Benedict. Contact Paul at paulzalonski[at]
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