Sharing The Peace (Then Being Right Haddocks)

by , under Church, Emerging Church, Theology

Interesting piece by Damian Thompson in the Daily Telegraph (HT Dave Walker) about the perils of ‘sharing the peace.’

I particularly like ‘Spock Papist’s comment:

I guess the idea is that you shake hands and show affection to your neighbour for 1 minute in the week. Then you can go back to being a right haddock for the rest of the week.

It would appear that some people, many perhaps, find it uncomfortable, tasteless, or simply abhorent. Thompson quotes a comment on one Father Zuhlsdorf’s blog:

I tolerate it, but dread it intensely. I never understood why the priest’s greeting (“Pax Domini sit semper vobiscum.”) and our response (“Et cum spiritu tuo.”) doesn’t seem to be enough for most parishes?

I think this sums things up rather perfectly. The writer would far rather hear in an archaic language that the peace of the Lord is always with him, and offer the same back to the priest, than actually show any sign of that with his (or her) neighbour.

This, I think, is what Thompson misses. The peace, in Anglican liturgy (and it is no surprise that this piece has popped up in the Torygraph, for the Anglican church is said to be ‘the Tory party at prayer), is often presented as ‘let us offer one another a sign of that peace.’ There is no mention of what that ‘sign’ should be. For many, shaking hands has traditionally been a sign of trust between two parties. For others, shaking hands would appear frosty and formal, and an embrace might be more appropriate. For others, a non-contact nod across the room might be all that is needed to communicate that there is peace between them, where there might have been anguish or dis-ease.

‘The Peace’ is thus a very simple sort of TAZ, a symbolic breaking out of peace in the midst of the rest of life, a time to open our hands, drop our guards as we approach a sacramental space.

What I find extraordinary is that many people find this so difficult. Gathering with other people is, for them, uncomfortable. They want to be able to practice some ritual of peace with God, without having to encounter any problem of expressing peace with their neighbours. And yet – as I’ve tried to explore in Other (now available in the US and Canada via Kindle – news on a US print edition hopefully in a couple of weeks) – Jesus was very clear that ‘peace’ was a three-dimensional space, encompassing axes of peace with God, peace within the Self, and peace with other people.

The haughty grouch who wants services in Latin and frankly can’t seem to stand having to make contact with other people would appear in need of a break-through on at least two of these. But the prize for antipathy has to go to Benedict Carter and his comment:

There is a better way to avoid not only the Sign of Peace, but ALL the lements (sic) that make up this sacramentally-valid but nevertheless protestant meal service: do not attend any New Mass at all. If you want to safeguard your Catholic Faith, you should be assisting at the Old Mass ONLY.

In this exclusive, bounded world, there can be no peace. Which is why I urge you, regardless of your faith – or lack of it – to go to the highest Catholic church you can, and bring signs of peace. Go on, open a box of Krispy Kremes right in the middle.


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  1. Dominic H

    This piece would be rather more satisfying if you demonstrated that you had some understanding of what the objection of some Catholics (and I suppose I am sort-of a “moaning traditionalist”, too) to the “sign of peace” in the mass is.

    To some, the principal objection is the occasion on which it is placed in the service, as a distraction from the central point in the service between the consecration and the eucharist. To someone who does not believe in the real presence this would not be of any importance. To those simply moving the greeting to a less sanctified moment in the mass (such as by the penitential rite, at the beginning) would solve the problem.

    To others, the objection is that it distracts worshippers from the sacred mysteries (and again I highlight the real presence), and turns one’s thoughts away from God, and the sacrifice on the altar, to man. One might argue that the place for that is after mass, not during (and at any, if not every, other time and place) – emphasising the horizontal aspect of worship rather than the vertical. (As indeed does much of the post-Vatican II mass).

    And you suggestion to take food to consume to mass is despicable, if not sacreligious. You clearly know nothing of the fasting regulations (however mistakenly watered down they have become in the Latin rite, also since Vatican II).

    It is not an “exclusive bounded world” to prefer mass in a sacred language or according to the *unprotestantized* rites sancitifed by centuries of usage. Rather it is a world in which eternal truth is respected, and not sacrificed upon the altars of the false gods of “relevance” or “the spirit of the age”.

    Pax vobiscum. (Et cum spirituo tuo)

  2. KB

    And you suggestion to take food to consume to mass is despicable, if not sacreligious. You clearly know nothing of the fasting regulations (however mistakenly watered down they have become in the Latin rite, also since Vatican II).

    It is not an “exclusive bounded world” to prefer mass in a sacred language or according to the *unprotestantized* rites sancitifed by centuries of usage. Rather it is a world in which eternal truth is respected, and not sacrificed upon the altars of the false gods of “relevance” or “the spirit of the age”.

    I really don’t think Jesus would know what the **** you are on about. Because I certainly don’t. Nothing you say is one tiny bit recognisable from the last supper, or anything else in the gospels (not that the Anglican communion service is much better). And that is actually a serious problem, because it’s this version of powerful, mystical Christianity which has seriously buggered up the world. Take a bow Constantine.

  3. David Cooke

    Your response made me laugh out loud.

    The peace only came in during the ’50’s as part of the parish communion movement and attendance in the C of E has struggled ever since. Now I admit, limp and insincere handshakes may not be entirely to blame for dwindling numbers, but they certainly make a stoic contribution. If we want to have community and mystery together (which we should) let’s make the community part the real deal or not have it all.

  4. KB

    I admit, limp and insincere handshakes may not be entirely to blame for dwindling numbers, but they certainly make a stoic contribution.

    As a statistics teacher, this made me laugh a lot! Not quite sure we’d be able to establish a ‘causal relationship’ between the spread of wet handshakes and dwindling church attendance. Some other factors may be in play?!

  5. Peter Anderson

    As a side note, I don’t understand the references or the tags referring to Anglicanism or the C of E. Damian Thompson is a Catholic, the Brompton Oratory is a Catholic Church – incidently designed so that those who had never been to Italy could experience what an Italian church felt like, complete with statues of the apostles originally in Siena Cathedral! – , and the subject of discussion is the Catholic mass – the CofE just doesn’t come into it at all!

    And I have no idea what the case was in the CofE, but in general the sign of peace – along with “outward participation” in the Catholic church is a very recent innovation. 1970s, generally.

  6. michaeldanner

    I’m a low-church Mennonite from across the pond, so I have no credibility on issues of the mass, pre or post Vatican II. But if I heard Dominic H correctly, I can’t quite wrap my head around the notion that the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist is in some way hindered by the passing of the peace, ritual tho it is. I think the connection is quite obvious. God reconciled us to himself through Jesus and gave us the ministry of reconciliation. Our relationship with Jesus is not hindered by our relationships with others, rather our relationships with others betrays the truth about our relationship with Jesus. If shaking a brother or sister’s hand means I can’t focus on Jesus in the Eucharist something has gone terribly wrong in His church. Jesus said that the litmus test for authentic discipleship is love for one another. If we can’t engage in the ritual how much more difficult is it to engage in the real thing?

  7. Dominic H

    My point, however inelegantly expressed, was not that the placing of the (optional) “exchange of peace” hinders the real presence, but rather that (some perceive that) it MAY hinder the preparation of the communicant to receive the sacrament. I don’t have overly strong views about it, personally. I am quite happy to do without it, indeed probably prefer to do without it, but if I am in a mass where it is offered I will participate.

    The fact that our Eastern Orthodox brethren, not to mention those of the 21 non-Latin rite Catholic churches, or the centuries of Catholics who assisted at mass prior to the 1970s did without the handshaking (a secular symbol, which may be seen as quite distinct in meaning, or at least, implication from the “kiss of peace” offered by the priest to the deacon/server in the Tridentine mass) makes clear that it is not in any sense necessary to the mass; and also that its omission does not constitute any form of “grumpiness” or “hindering of relations with fellow Christians” or anything of that nature.

    Given that the body that developed this mass (sans handshake) has also, for centuries, been the largest provider of education and health services in the world, as well as the major patron of all manner of cultural “goods” (for want of a better term), I think it is clear that the failure to require worshippers to shake hands has not impeded a sense of Christian duty!

    Rather, it is simply not the time and place. It is in a sense an ill-placed piece of punctuation, or a discordant note, a disruption, a confusion.

    And none of this, by the way, has anything to do with Constantine (it would be fair to say that his “donation” was, at the very best, a mixed blessing). It does have a great deal to do with Jesus’s instructions at the last supper to “do this in memory with me”, and with the rock upon which his church was founded, St Peter, and the church fathers and the magisterium and the accretation over the centuries of wisdom and tradition, both of which have been tested and modified by experience and intellect.

    Clearly we are coming from differing perspectives, but I find it somewhat alarming that because you do not understand something about worship, you appear that presume Jesus would also not do so!

  8. KB

    I think you’re right that we shouldn’t get hung up on the handshake – which is part of what I was trying to say in the post. The handshake is just one possible sign – and there are many others. But I do think that to suggest that it is distracting to have a time in a ritual where people symbolically express peace with one another as they come to the table to express peace with God is unfortunate, and does rather smack of a religion which has lost touch with more earthy matters of empathy and concern for neighbour.

  9. michaeldanner

    My point was not so much about the handshake per se, but about any ritual expression of community/peace/reconciliation with the other. It seems to me like the celebration of the Lord’s Supper is the most fitting context for such ritual. I don’t say that because I don’t understand the mass, but because I do understand what Jesus said and did, at least as put on display in the gospels. Sharing the peace is far from “a discordant note, a disruption, a confusion”, because it seems to me like reconciliation and peace between people is essential to Jesus’ ministry and work in the world. The celebration of the Lord’s Supper is exactly the time and place for such a ritual affirmation of God’s reconciling work through Jesus. I may be way off the mark. If I am I apologize. Thanks for the engagement.