Pray Tell recently received a copy of the newly issued (July 12th) Circular Letter on the Ritual Expression of the Gift of Peace at Mass. After the Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist in 2005, the question was raised about whether the sign of peace should be maintained “in its present form” and location. Pope Benedict at the time requested that the “pertinent Congregations” study the question. The Congregation for the Divine Worship and the Discipline of Sacraments studied the question and consulted Episcopal Conferences from around the world. According to Antonio Cardinal Cañizares Llovera in his introduction to the Circular Letter, the results of the consultation were as follows:
A great majority of them [Episcopal Conferences] pronounced favorably in maintaining the “rite” and the “sign” of peace in its present form and time, as it is presently found in the Ordinary of the Mass, considering it as a characteristic of the Roman rite and therefore not convenient for the faithful, at this time, to introduce structural changes during the Eucharistic celebration.
After consultations with “both Supreme Pontiffs, Benedict XVI and Francis” a Circular Letter was issued. According to Cardinal Cañizares, it is hoped that this Circular Letter
will become an opportunity for all the Episcopal Conferences to reflect on this question and to present and study the proposed adaptations for the “sign of peace” in respect of the different cultures and sensibilities of the different peoples around the world.
The Circular Letter makes it clear what this means:
It may be advisable that, on the occasion of the publication of the translation of the third typical edition of the Roman Missal in their own country, or when new editions of the same Missal are undertaken in the future, Conferences of Bishops should consider whether it might not be fitting to change the manner of giving peace which had been established earlier. For example, following these years of experience, in those places where familiar and profane gestures of greeting were previously chosen, they could be replaced with other more appropriate gestures.
The following section discusses liturgical abuses to be avoided. The Circular Letter mentions four specifically:
– The introduction of a “song for peace”, which is non-existent in the Roman Rite.
– The movement of the faithful from their places to exchange the sign of peace amongst themselves.
– The departure of the priest form the altar in order to give the sign of peace to some of the faithful.
– That in certain circumstances, such as at the Solemnity of Easter or of Christmas, or during ritual celebrations such as Baptism, First Communion, Confirmation, Matrimony, Sacred Ordinations, Religious Professions, and Funerals, the exchange of peace being the occasion for expressing congratulations, best wishes or condolences among those present.
So it appears that the status quo will be maintain; however, many of us have become accustomed to the “liturgical abuses” outlined in the Circular Letter. I must admit, I find it a bit surprising that Pope Francis would consider some of these “abuses.” He strikes me as the kind of priest and bishop who would depart from the altar to give the sign of peace to some of the faithful. While some of the Circular Letter sounds like Pope Francis, such as section 7 which mentions the social consequences of worship, the remaining document lacks the positivity that has become the hallmark of Pope Francis’ papacy.
The failure of the Circular Letter to mention consultation with liturgists or theologians is also troubling. It appears to be little more than a survey of bishops around the world. However, the fact that bishops were consulted and taken seriously is a good thing. Perhaps we are beginning to see the fruits of Pope Francis’ call for greater collegiality within the Church.