Monthly Archives: August 2014

A wrong turn with the music for the Gloria

“The musical tradition of the universal Church is a treasure of inestimable value, greater even than that of any other art. The main reason for this pre-eminence is that, as a combination of sacred music and words, it forms a necessary or integral part of solemn liturgy.” Sacrosanctum Concilium, 112

“I am convinced that music really is the universal language of beauty which can bring together all people of good will on earth.” Pope Benedict XVI, 16 April 2007

When I started attending the parish church we now go to, I did not like the music used for the Mass very much. There were parts that I loved, like the Lamb of God and the call and response chant of the Psalm reading. But the Gloria (Glory to God) was not great. And yet I grew to like it. Then we changed. What we use now is the Mass of Christ the Savior by Dan Schutte, and the tune for the Gloria is awful. Overall this Mass by Schutte is musically poor, but specifically the Gloria is far to sing-songy for what the Gloria actually is. Schutte’s version is also too long, and has this strange word/phrase-repeat thing it does that disrupts the flow of this amazing poem prayer of reverence. As far as my tastes go, Schutte’s Gloria destroys what could and should be beautiful. It would be better for us to merely recite the Gloria than sing Schutte’s version.

Read the Gloria, consider its words carefully, and then consider this: How we sing the Gloria sets the tone for the rest of the Mass. It is the true beginning of worship in the Mass, that moment when we direct our minds to God, and recognize our place before Him. It draws us into a mode of reverence and prepares us for what is to come. It separates us from the humdrum of the quotidian and puts us in the presence of God. It’s not there merely because of tradition, though it has a long tradition. It is a critical piece of why a Catholic Mass is what it is; it is when we come together as Catholics.

Recently I came across a musical comparison that I think may explain what I mean by Schutte’s Gloria being too sing-songy:

It’s not an exact copy, and maybe a bit unfair, but if we can get that close with such a comparison, it says a lot. However, only listen to Schutte’s version and that should easily be enough to show how inappropriate it is for the Gloria. Sadly, we live in an age where it is becoming more and more common for people to not really know the difference between beautiful and ugly, reverential and pedestrian, God facing and man facing. Perhaps that is the issue here. I can’t say. I don’t yet know what anyone else in my parish thinks.

What we used to sing was the Heritage Mass version. This is also not great, but the music is better and more reverential than Schutte’s.

I am convinced the Novus Ordo Mass can be very beautiful and reverential. I do not think a church has to “go back” to a traditional Latin Mass to find beauty. But I also realize it is hard work, and many parishioners, who are immersed in our rather ugly culture all week long, might struggle at first if their Mass was changed to be truly beautiful – strange as that may sound. It might take some adjustment. But we are made for Beauty. Seek the beautiful in the Mass and the parish will be rewarded. I believe this firmly.

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Making us Human: Considering the Role of Beauty in the Liturgy

Beauty is necessary.
Beauty makes us more human.
We await the fulfillment of the promise of Beauty.

Imagine a Mass that is so resplendent with Beauty that the very form of the Mass, the behavior and dress of the laity, the setting in which the Mass takes place, the music that is sung or performed, the dress and actions of the Priest, Deacon, and attendants, the prayers that are spoken, perhaps the incense burning, and even the light through the windows, and all those other mysterious things that one senses but cannot quite define, combine to create an experience of the fullness of the glory of God and of the Church.

If such a Mass existed it would overwhelm us. Beauty would surround us, fill us, lift us up in ways that we would struggle to define, but we would know through and through that our souls were being fed by Beauty. And by such a Mass we would also be made more human.

Of course, such a Mass does exist. It is in Heaven. We can read about it in the book of Revelation, chapters 4 and 5.

The premise of this post, while ultimately about promoting Beauty in all that we do, and especially in those Christian activities we deem as worship, is to say this: To the degree a Catholic Mass is resplendent with Beauty is, in part, the degree to which that Mass is able to fulfill its role in making all those present more human. This implies, by degree, that a Mass can either fulfill its role or, in some manner, do the opposite. In other words, though a Mass will certainly fulfill its function in terms of the Priest making the actions of the liturgy in a fitting manner and offering the Eucharist to the baptized, the way the Mass is conducted and how the entire context and setting of the Mass presents the Eucharist may, in fact, be more or less at odds with the true nature of God-centered worship, the Real Presence, and the fulfillment of our humanness that true worship and the Real Presence imply. The question here is what does it mean for that “entire context and setting” to lack Beauty?

Let’s pause a moment. We are using rather vague terms. Beauty is one of the three Transcendentals, along with Truth and Goodness. They are Transcendentals because they are of and from God Himself. God is the source of all that is Good, all that is True, and all that is Beautiful. Like Being itself, God is Goodness itself, Truth itself, and Beauty itself. Fundamentally this means Beauty is a great and profound mystery. So that’s one thing. Another is that being human, and having the characteristics of humanness, is also a great and profound mystery. Being human means being made in the Image of God, being, in some limited but indelible way, an ikon of God, thus having within oneself, or as part of oneself, as one’s very being, Truth, Goodness, and Beauty.

Beauty is also a rather vague term. Perhaps it is sufficient to merely say that Beauty is hard to define, probably impossible, but that we know it when we see it. And yet there are so many people who seem to frequently gravitate toward ugliness that one sometimes wonders. We might also say Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, thus promoting a relativistic view of Beauty. There is no denying the difficulty of defining Beauty, nor the unique personal responses to Beauty we all have. But we can’t go around saying “Truth, Goodness, and Beauty!” like a rallying cry (as some are wont to do) and then say Beauty is neither definable nor objective. However, being one of the three Transcendentals, Beauty is similarly difficult to grasp as is God. Thus Beauty remains a profound mystery.

For the sake of both brevity and sanity I will not try to define Beauty here. I am going to assume we all know what it is. I am also not going to call out specific things or actions as being beautiful. Things and actions can vary greatly from culture to culture and from age to age, and views on what is beautiful can also vary. I am certainly not going to offer a prescription for a beautiful Mass here – that is for another post, and there are many who have done that already. What I want to do is merely draw the connection between the gift of Beauty and our becoming more fully human and the role (if that’s the right word) of Beauty in liturgy.

I know it may be aggravating to charge forward about Beauty without defining it, but let’s just, for now, leave it at this: One sees a beautiful sunset or a grove of redwood trees, or hears a piece of music by Bach or Berlioz, or reads a poem by Milton or Miłosz, and one has a sense of beauty at a level of fullness that is greater than a view of a garbage dump, or a clear-cut forest, or a gray day, or the sound of construction equipment, or an advertisement for toothpaste. And we know that what is beautiful seems to enhance us, make us feel good, draw us towards itself, perhaps even lift us up in ways we can’t quite express. And we know that what is ugly tends to push against us, challenge us, make us defend ourselves, make us feel as though we have to endure it, and perhaps ugliness even degrades us in ways we can’t quite express. We stare at the sunrise, pause by a field of flowers, stop to listen to the musician, but we endure the parking lot, the monochrome office filled with workstations, the strip mall, the concrete-box retail store, the windowless room. We endure because we need something – to shop, to work, to get somewhere.

The same can be true of the Mass. We can endure a lack of Beauty in the setting, the music, the homily, the vestments, etc., because we want something – the Eucharist. We may want more than that, such as fellowship, or the sense of having fulfilled some personal tradition, but without the Eucharist going to church becomes not much different than going to a non-Catholic church.

We live in a world where there is great beauty and great ugliness. Most of the time, however, our immediate lives are somewhere in between, with lots of the somewhat beautiful and lots of the somewhat ugly. (I don’t know if “ugly” is truly the proper antonym of “beauty”, but let’s go with it for now.) Most of the time we do not think of these things. But it is important to realize that Beauty is not only for the artist, or the one sensitive to Beauty. We all, inherently, even without thinking, are fed by Beauty and must endure the ugly. [Let’s be clear, every human being is beautiful. Every one. Every soul is beautiful. But actions can be ugly.]

The question still remains: How does Beauty, and specifically a beautiful liturgy, make one more human? If we begin with the premise that man was made for worship, and that his fulfillment only comes when his worship is fully directed toward God, then we can infer that what draws man to worship, and directs that worship toward God, is what draws man to his fulfillment, that is, towards being a fully realized human. In terms of the beauty of the created order, we read in the book of Wisdom:

For from the greatness and beauty of created things
comes a corresponding perception of their Creator. (Wisdom 13:5)

This perception of the Creator is the beginning of worship, of the priestly function of man, that began when Adam was given the task to name the animals, and God was watching “to see what he would call them.” Though we were not there, we can assume that Adam learned a great deal about his Creator and the nature of the Creation, including of himself. In fact, that was the purpose of this exercise – to learn what man is, and what male is, and thus the need for the female corresponding to the male in order to be fully human. In other words, God calling us to worship Him is not because God needs our worship; it is because we need to worship Him. God gave us worship as a gift.

Now consider these lines from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The topic is on sacred art, but there is more here than only about art works:

2502 Sacred art is true and beautiful when its form corresponds to its particular vocation: evoking and glorifying, in faith and adoration, the transcendent mystery of God – the surpassing invisible beauty of truth and love visible in Christ, who “reflects the glory of God and bears the very stamp of his nature,” in whom “the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily.” This spiritual beauty of God is reflected in the most holy Virgin Mother of God, the angels, and saints. Genuine sacred art draws man to adoration, to prayer, and to the love of God, Creator and Savior, the Holy One and Sanctifier.

2503 For this reason bishops, personally or through delegates, should see to the promotion of sacred art, old and new, in all its forms and, with the same religious care, remove from the liturgy and from places of worship everything which is not in conformity with the truth of faith and the authentic beauty of sacred art.

Notice that there is no particular prescription regarding the form of art. Rather, art is beautiful when it draws men to worship. There is a connection between the spiritual beauty of God (fully realized in Christ, and most fully reflected in the Virgin Mary, the angels, and saints) and the beauty of sacred art. There is also an implication that sacred art can be less than it ought. In that case, such art should be removed and replaced. This is critically important when we consider the way our churches are designed and decorated, and the way the Mass is conducted. By implication, a less than beautiful Mass represents a less than beautiful image of God and of man. It does not call one to worship as it should.

We should care a great deal about the Beauty of the Liturgy, about our churches, and about our worship. If we do not care about Beauty, or think it merely a surface embellishment, or worse, a trap to bedevil us, what does that say about us and our understanding of God and our humanness? Rather, we should see that Beauty is from God, understand it rightly, and encourage it in our lives and in our parishes. The Mass should consistently be one of the most beautiful experiences of our week – drawing us toward God, making us more human.

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Considering Beauty and the Mass, and U.S. Bishops on Beauty and the Mass

Beauty should be elevated more broadly in our churches more than it is. Unfortunately, we have a tendency to equate Beauty with mere prettiness. We tend to think of Beauty being about the mere surface of things (as though the surface of something is inferior to its interior – but that’s another discussion). We are often fearful of Beauty, fearing it is a enticer that lures one to nefarious things. Too often we think loving Beauty means being ostentatious and given over to frippery. Along with such feelings we live in a world that has embraced ugliness, and makes ugly things, even though there is also much Beauty as well. Perhaps embracing ugliness (and it’s sibling, darkness) is a relatively new phenomenon in world history, maybe a symptom of the “death of God” syndrome.

Also, American utilitarianism has had a profound effect on our way of thinking, here an around the world, such that we can tend to think of Beauty as superfluous and exhibitionistic, even when it comes to designing and decorating churches. However, Beauty is one of the three Trascendentals, a characteristic of God (God is Beauty itself, and the source of all Beauty), along with Truth and Goodness. When it comes to celebrating the Mass (including the churches in which it is celebrated) Beauty should be a pronounced element – more than an element, it should be inherent in the very fabric of the Mass – as though Beauty, Goodness, and Truth are threads of a tapestry, where any one taken away (or under represented) greatly diminishes the whole.

HolySacrificeMass

Soldiers at Mass in a bombed out chapel somewhere in Europe during WWII

Perhaps there are times when celebrating a Mass that Beauty might be more subtlety expressed, or perhaps seemingly overwhelmed by ugliness – on the battlefield for example, or in other forbidding circumstances – but those should be understood as extraordinary circumstances (and I’m not entirely convinced this is true). Yet even in those circumstances a small portion of Beauty may appear to overwhelm the ugliness, just as darkness has no strength again even the smallest light. In general, however, the normative Mass is one of Beauty, even a surplus of Beauty. The Church should never shy away from Beauty. It did not in much of its past, and it should not today.

There is much to be said, but it might be good to first consider some basic rules about conducting Mass. In The General Instruction of the Roman Missal, promulgated by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, we find several references to Beauty:

(¶ 22) The Bishop should therefore be determined that the Priests, the Deacons, and the lay Christian faithful grasp ever more deeply the genuine significance of the rites of liturgical texts, and thereby be led to the active and fruitful celebration of the Eucharist. To that end, he should also be vigilant in ensuring that the dignity of these celebrations be enhanced and, in promoting such dignity, the beauty of the sacred place, of the music, and of art should contribute as greatly as possible.

(¶ 42) The gestures and bodily posture of both the Priest, the Deacon, and the ministers, and also of the people. must be conducive to make the entire celebration resplendent with beauty and noble simplicity, to make clear the true and full meaning of its different parts, and to fostering the participation of all.

(¶ 294) All these elements, even though they must express the hierarchical structure and the diversity of functions, should nevertheless bring about a close and coherent unity that is clearly expressive of the unity of the entire holy people. Indeed, the nature and the beauty of the place and all its furnishing should foster devotion and express visually the holiness of the mysteries celebrated there.

(¶ 318) Generally speaking, in the ornamentation and arrangement of a church, as far as images are concerned, provision should be made for the devotion of the entire community as well as for the beauty and dignity of the images.

We may not all agree on what is beautiful. We may not all agree on how far to emphasize Beauty. But it is clear from the words above that Beauty should be a part of every Mass. And notice that these rules are not particularly prescriptive. There is a great deal of room in which to roam in terms of Beauty. Each parish can be quite different in how Beauty is expressed, yet all be equally beautiful.

But what is one to do? When at Mass we should not be critical, or be thinking too much of these things. That is not the time for that. Our focus at Mass should be on Christ, and not on judging those around us, or the church staff, ministers, or priest. But it may be a good exercise to consider, after the fact, whether or not Mass seemed appropriately beautiful. Every parish is different, with different “personalities” and characteristics, as well as capabilities, including finances, but it may be a good thing for more Catholics to gently push for more Beauty at Mass. The Bishops would seem to support that.

Keep in mind, however, that a person who advocates change in their parish, but who is unwilling to support the effort it takes to make that change, including with their wallet and their time & energy, becomes a noisy gong and a clanging cymbal.

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Fitted for Sacred Use: Beauty, the Liturgy, and Sacrosanctum Concilium

Here are two sections in Sacrosanctum Concilium (Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy), a constitutional document from Vatican II. These are sections that mention beauty and the arts. I am doing so for one purpose – to encourage the reader to consider the words therein and compare them with their own experience of the liturgy in their local church. I have bolded a few of the words that jump out at me and get me thinking. It is clear to me that the Church does not prescribe any particular style of art, or demand anything with great specificity. However, I cannot help but notice somewhat of a gulf between what is called out here as important, and the general state (so I hear) of many parishes.

But let me hesitate a bit… There is nothing more natural than Beauty, but creating Beauty is difficult; much harder to do than most people realize. For a local parish to seek Beauty with passion is also to demand a great deal of work, and probably to overturn the tables a bit, even make some long-term volunteers grumpy. And few agree entirely on Beauty.

Regardless, consider these words and meditate on them. Remember Beauty is one of the three Transcendentals. Do not shy away from Beauty. Rather, run towards it and embrace it. I say this as an encouragement for all of us to care more about Beauty in our parishes, our liturgies, and our lives.

122. Very rightly the fine arts are considered to rank among the noblest activities of man’s genius, and this applies especially to religious art and to its highest achievement, which is sacred art. These arts, by their very nature, are oriented toward the infinite beauty of God which they attempt in some way to portray by the work of human hands; they achieve their purpose of redounding to God’s praise and glory in proportion as they are directed the more exclusively to the single aim of turning men’s minds devoutly toward God.

Holy Mother Church has therefore always been the friend of the fine arts and has ever sought their noble help, with the special aim that all things set apart for use in divine worship should be truly worthy, becoming, and beautiful, signs and symbols of the supernatural world, and for this purpose she has trained artists. In fact, the Church has, with good reason, always reserved to herself the right to pass judgment upon the arts, deciding which of the works of artists are in accordance with faith, piety, and cherished traditional laws, and thereby fitted for sacred use.

The Church has been particularly careful to see that sacred furnishings should worthily and beautifully serve the dignity of worship, and has admitted changes in materials, style, or ornamentation prompted by the progress of the technical arts with the passage of time.

123. The Church has not adopted any particular style of art as her very own; she has admitted styles from every period according to the natural talents and circumstances of peoples, and the needs of the various rites. Thus, in the course of the centuries, she has brought into being a treasury of art which must be very carefully preserved. The art of our own days, coming from every race and region, shall also be given free scope in the Church, provided that it adorns the sacred buildings and holy rites with due reverence and honor; thereby it is enabled to contribute its own voice to that wonderful chorus of praise in honor of the Catholic faith sung by great men in times gone by.

124. Ordinaries, by the encouragement and favor they show to art which is truly sacred, should strive after noble beauty rather than mere sumptuous display. This principle is to apply also in the matter of sacred vestments and ornaments.

Let bishops carefully remove from the house of God and from other sacred places those works of artists which are repugnant to faith, morals, and Christian piety, and which offend true religious sense either by depraved forms or by lack of artistic worth, mediocrity and pretense.

And when churches are to be built, let great care be taken that they be suitable for the celebration of liturgical services and for the active participation of the faithful.

I wonder how many parishes take all this seriously. I tend to think they (the laity, staff, priests, everyone) don’t much. And when they do, I tend to think they would like to see more Beauty, but it’s hard to make changes; people’s feeling are at stake, etc. But I also think there are two key factors as well: 1) People don’t really notice beauty or ugliness that much, and 2) People are wary of Beauty, thinking it mere prettiness and the surface of things. In other words, they don’t see that there is an issue when there is one, and if confronted with a lack of beauty, they push back in the name of “truly spirituality” and “authentic faith.” Alas, the influence of our modern culture and American puritan piety.

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Apollos: Baptist Evangelist Converts to Catholic Church

Apollos

Apollos was one of the major figures in the early Church. Remember those ugly divisions in the church at Corinth that we discover in St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, where he says:

For it has been reported to me about you, my brothers, by Chloe’s people, that there are rivalries among you. I mean that each of you is saying, “I belong to Paul,” or “I belong to Apollos,” or “I belong to Cephas,” or “I belong to Christ.” Is Christ divided?

Apollos was so influential and popular that some Christians were even claiming to be his followers in rivalry to those who followed Paul or Peter, and even to Christ (which is particularly strange). To stand alongside Peter and Paul in the early church is no small thing. Fortunately the issue was not with Apollos, but with the Corinthians. I find this interesting, but I want to focus on how Apollos got his start. We first hear about him in the Acts of the Apostles:

A Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, an eloquent speaker, arrived in Ephesus. He was an authority on the scriptures. He had been instructed in the Way of the Lord and, with ardent spirit, spoke and taught accurately about Jesus, although he knew only the baptism of John. He began to speak boldly in the synagogue; but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the Way [of God] more accurately. And when he wanted to cross to Achaia, the brothers encouraged him and wrote to the disciples there to welcome him. After his arrival he gave great assistance to those who had come to believe through grace. He vigorously refuted the Jews in public, establishing from the scriptures that the Messiah is Jesus.

We first find Apollos in Ephesus preaching the Gospel as he understood it. He came from Alexandria, which is in norther Egypt, a city founded around 331 BC by Alexander the Great. later the city came under Roman rule around 80 B.C.

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Eventually Apollos ended up in the city of Ephesus. Most likely he came there around 52-3 A.D. He was a powerful preacher, “an eloquent speaker”, “with ardent spirit”, and “vigorously refuted the Jews”. He probably preached in the allegorical style of Philo, an influential Hellenistic Jewish philosopher who had lived in Alexandria. Later Apollos traveled to Achaia, the northwestern region of the Peloponnese peninsula. This region was a major cultural and trading area, and included the city of Corinth.

Notice that when the apostles came upon Apollos he was already a convert of sorts. The Gospel was not an entirely new message. He was already preaching, spreading some good news, and “spoke and taught accurately about Jesus.” This must have been a startling and wonderful surprise for Priscilla and Aquila. And yet, notice that Apollos did not have the full picture yet. He “knew only the baptism of John,” which means he had some basics, and could call people to repentance, but he did not have the whole story. What exactly he did and did not know is not entirely clear, perhaps he did not know “that the Messiah is Jesus”, or more likely he did not know about Pentecost and the existence of the Church. Whatever it was, Priscilla and Aquila “explained to him the Way [of God] more accurately.”

My post title is meant to be a bit provocative, and certainly tongue-in-cheek, but one could say Apollos was an evangelist who preached baptism (“he knew only the baptism of John”). He heard the call to carry the word of God to others. He “was an authority on the scriptures” which meant he had a solid and powerful foundation. He “taught accurately about Jesus”, but Priscilla and Aquila recognized he did not have the full picture. He was gifted in speech and used his gift, but he did not have the fullness of faith until he was taught it, accepted it, and became a member of that group that was becoming known as Christians, the Church, the Body of Christ.

Imagine if, after having heard the whole story from Priscilla and Aquila, Apollos had rejected them. What if he remained comfortable with the ministry he already had, with the knowledge he already had, with “only the baptism of John” such that he had no interest in the full message of Christ and the Way? What if he had no interest in entering the Church, in becoming a Christian? What if he had rejected the Church, claiming the visible, hierarchical Body of Christ was an invention? One thing for certain, we would very likely not know about him now, for his story would not have made it into scriptures. And if he had rejected them, he probably would have done so by marshaling all his knowledge of scripture, and with his gifts of speech, and fought them in debate. Perhaps he would have defended his “simpler” version of repentance and left the resurrection out of it. Perhaps he would have pointed out that the Christians were adding to the story, and they were including the gentiles in the covenant, and the apostles were claiming authority and handing down their authority to others. He might have rejected the Real Presence, saying the Eucharist is only a symbol. Although, given he was a first century Jew, he likely would have had a sacramental view of religion.

Obviously I’m making a comparison with Protestantism, and specifically with the Baptist version I grew up in. Catholics claim that Protestants are fellow believers, but that they have rejected the fullness of the faith. When faced with the richness of the Catholic faith, most Protestants balk. There are many reasons for this, not least of which is that few Protestants truly know what Catholicism is, largely because they see Catholicism through “lenses” that only distort what they see (though they would argue otherwise). Fortunately Apollos did not protest. Rather, he heard the full story of the Gospel, he believed, and he became a member of the Body of Christ. And then he played an important role in those critical early years of the Church.

Maybe the story of Apollos should be encouragement to Catholics to continue to reach out to their Protestant brethren and explain the Way in all its fullness. And certainly for all of us, the story of Apollos can challenge us to ask if we truly understand the fullness of the faith.

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Two documentaries on Arvo Pärt

Pärt circa 1989:

Pärt circa 2000-2002:

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The Sign of Peace

sign-of-peace-300x186

I like the Sign of Peace portion of the Liturgy of the Eucharist. Here is how it is described in the Order of the Mass:

Priest: Lord Jesus Christ, you said to your apostles: I leave you peace, my peace I give you. Look not on our sins, but on the faith of your Church, and grant us the peace and unity of your kingdom where you live for ever and ever.
All: Amen.

Priest: The Peace of the Lord be with you always.
All: And also with you.

Deacon or Priest: Let us offer each other a sign of peace.
[The ministers and all the people exchange an embrace, handshake, or other appropriate gesture of peace with those near them, according to local custom.]

Coming from Protestantland, and a non-sacramental, wary-of-formal-liturgy, heavy-on-teaching kind of church, I find this a wonderful moment in the liturgy. Like everything else in the liturgy, the Sign of Peace has great depth of meaning and is worth meditating on, and it might be interesting to ask what would an appropriate state of heart be at this moment in the Mass. Anyway, like many things we do at Mass, the Sign of Peace can become just another “one of those things” we do, but it shouldn’t. I also like having a moment to acknowledge with both eye and physical contact my brothers and sisters in Christ around me. It reminds that we are all in this together.

I also get the the recent request from the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments stating that the Sign of Peace should be done in a respectful and solemn manner (my words) and not be used as a time for glad-handing, roaming the church, or for the priest to come down from the altar and work the crowd. In other words, some parishes needs to “tone it down” a bit.

I don’t see a lot of this in my church, but one thing has always bothered me from the first time I attended Mass there and was a curious, no-longer-protesting, Protestant seeking the true Church, and wanting to really know what Catholics did at Mass. First, let me back up a bit. I have increasingly become convinced of the importance (radical importance) of seeing all believers as brothers and sisters in Christ, that I should not ignore (or shun) any, and that no matter who they are, no matter what social class or education level or economic strata or ethnicity, no matter how “other” they may seem to me, I should always be willing and ready to reach out to them because they are my brothers and sisters. I fail at this all the time. It’s a significant black spot in my life, but I still believe it is the right way to behave. Thus, though I believe it is good to see friends at church, and to great them affectionately, etc., I also believe the Mass should not be about seeing one’s friends.

Now, at the Sign of Peace, I always see several folks in my parish wander the sanctuary, making beelines for their friends (who just may be on the other side of the church) and giving them big hugs. As they do this, which is somewhat disruptive, they also pass by everyone else to get to their friends and then again back to their seats. This is not a particularly big issue for me, and I really do like seeing the affection for each other, but it seems that a more appropriate behavior for the Mass (and for what the Mass is about) is that one would greet whomever God has brought within close range. Give the Sign of Peace to your brothers and sisters who you may not know, but whom God has brought near. If you are to walk away from your seat to give the Sign of Peace, then seek out the person who is still sitting because they are elderly or cannot get up easily.

Of course, the recent and gentle “corrective” that’s getting more press than it deserves is, at least for us in the U.S., nothing new. Here is what our bishops say in “The General Instruction of the Roman Missal” (pp. 35-36):

The Rite of Peace
82. There follows the Rite of Peace, by which the Church entreats peace and unity for herself and for the whole human family, and the faithful express to each other their ecclesial communion and mutual charity before communicating in the Sacrament.

As for the actual sign of peace to be given, the manner is to be established by the Conference of Bishops in accordance with the culture and customs of the peoples. However, it is appropriate that each person, in a sober manner, offer the sigh of peace only to those who are nearest.

So… stay put. Give the Sign of Peace to those who are nearest to you. Then, after Mass, visit with you friends, and even give them big, affectionate hugs.

Anyway, we shouldn’t make a big deal out of it. We should just recognize the true nature of the Sign of Peace, not take it for granted, nor treat it lightly, have propriety in our actions, and love each other as authentically and with as much empathy and compassion as possible.

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