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About an hour into Matt Fradd's 6 hour podcast with Jimmy Akin, Jimmy says that Pope Benedict XVI wanted to move the sign of peace from its current placement in the Mass to another place. Where did he want to move it to and for what reason - did he want it to be optional or made required?

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Where did Pope Benedict XVI want to move the Sign of Peace to in the Mass?

Pope Benedict XVI was not against the sign of peace in the Mass of Pope Paul VI, but admitted that something had to be done to make it more spiritual and reverent at the same time, as it often becomes something all to noisy and inappropriate at times, in the manner it is employed. The Sign of Peace remains to this day as a liturgical option and as such is not obligatory.

The then Cardinal Ratzinger once said that the sign of peace “causes a lot of hustle and bustle” that takes aways from beholding the Lamb of God after consecration (The Spirit of the Liturgy).

Pope Benedict offered no absolute example as to where the Sign of Peace may be more suitably placed within the mass, but rather suggested this as a possible alternative to the present situation, albeit that the faithful should be more well educated in the spirit of the liturgy as well.

One thing is sure: Pope Benedict XVI request for study of the topic (Sacramentum Caritatis):

Taking into account ancient and venerable customs and the wishes expressed by the Synod Fathers, I have asked the competent curial offices to study the possibility of moving the sign of peace to another place, such as before the presentation of the gifts at the altar.

Some years ago, my wife and I visited St. Sharbel Maronite Catholic Church. If the sign of peace was done throughout both Roman Rites as was done in this Maronite Rite Church, there would be neither confusion or unruly displays with this custom. The placement of the Maronite Sign of Peace is in the same place as in Pope St. Paul VI’s mass.

They follow the ancient prescription of the Latin Rite: ”The kiss of peace was typically given only to those standing next to each other and it was later developed that the kiss of peace descended from the sanctuary and was passed on to the people, symbolizing that peace comes from Christ. This was even further cemented when the priest would first kiss the altar and then pass on that kiss to his attendants.”

This sign on of peace was executed in perfect silence even as the acolytes passed the sign of peace to the faithful! The reverence was awe inspiring.

The Sign of Peace has its’ Origins in the Early Church and is a tradition of great antiquity.

This gesture is found throughout the liturgical history of the Church and from the time of St. Gregory the Great was seen as a pre-requisite for the reception of Communion.

The kiss of peace was typically given only to those standing next to each other and it was later developed that the kiss of peace descended from the sanctuary and was passed on to the people, symbolizing that peace comes from Christ. This was even further cemented when the priest would first kiss the altar and then pass on that kiss to his attendants.

In other rites of the Church the kiss of peace took on different forms. Joseph Jungmann explains in The Mass of the Roman Rite how, “Among the East Syrians it is customary for each one to clasp the hands of his neighbor and kiss them. Among the Maronites the faithful clasp the neighbor’s fingers with their own, then kiss the latter. Even more reserved are the Copts, who merely bow to their neighbor and then touch his hand.”

By the 17th century the kiss of peace was restricted in the Roman Rite to only those present in the sanctuary and was not passed on to the faithful in their pews. It was sometimes customary for the clergy to use a “pax (peace) board,” a wooden paddle that each minister would kiss and pass to the next.

Then after the Second Vatican Council the Church took a new look at the ancient custom and decided to restore the original action of the faithful, entrusting each conference of bishops with task of determining the cultural sign most appropriate.

The sign of peace is a highly symbolic act that is meant to point towards the disposition of heart required for receiving the Holy Eucharist. It reminds the faithful that in order to be in full communion with Christ, one must first “love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength,” and not forget to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:30-31).

The sign of peace: The ancient roots of the greeting we make at Mass

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According to the National Catholic Register this was something that came up pretty early in Pope Benedict XVI's pontificate

Concerns about the sign of peace were regularly raised during the scheduled synodal interventions and small group discussions. As a possible remedy, some bishops suggested the rite be moved to just before the Presentation of the Gifts, as practiced by the Eastern liturgies and the Ambrosian rite.

That option was broached in the instrumentum laboris (working document), which was circulated before the synod.

“The sign of peace in its present position in the liturgy of the Mass easily overshadows the fraction rite [the breaking of the bread] and Communion itself,” said Bishop Paul Mandla Khumalo of Witbank, South Africa. “There is among us a strong preference to adapt the usage referred to in the instrumentum laboris in [Proposition] No. 50, for the insertion of this particular rite at the point before the Presentation of Gifts.”

The article goes on to explain that the choir alone exchanging the sign of peace ended a while ago (which makes sense since there's not much of a choir outside of monasteries) and some other older practices.

So the place that the Bishops who wanted to move it (not necessarily Pope Benedict XVI according to the article) was where it is in some other rites, which is understandable. And one of the reason for not doing it is simply because there's no precedent for mashing together rites; even if the timing is a little hard to justify where it is in the Mass.

Many more traditional minded priests just skip it - and it seemed to be universally skipped at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, highlighting to many people that it's not a necessary part of the liturgy.

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