The Mass-What is Optional and What Is Not
Hattips to Rich Leonardi at Ten Reasons and Father Z at What Does The Prayer Really Say. They brought to my attention the comments of Monsignor Joseph Schaedel, vicar general of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis to his parishioners at Holy Rosary Church after the Monsignor dropped the Sign of Peace at the Mass. I find the Monsignor’s comments heartening, as I suspect will other Catholics in this country who have wondered “What next!” as they have sat through the numerous changes foisted upon the Mass over the past four decades. Here are the comments with Father Z’s “color commentary” in red.
“Some people have asked me about the Sign of Peace. They note that in most cases we omit the line, “Let us offer each other the Sign of Peace … ” during Masses in the Ordinary Form. Dozens of people have thanked for me this. One person inquired as to why. No one complained. And, the fact is that everyone is always free to “offer the Sign of Peace” to their neighbor. [I haven’t met many people who really like the Sign of Peace. Many really don’t like and most just tolerate it.]
Here is the “why” part: Like many things in the celebration of Mass in the Ordinary Form, the Sign of Peace is optional. Several things are optional in “the English Mass.” Other optional thingsare the ringing of the bells by the altar servers, the use of the paten at Holy Communion, girls serving as altar servers, the priest facing the congregation, extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion, even using a language other than Latin. [Excellent!]
All of these things — and even more — are optional. They always have been. Yet, as we all know, some of these things have been pushed down our throats as if they had been the dying wishes of Christ written down by an apostolic liturgy committee on Calvary. [LOL!] Not so! And our current Holy Father, Benedict XVI, is finally helping us sort these things out.
From the beginning of the renewal of the Sacred Liturgy, some people have simply never liked the Sign of Peace — or at least the Sign of Peace where it was placed during Mass. It’s a grand thought: making peace with our neighbors before we approach the altar for Holy Communion. Yet, too often it turns into a free-for-all disturbing the solemnity of the moments just before receiving Holy Communion. Some people resemble politicians in heat prior to Election Day.
A few people object to the Sign of Peace for health reasons. They watch their fellow worshippers cough or blow noses into their hands during Mass; then offer the same hands to shake at the Sign of Peace. In some places, where a flu or virus epidemic has been rampant diocesan officials have asked priests to eliminate the Sign of Peace for obvious reasons until health officials gave the green light.
Personally, I don’t have strong feelings one way or the other. [I do. GET RID OF IT.] When I learned how to offer Mass in the seminary, we were taught to offer the Sign of Peace. No big deal. However, over the years, I began to see how it could get out of hand. I also began to omit it at daily Masses when the crowd was sparse and spread all over. If they were so interested in offering a sign of peace or friendship to another, I reasoned that they should have been willing to sit within twenty feet of one another.
At the moment, the whole concept of the Sign of Peace and if or where it should be situated during the Mass is under study at the Vatican. They will likely make a revision. So, I thought: Heck, if the pope is not sure where and when it should be part of the Mass, who am I to worry about it?
If the priest-celebrant does not say, “Let us offer each other the Sign of Peace,” feel free to offer that sign of peace to those around you if you wish. No one says you cannot. If this causes you undue anxiety, sleepless nights, or a loss of Faith, I know a couple good therapists.
I feel sorry for those reading this pastor’s letter who expected a theological treatise on the true meaning of Christmas and the Incarnation. No, it’s just the usual ramblings of the old monsignor at the Italian Parish. Please excuse his attempts at being witty. And, yes, he does have a serious thought from time to time.”