Kissing at the Sign of Peace

And More on English Translations

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ROME, AUG. 28, 2012 ( Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.

Q: My fiancée and I have noticed married couples who, at the sign of peace, give each other a kiss on the cheek rather than a handshake. My fiancée likes the idea as a special sign between couples. Is this encouraged or prohibited? My only concern is that it could be an exclusive greeting (one which I would not share with others) when the sign of peace is supposed to be something you share with all others around you. — N.M., Canberra, Australia

A: The rules are very open with regard to the means of making the sign of peace. The General Instruction of the Roman Missal, in No. 82, says:

«The Rite of Peace follows, by which the Church asks for 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 sign of peace to be given, the manner is to be established by Conferences of Bishops in accordance with the culture and customs of the peoples. It is, however, appropriate that each person offer the sign of peace only to those who are nearest and in a sober manner.»

To this the instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum added further specifications:

«72. It is appropriate ‘that each one give the sign of peace only to those who are nearest and in a sober manner.’ ‘The Priest may give the sign of peace to the ministers but always remains within the sanctuary, so as not to disturb the celebration. He does likewise if for a just reason he wishes to extend the sign of peace to some few of the faithful.’ ‘As regards the sign to be exchanged, the manner is to be established by the Conference of Bishops in accordance with the dispositions and customs of the people,’ and their acts are subject to the recognitio of the Apostolic See.»

Benedict XVI in his apostolic exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis made the following reflections in the light of the 2005 Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist:

«The sign of peace

«49. By its nature the Eucharist is the sacrament of peace. At Mass this dimension of the eucharistic mystery finds specific expression in the sign of peace. Certainly this sign has great value (cf. Jn 14:27). In our times, fraught with fear and conflict, this gesture has become particularly eloquent, as the Church has become increasingly conscious of her responsibility to pray insistently for the gift of peace and unity for herself and for the whole human family. Certainly there is an irrepressible desire for peace present in every heart. The Church gives voice to the hope for peace and reconciliation rising up from every man and woman of good will, directing it towards the one who ‘is our peace’ (Eph 2:14) and who can bring peace to individuals and peoples when all human efforts fail. We can thus understand the emotion so often felt during the sign of peace at a liturgical celebration. Even so, during the Synod of Bishops there was discussion about the appropriateness of greater restraint in this gesture, which can be exaggerated and cause a certain distraction in the assembly just before the reception of Communion. It should be kept in mind that nothing is lost when the sign of peace is marked by a sobriety which preserves the proper spirit of the celebration, as, for example, when it is restricted to one’s immediate neighbors.»

After the synod there was some discussion and widespread consultation on the possibility of changing the moment of the sign of peace. The overall results were inconclusive but with a general tendency recommending keeping the traditional position before communion.

Keeping in mind the above documents we can say the following:

— If the bishops’ conference has legislated regarding the form of carrying out the sign of peace, and this legislation has received Roman recognition, then this form is obligatory.

— If the bishops have not legislated, then the sign should be carried out according to local custom, to those nearest, and in a sober manner.

— Local custom can vary. In some countries a bow and a smile is common, in others a handshake, in others joining one’s hands and bowing.

— It could well be argued that in some cultures a brief kiss on the cheek among spouses is a fitting sign of peace while a handshake would be rather formal. Local customs could well tolerate a difference of gestures for immediate family and toward others, with nobody taking offense.

In other words, there is no reason why the gesture has to be universal if local custom readily accepts differences, provided that unnecessary movement and exaggerated gestures are avoided.

* * *

Follow-up: Translating From the English Missal

There were several requests regarding our July 31 column on translating liturgical texts.

A reader from Africa wrote regarding the Liturgy of the Hours: «May I inquire as to the stage reached in the preparation of the breviary with the new English translation? It is already available in Kenya and other English-speaking countries in Africa and is widely used. Why not in the rest of the English-speaking world? Africa seems to be forging ahead while other continents are still far behind with this ‘Olympian’ task.»

Our reader is probably referring to the 2009 edition published by the Pauline Sisters. This is less a new translation of the Liturgy of the Hours than an updated edition. In this sense the calendar of saints corresponds to the latest version of the universal calendar along with specifically African saints. It uses the Revised Grail Psalter which is widely recognized as the best current version of the psalms. The collects, however, are still those of the 1970 translation.

Although recognized by many as the best available edition, it is less useful for those outside Africa since it does not contain European or American particular celebrations.

Also, in English-speaking countries, only the locally approved editions may be used for liturgical use.

Therefore, although this edition will require further updates, it goes to show that the task can be done when there is a will.

Publishers might be reluctant to commit to the task for other markets because, in part, the Holy See wants to add another cycle of readings — but the completion date for this project is unknown.

It would also be a good thing to agree on a common translation for all English-speaking countries, except with respect to the liturgical calendar as has been achieved for the missal. This might be difficult due to copyright laws for scriptural texts.

We can only hope that what has been achieved in Africa will spur on some of the older Churches.

Another reader, from the Philippines, wrote about the collects: «Here in the Manila Archdiocese we are gradually using the Third Edition of the Roman Missal, to be fully implemented in December. In the edition we are using now (the U.S. published version) for the Sunday Masses at the Opening Prayer there are two versions (including an Alternate Version). Attached to the beginning of the Opening Prayer, a suggested prayer theme is given (in square brackets), and then there is a brief pause for silent prayer. The text of the Opening Prayer is then given. But in the Third Edition which we will be using in December no alternate prayer is offered, and the term ‘Collect’ is used rather than ‘Opening Prayer.’ I surmise that the term ‘Collect’ presumes that there have been silent prayers to be collected. But no suggested theme for prayer is offered, and there is no suggestion for a pause before the text of the prayer is given. Is this an oversight of those responsible for the text? Can the presiding celebrant use his prudence to supply what the text does not offer? Is he free to add what is obviously mi

The term «collect» is a correct translation of this prayer from the original Latin edition. It was already used in the 1970s Latin edition and used as such in most translations. In this case the 1970s English translation opted for «Opening Prayer» rather than «Collect.»

In the extraordinary form this prayer is termed quite simply oratio. The Paul VI missal adopted the term collecta which was used in 10th-century Rome. It is not clear if this term originally meant the prayer which gathers the particular petitions of the faithful (from colligere, to gather) or the prayer said before the assembled community (collecta) before beginning a procession toward the church where Mass was to be celebrated.

The moment of silence is still present even though the rubric is not repeated each and every time. The General Introduction to the Roman Missal, No. 54, is quite clear:

«The Collect

«Next the priest invites the people to pray. All, together with the priest, observe a brief silence so that they may be conscious of the fact that they are in God’s presence and may formulate their petitions mentally. Then the priest says the prayer which is customarily known as the Collect and through which the character of the celebration is expressed. In accordance with the ancient tradition of the Church, the collect prayer is usually addressed to God the Father, through Christ, in the Holy Spirit, and is concluded with a trinitarian, that is to say the longer ending, in the following manner:

«– If the prayer is directed to the Father: Per Dominum nostrum Iesum Christum Filium tuum, qui tecum vivit et regnat in unitate Spiritus Sancti, Deus, per omnia saecula saeculorum;

«– If it is directed to the Father, but the Son is mentioned at the end: Qui tecum vivit et regnat in unitate Spiritus Sancti, Deus, per omnia saecula saeculorum;

«– If it is directed to the Son: Qui vivis et regnas cum Deo Patre in unitate Spiritus Sancti, Deus, per omnia saecula saeculorum.

«The people, uniting themselves to this entreaty, make the prayer their own with the acclamation Amen.

«There is always only one collect used in a Mass.»

In the «Ordinary of the Mass» the rubric also indicates this saying:

«When this hymn [the Gloria] is concluded, the Priest, with hand joined says: ‘Let us pray.’

«And all pray in silence with the priest for a while.

«Then the Priest, with hands extended, say the collect prayer, at the end of which the people acclaim: ‘Amen.'»

The prayer theme and the alternative Opening Prayer never formed part of the Latin Roman missal. They were original compositions made by the translators of the missal although subsequently approved by the U.S. bishops and the Holy See.

Since these were not used in other English-speaking countries, and some of them were less than perfect as liturgical prayers, they have been dropped from the missal and may no longer be used.

* * *

Readers may send questions to Please put the word «Liturgy» in the subject field. The text should include your initials, your city and your state, province or country. Father McNamara can only answer a small selection of the great number of questions that arrive.

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