I hear different opinions about the Sign of Peace during the Mass.  Some feel that, at the very least, it should not take place where it does because it detracts from the Liturgy of the Eucharist and from Christ’s presence on the altar.  Some complain that it is simply too touchy-feely and people go way overboard with the socializing. 

I can understand these points of view.  At the very least, I would say that as soon the Agnus Dei (Lamb of God) begins, there needs to be silence and focus back up front.  And I feel that, mostly, that is the case at my parish. 

But overall, I find the Sign of Peace to be a good thing.  I find that it is an opportunity to minister to others in a seemingly very small, simple way.  I say “seemingly,” because you just never know when that stranger sitting next to you might really and truly benefit from a smile and a handshake and simple words of kindess:  “Peace be with you.”  And at times, you might be that person in need without fully realizing it until you receive that little bit of kindness.  I remember times when I’ve been feeling lonely, or stressed out, or depressed, or ill, and I either wasn’t really conscious of it or I assumed there was just no help for it–but when a stranger showed that little bit of kindness and connection… it made a huge difference!

I also find that at the Sign of Peace, something within me has changed.  My heart has become softer and more tender toward the people around me.  All during Mass, I might feel distracted and even annoyed by some of the people around me… the horribly off-key singer, the woman with the loud jangly bracelet, the lovey-dovey couple, people who whisper or read the bulletin during the Mass, the person who articulates the prayers in a loud and ostentatious way, anybody who climbs over me in the pew… there is no end of little annoyances in a crowded church!  But when it comes time for the Sign of Peace, those people become people rather than just annoyances.  They become people with warm hands–living people, real people, just like me–and suddenly, I can just overlook any little flaws they might have.  After all, I have my own fair share of them!

Of course, this change, this new surge of love for my fellow man, likely has less to do with the Sign of Peace itself than with the fact that at that point, Christ is really present on the altar, under the Eucharistic species.  I know how His Presence transforms everything.  I know how it transforms me.  But I feel that the Sign of Peace may help us to be more aware of that transformation, that softening of our hearts.

Finally… you just never know when you might be sitting next to a future Saint.  And if I have any opportunity to shake hands with a future Saint, then I’ll take it wherever I can get it!