In response to a worldwide consultation requested by Pope Benedict XVI, the U.S. Bishops have recommended moving the sign of peace from its present location just before Communion to an earlier point in the Mass – after the scripture readings and before the offertory, or the presentation of gifts.
– John L. Allen Jr., National Catholic Reporter. Read the full story here.
This front-page story jumped out at me as I brought this week’s NCR into the apartment, and I grumbled, “why are they trying to change the way we’ve always done it?” Meaning, of course, the way I’ve always done it. So now I’ve officially become one of those Grumpy Old Catholics. Or maybe this is the beginning of Grumpy Old Catholics: the Next Generation. In any case, I’m feeling very resistant to the idea of changing the liturgical norms I’ve grown up with.
But it’s not a simple matter of wanting things to stay the same just for the sake of familiarity. The liturgical tug-of-war currently going on in the Church is about what kind of Sacramental experience we bring to, and take from, the Mass. And the Sacraments, the point at which life and metaphor intersect, are key to how we as Catholics experience our Faith.
This strikes me as just the latest version of an ideological division in how Catholics view (ironically) the Sacrament of Communion. I call it (somewhat simplistically) “Eucharist” versus “Communion” — where Eucharist focuses on the outward signs of the Sacrament, while Communion looks more to the meaning behind it. Eucharist wants to worship Christ present in the gifts on the altar; Communion prefers Christ present within the community.
I heard once of a small monastery of contemplative Franciscans (I forget where, or who they are) who would spend about half their day in Eucharistic Adoration, then spend the rest of the day in the streets of the city attending to the needs of Christ in the poorest and neediest of the homeless population. And it seems to me that they understand better than most of us how the one part of the Sacrament feeds the other.
Which is why, ultimately, I would hope to see the sign of peace remain where it is. Because the ideological divide I describe is false; it breaks apart what ought to be united. So it seems to me good and proper that, in the middle of our celebration of Eucharist we pause to recognize our Communion.