The Sign of Peace
Question: Why do Catholics give the sign of peace to one another at Mass?
Answer: The sign of peace is a part of the Mass that takes place immediately after we offer the Lord’s Prayer. Inspired by the Jesus’ words to his first followers, we stand together in a spirit of communion to pray as Jesus taught us: “Our Father who art in heaven…” In this prayer, we call for the coming of God’s kingdom in all its fullness and ask that God provides for our needs — “Give us, this day, our daily bread” — to forgive our sins and to bring us to the joy of heaven.
It is almost natural, then, that the rite of peace would follow. As the celebrant prays that Christ’s peace will fill our hearts, our communities, the Church, and the whole world, we extend to those around us a sign of peace (usually a hug or a handshake) as a symbol of the communion that we experience now and will experience forever in the fullness of the reign of God.
We are also reminded of Jesus’ teachings that if we are at prayer and remember that a brother or sister is holding something against us, then we are to go and seek reconciliation with them before we continue our prayer (see Matthew 5:23). And so, the sign of peace also reminds us of the need to truly be in communion — united in love and peace — with God and one another before we approach the altar to receive the Eucharist.
So, the next time you’re at Mass and the time comes for the sign of peace, remember that this is a moment to celebrate the gift of Christ’s peace that each of us has received from God and to pass that peace along to those around us. We need this moment to practice, because this is also the same peace of Christ that we are instructed to carry out into the world at the end of Mass when the priest or deacon says to us, “Go, in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life.”