Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The Mosh Pit Lunge of Peace: not peaceful

I went to bed last night with a nagging cough.

I woke up today with a worse one, and though I keep wanting to believe that it's just allergies, I suspect that I've caught a mild cold.

Which is no big deal, of course. Except the cough is deep enough to be reminding me of the stupid bronchitis I had all summer; I'm supposed to sing a solo on Sunday (Faure's Pie Jesu) which might very well not happen now, and I'm well aware of the fact that I spent most of last winter drifting from virus to virus. And the winter before. And...

I know, I know. I need to boost my immune system. Trust me, I'm working on that.

But I'm having a little problem right now with a little thing we do each Sunday at Mass known as the Sign of Peace.

I have no problem with exchanging a Sign of Peace in theory. Turning and bowing the head to each neighbor, as is done in some countries, seems to me to be a lovely and symbolic gesture of reconciliation with one's fellow men.

In practice, though, I have two problems with it. One is the awkward location of this liturgical moment, just after the consecration and the Our Father, just before the Agnus Dei and the reception of Holy Communion. Even if the Sign of Peace involved nothing but the mild bow I describe above, it would detract a bit too much, in my laywoman's opinion, from the focus on the presence of our Lord Who is with us Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity in the Holy Eucharist. I think it ought to be moved to the beginning of Mass, especially if it involved the polite bowing thing.

But that brings me to problem two: here in America there is no mild head bowing, no mere polite gesture toward the two people one is standing closest to. No, the Sign of Peace is more like the Mosh Pit Lunge of Peace, in which people three rows apart will fling themselves across empty pew space (or, worse, across other parishioners) in order to shake hands with every single person they can possible reach in the interlude before the choir starts singing the "Lamb of God."

And heaven help the choir, should they be--as we, alas, are--not secluded in a nice choir loft in the back of the church, but sort of off-to-the-side/frontish (and believe me, we've tried to figure out a way to move, but our tiny mission parish wasn't built to accommodate a choir and we barely fit where we are). Lately it has seemed like an unofficial Wandering Contagion Committee made up of people who themselves or whose children are noticeably, demonstrably, palpably ill with nasty colds has formed a rotating schedule to a) sit as close to the choir as possible and b) leap across the aisle to shake hands with each and every choir member, even though we're getting ready to sing that Agnus Dei and sort of need to be paying attention just then. It's as though a group of people got together and decided, "Hey! The choir's being standoffish! Do you notice that they almost never leave their seats and go looking for people to shake hands with--they just stand there, acknowledge each other with a smile or so, and then turn to look at the director! They're missing out on the whole Great Mosh Pit Lunge of Peace--we have to help them feel included!

Do us a favor, O Fellow Parishioners: don't.come.over.and.shake.our.hands.

If there are one or two excessively friendly, excessively hand-shakey choir members (and there might be; I'm just saying) they will come to you. They will also jump and hurry back to their places as the music for the "Lamb of God" starts--but that's their business. Some of us like to be standing with music open and ready so we can come in strong on the first note.

And if you are sick, or your sweet children (and I mean that) are blowing their noses and coughing all through Mass as you help them with Kleenex (tm) or your sleeve or the back of your hand, please, please, please don't lunge across the aisle to shake hands because you think the choir's being standoffish, or out of habit, or whatever. My voice is my instrument, and a cold "breaks" it for at least a week. We only have three sopranos (one of whom is not available every Sunday); if you share too many illnesses with the singers you could easily wipe out a whole section of our little choir.

Of course, if you or your children are sick, you shouldn't be shaking anybody's hands at Mass. Jimmy Akin has been saying so for years, and I totally agree. The elderly, the medically fragile, the very young should be our primary concern; the Mosh Pit Lunge of Peace doesn't take precedence over simple charity.

Now, I know that readers are probably dying to point out to me that I shouldn't assume I've picked up this most recent bug at Mass. It is cold and flu season, after all, and I could just as easily have acquired my most recent mild virus just about anywhere--the grocery store, any other place where I've run errands, family gatherings, etc. True enough.

But when I find myself tensing as the Sign of Peace approaches at Mass, when I find myself reaching (discreetly or otherwise) for hand sanitizer after shaking hands with somebody who has stopped coughing into his hand just long enough to shove that hand in my direction, when I find myself thinking vastly non-peaceful and uncharitable thoughts in the very moment of all moments when I should be trying my hardest to be focused on our Lord, all I can do is admit my own weakness and the fact that the Sign of Peace itself has, ironically enough, become a near occasion of sin for me.

And I'm sure that's not what the Church has ever wanted it to be.


Anonymous said...

Oh how I would love if they could get rid of that part somehow. It's awful in the winter, and I'm sure everyone is grossed out by it.

I use hand sanitizer all through Mass. I try to be discreet, but if people see me, so be it.

The best thing you can do is just try to keep your hands away from your face and wash them right after!

Ann Marie

MightyMighty said...

I hate the way sick people will sit in the cry room. Umm....hmmm, let's go put your pneumonia germs on an infant with no immune system!

Tony said...

it would detract a bit too much, in my laywoman's opinion, from the focus on the presence of our Lord Who is with us Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity in the Holy Eucharist.

Don't you realize Jesus is present in the gathered congregation too!?!?


And I'm sure that's not what the Church has ever wanted it to be.

It used to be called the "kiss of peace". Want to go back to that? :)

We all have our little distractions, don't we. I guess we all have to work a little harder on our concentration skills and increase our active participation in the mass.

t e whalen said...

Wow, take this one up with the early Church fathers, as it's been around for a long long time. c.f.

Red Cardigan said...

Really, Tony? We should just suck it up, eh? I just emailed my choir director to cancel my planned solo--but hey, I'm sure there's a Haugen/Haas ditty that will be just as nice as Faure's Pie Jesu for the first Sunday in November, right?

And t e whalen, the practice of the congregation actually kissing each other (at a time when men and women sat separately, and when each person kissed the person next to him/her--not three aisles over!) appears to have died out around the 12 century by the informative article you sent. So, with nearly eight centuries of the congregation not doing *anything* "kiss of peace" related, suddenly we're supposed to embrace a congregational free-for-all in which people three rows back dive forward to shake the hands of ten or fifteen people each?

I started running a fever after I posted this yesterday. I'm going back to bed.

The Sicilian said...

I'm with Ann Marie. Several times I've moved away from those I've seen sneezing or coughing, to avoid getting fresh cooties.

As a child, old enough to stand away from my mother at Mass, I'd purposely stand by the door and exit when it was handshake time and re-enter a couple minutes later. I'm fine with turning to my fellow laity and say, "Peace..." as an alternative.

The pastor of my parents'church, who is a traditionalist at heart, has omitted the handshake. He'll say, "May the peace of Christ be with you," the congregation responds, "And also with you," and the he goes directly into the "Lamb of God." Perfect.

Nice new photo, Erin. Although being a cat lover, I do kind of miss seeing Emmett. :-) Hope you are feeling better!

JMB said...

I don't care anymore about offending people, I just nod and smile and say peace and I don't extend my hand. I attend daily mass often with senior citizens and very few shake hands. So I've gotten out of the habit on doing it on Sundays.

Kathy said...

Oh my goodness, if You don't shake people's hands at the sign of peace they might think You aren't nice and therefore not a good Christian. I gave up shaking people's hands after they would insist ABSOLUTELY insist on shaking my frightened daughter's hand. She was not capable of the cute little kid handshake and smile some adults require of the little ones. Our entire family now nods politely and that's it !