The Sign of Peace is a very important piece of the Mass, but I think it is misunderstood.* At its best it is a chance to express exactly what it is: the peace of the Lord. At its worst, I have seen it more closely resemble a cocktail hour with lengthy and loud conversation, and people on a mission to shake the hand of everyone within their reach. This is on my mind because the Sign of Peace made an appearance today in the Office of the Readings:
"On the Lord’s day, when you have been gathered together, break bread and celebrate the Eucharist. But first confess your sins so that your offering may be pure. If anyone has a quarrel with his neighbor, that person should not join you until he has been reconciled. Your sacrifice must not be defiled. In this regard, the Lord has said: In every place and time offer me a pure sacrifice."
This passage comes from the Didache, a collection of writings that dates from the early 1st century. The Didache, which means "teaching," is the earliest example of a catechism that we have. This ancient document ties peace with each other to the issue of whether or not the sacrifice we offer to God us pure. So the Sign of Peace is a symbolic but deeply important gesture. We don't go around the church to offer the Sign of Peace to everyone to ensure our offering is pure, but we should examine our hearts each time we offer the Sign of Peace to our neighbor and ask "Is there anyone I know to whom I could not extend some sign of peace if they were standing next to me?" Perhaps there's someone who betrayed you, or perhaps political parties or leaders have let you down. Can you find it in your heart to extend to that person the Peace of the Lord? The sacrifice we offer to the Father is at stake. That's what the Sign of Peace is all about.
*This is one of those blogs that especially qualifies as "Deacon Brian's opinion." Please don't crucify me if you happen to love the Sign of Peace.