who started this unwise practice?

Dear Father,

It is universally accepted that the "sign of peace" after the Our Father at Mass is a handshake. This recent occurrence shows why I object. The teen-ager next to me kept wiping her runny nose on her hand, the elderly gentleman in front of me adjusted his dentures frequently and the women behind me continually coughed into her hand (I offered her a cough drop, she refused saying her cough was because of asthma). At the "sign of peace" they all offered their hand. I felt boorish not shaking their hands and they looked offended. Can't it be announced from the pulpit that a nod and a smile will do? I have to deal with the welling up of feelings of anger and resentment at those who started this unwise practice at every Mass I attend.

What do you advise in this matter?



Dear Anna,

Sorry I am slow getting back. I don't know the answer except to say, yes, a nod and a smile will do. Asians do that very nicely. When I was in Peru, the Aymara Indians had a more formalized greeting where one person would reach out and lightly touch the sides of the other person's arms, along with a slight bow. I think they may have picked up the gesture from the way priests & deacons gave each other the sign of peace in the old liturgy.

It seems to me the problem is similar to other social situations where a person might feel obliged to shake hands all around. When I was young, I was taught not to reach out to shake a lady's hand unless she first offered it - and of course to respect anyone who, for whatever reason, does not offer their hand. About dealing with all this in the pulpit, each pastor would have to evaluate. I have mentioned that during the sign of peace people need to be sensitive to those who are reticent to shake hands. It seems to me just basic manners to respect other folks' boundaries. And we need to keep in mind the deeper meaning of the sign of peace - it is not so much a social occasion as a recognition that only communion with Jesus can bring the peace we desire.

Hang in there, Anna. Others will learn to respect your boundaries - and perhaps learn from you. God bless you.

Fr. Bloom

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