The Sign of Peace

Question: Where in official documents does it say that priests should not walk down the aisle during Mass offering the Sign of Peace to all the people at the ends of the pews? Both our priests do this, and it is very distracting. One of them even gives high fives.

I read somewhere that the pope may soon move the Sign of Peace to the offertory. Can you comment on this?

-- Name and address withheld

Answer: The 2002 General Instruction of the Roman Missal states as follows: "The priest may give the sign of peace to the ministers but always remains within the sanctuary, so as not to disturb the celebration."

However, "in the dioceses of the United States of America, for a good reason, on special occasions (for example, in the case of a funeral, a wedding or when civic leaders are present) the priest may offer the sign of peace to a few of the faithful near the sanctuary" (No. 154).

The key principle here is that the Sign of Peace not "disturb" the celebration of the liturgy, and that it not take on a disproportionate place in the liturgy or become an occasion for extended visiting among ministers and people.

While I myself have never walked down the aisle passing on the Sign of Peace, I have observed the disruptive effect doing so has upon the congregation. I shudder at the thought of priests giving high fives to members of the congregation.

The Catholic news media have reported that Pope Benedict XVI is seeking the opinion of the world's episcopal conferences on the desirability of moving the Sign of Peace to a position after the Prayers of Intercession and before the presentation of the gifts.

This move would have history on its side as many rites (both Catholic and Protestant) have the Sign of Peace in this position.

Most liturgists would favor this move, and my understanding is that a majority of the U.S. bishops would, too.

I'm not losing any sleep over the matter, but my fear is that a Sign of Peace at this point would lend itself to even greater distraction and mayhem, as there would be nothing to bring it to an end and it might encourage visiting all the way into the collection and the presentation of the gifts. As a result, the priest might be forced to "shhh" the congregation, and that would not be nice.

Baptizing the unborn

Question: At Sunday Mass recently, one of our parish priests announced that we would be having a special service soon to include the baptism of the unborn. Is this something new in the theology of the Catholic Church?

-- Name and address withheld

Answer: I never heard of such a thing. For baptism, it is necessary to have physical access to a living person.

There is no such thing as a general baptism of the unborn. Perhaps your priest did not express himself well or you misheard his real intentions.

What the Church does do is provide a number of Orders for the Blessing of a Mother before Childbirth and after Childbirth, as well as an Order for the Blessing of Parents after a Miscarriage.

Recently, the U.S. bishops approved (subject to recognition by the Holy See) a new Order for the Blessing of a Child in the Womb.

This blessing was prepared by the U.S. bishops' Committee on Pro-Life Activities to support parents awaiting the birth of their child, to encourage, especially in parish settings, prayers for and recognition of the precious gift of the child in the womb, and to foster respect for human life in society generally.

Msgr. M. Francis Mannion is a priest and theologian of the Diocese of Salt Lake City. Send your questions to Pastoral Answers, Our Sunday Visitor, 200 Noll Plaza, Huntington, IN 46750 or to Letters must be signed, but anonymity may be requested.