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The Forth in Praise Organists' Blog

The personal views of a Catholic parish organist

August 1, 2014

The Sign of … well, Tension, mainly.

evelyn @ 8:40 pm

Apparently the Vatican has been reconsidering the Sign of Peace, both its placing in the liturgy, and how far it should go, in every sense.

The Sign of Peace has never been my favourite part of the post-Vatican II Mass. Sometimes a priest will come down and shake hands with all and sundry, while at other times he’ll content himself with greeting the altar servers. Among the people, the sign in question can vary from the newly-weds’ Smooch of Peace, through the friendly Bear-hug of Peace and the assertive bone-cracking Grip of Peace to the distant and barely-touching Slither of Peace.

My husband finds the custom a complete embarrassment and loathes it far more than I do. Though not Catholic himself, he accompanies me to Mass a lot, especially when we’re on holiday. In one dark medieval French church, he managed to find a pillar near the door, behind which he planned to dodge at this point in the Mass. It was no good. The priest got his large squad of altar servers to fan out and target every single person in the congregation. Forced out of his hiding-place, my poor husband had to shake hand after hand, all the time muttering something which might or might not have been French.

Organists have to be on major alert at the Sign of Peace. The Agnus Dei follows it immediately, so you have to watch like a hawk for the Fraction (breaking) of the Host, which is the Agnus signal. If the priest leaves the altar to shake hands with people, you have to keep him in view constantly. At the same time you have to fend off people trying to pull your own hand off the keys in order to shake it. Sometimes you even have to hiss ‘Get out of the way!’ to those who decide to shake hands or embrace across your bows, blocking your view of where the priest has got to.

No, the Sign of Peace for the organist is anything but peaceful. Rather, it is one of the biggest tension-creating moments in any service.

You can read more about the Vatican’s plans on Father Z’s blog, while my very favourite blogger, Eccles, has some hilarious observations to make here.

In the meantime, I’m thinking of creating a notice for my own organ, to be brandished at the ‘Let us offer each other …’ moment:



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