The practice of “passing the peace” has a long history in the Christian Church. Jesus told his followers, “when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister and then come and offer your gift” (Matt 5:23-24). From Scriptural instruction came the liturgical expression of “Peace be with you”/“And also with you” before coming to the altar to receive communion.
Different faith groups have different ways of greeting one another in the name of the Lord. Sometimes this evolves into expectations that everyone shake hands, or everyone hug. However bodily contact makes some uncomfortable. We are called to be aware of body language and respect one another’s needs. We also need to be mindful of our own and our neighbour’s health. Please signal to the other person how you would like to express the passing of the Peace. Hold out a hand if you would like to shake. Indicate with your words, e.g., “May I give you a hug today?” Wait for the other person to respond before swooping in!
It is perfectly appropriate to offer to share the peace with another person without touching. You may bow to the other or place your hands together as in prayer. No-one- not even the priest- has to individually greet everyone in the congregation. You are not snubbing someone if you do not get to them each week. Perhaps just share a greeting with those near you, unless there is someone you really do need to make peace with. And if there is a day when you feel like just sitting or kneeling quietly while others share the peace, you can hold everyone in prayer and love at this time.
The Passing of the Peace is not the time to catch up on the week’s news or to do business for the parish. It was not created as an interruption to the liturgy but an important transition from the moment when we are absolved of our sins to when we approach the table together to receive Christ’s body and blood. We proclaim that Christ our Peace is with us all.
During this time when the world is very nervous about sharing germs rather than peace, we want to ensure that those who worship with our community feel safe and supported in this expression of faith.