The custom of exchanging the greeting of peace at Mass is found in the words of St Augustine in the 4th century: “After the Lord’s Prayer, say ‘Peace be with you.’ Christians then embrace one another with a holy kiss. This is the sign of peace.”
In the primitive church at Rome and in the Eastern Church, the kiss of peace was offered after the first part of the Mass and before the Eucharistic Prayer. Early baptismal documents also indicate that the exchange of peace was reserved only for the ‘faithful,’ and so catechumens were dismissed before the Prayer of the Faithful, which was followed by the Kiss of Peace. In the Western Church the sign of peace was moved quite early to where it is as Augustine described it and where it is today. The Western Church saw a close link between peace and communion–peace with one another before receiving the Prince of Peace.In the Middle Ages the laity were excluded from the sign of peace and it was then dropped altogether from the Mass; the only remnant of the rite was the action of the priest kissing the altar Vatican II restored the ancient rite of peace to all who participate at Mass.
During one Easter period in 1957, I met the late Archbishop Justin Simonds coming out of the sacristy at St Mary’s church, West Melbourne. He stopped to speak with me and said: “I heard that the greeting among yourselves is “Peace be with you”. The Archbishop commented that it was a wonderful greeting and should be used among all Christians. He also said that he would be going to Rome for the ‘ad limina’ visit and would suggest the idea to Pope Pius XII.
On his return from Rome, he told me that the Pope liked the idea very much. It may seem presumptuous that this idea came directly from the SDC but is it possible that this suggestion to the Pope by Archbishop Simonds may have assisted in the re-introduction of this greeting into the Liturgy.
Maurice Mifsud SDC Hobart