Sign of peace and the flu season

Sir, – In the last few weeks, there have been different directives by bishops in Ireland in relation to the issue of some parishioners shaking hands during the sign of peace during the serious outbreak of influenza. What concerns me is that there appears to be an understanding that the sign of peace is now being omitted from the Mass, which should not be the case, and will lead to confusion across parishes and diocese.

The sign of peace is embedded into the Mass as "the Rite of Peace, by which the Church entreats peace and unity for herself and for the whole human family, and the faithful express to each other their ecclesial communion and mutual charity before communicating in the Sacrament" (from the General Instruction of the Roman Missal).

What we have implemented in the parish of Saints Peter and Paul’s here in Clonmel, following a directive from Bishop Alphonsus Cullinan of Waterford and Lismore, is to maintain the sign of peace but to refrain from shaking hands at this time. He suggests to use the custom of bowing to the other person, holding up your hand and nodding, saying “peace be with you” or to simply pause and pray for peace. I am happy to report this is working well here!

So while we have discontinued exchanging peace by the shaking of hands at Mass, we have not omitted it from the Mass, as we cannot do this.


I would hope that the Irish Bishops’ Conference could recommend a new local custom for Ireland across all dioceses and parishes be implemented, as “the manner is to be established by the Conference of Bishops in accordance with the culture and customs of the peoples”. We cannot just omit the sign of peace as it is an integral part of the Mass in preparation of ourselves before receiving the Blessed Sacrament.

I’m wondering if those calling for a total ban on shaking hands during the celebration of the Eucharist will also be calling for sports clubs like the GAA and soccer clubs to implement the same restrictions before and after games, or indeed if funeral directors will ask mourns to refrain from shaking hands with the bereaved? Where will it end? – Yours, etc,