There is probably no part of the Mass that causes more consternation than the sign of peace. From the glad-handers to the germophobes, there is no shortage in diversity of opinions on what to do during this time in the Mass.
Traditionally, this ritual is ascribed to Matthew 5: 23 – 24.
So if you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first and be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.
This ancient tradition dates back to the 2nd century writings of Justin Martyr, which was then symbolized with a kiss. However, it fell into disuse until Vatican II when it was revived as an optional practice. Key word here: optional. It should not become a free-for-all meet-and-greet, and no one should feel pressured to participate. Yet, the verse from Matthew makes it seem integral.
What’s the deal?
Matthew writes about making peace before offering your gift. Conversely, the sign of peace in the Mass comes well after the gifts have been prepared and brought to the altar. Accordingly, the sign of peace ritual is not about making peace with one another; presumably we have already done that. Rather, it is an expression that we are at peace with one another.
The sign of peace is not about undertaking some action to prepare ourselves to receive Jesus in the Eucharist. Simply, it is an acknowledgement of the peace, communion, and charity that should already exist among the faithful. So however your sign of peace manifests itself — a head nod, smile, V sign, handshake, or kiss — may the peace of the Lord be with you always.