S is for the sign of peace

Every Sunday, as part of the celebration of Mass, Catholics around the world offer each other the sign of peace. This ritual occurs immediately after the Our Father and before the Lamb of God.

The priest says “Peace be with you.”
The congregation responds, “And, with your spirit.”

This response used to be “And, also with you,” but was changed during the recent update to the Roman Missal that restored the Latin translation of certain key liturgical elements. Even after almost three years, I still have a hard time adjusting to “And, with your spirit.” I like it; it’s just that old habits die hard, and I am not good with change.

In the US, after the response, the congregation turns to one another and shakes hands, saying, “Peace be with you.” If you are at Mass with relatives, you often exchange a kiss. The kiss is a modern visualization of a medieval tradition. In the Middle Ages, the kiss of peace was a symbol of fealty. A vassal would give the kiss of peace to a lord when the lord accepted the vassal’s loyalty. The political kiss of peace and its liturgical equivalent are deeply intertwined. Which came first is a chicken-egg scenario, with most arguing that the medieval political practice has its roots in the Mass.

In India, however, the sign of peace is not given by shaking hands or kissing. Instead, the congregation performs the “namaste” greeting.

Trident chef performing Namaste

A chef at the Trident Easter brunch gives Brian the Namaste greeting.

In Hindi, “namaste” literally means, “I bow to the divine in you.”  Practically, however, the word means hello or goodbye. In the US, many yoga teachers will greet their students with this phrase. In my yoga class in Mumbai, the phrase is used only at the end of the class to dismiss the students.

I chose this topic because so many people ask me about the similarities and differences between the American and Indian liturgies. I could just have easily written about the Indian squat or spices.

Bombay blogger shout-out: If you are interested in learning about the Indian squat, I suggest Bombay Jules’ photo blog on the topic. To learn more about spices and all things culinary, go to Finely Chopped’s finely written blog.

6 thoughts on “S is for the sign of peace

  1. Yes, the namaste peace greeting is used during the mass at our church in Dubai which has a very large Indian congregation. I really enjoy reading your blog especially having visited India. Thanks for taking the time to share!

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  2. I adore namaste as a greeting with a prayerful bow. There are people who I respect and admire that just organically elicit this greeting from me. I believe, Jean, that should we meet on the street or in church, you would be one of them.

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  3. Precious Jean, I just read your blog on India’s versus ours, sign of peace! Really interesting generally, but also because we were their as well! Except I can not remember what happened when Jenn & I were there & we got to 3 Masses! Always worries me when I do not remember something on many levels, especially something as meaningful as this is to me!

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