Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of March 26, 2001
Must we shake hands before Mass?
By SR. LOUISE ZDUNICH, NDC
I am tired of the meaningless handshake greeting we go through every Sunday before Mass. What good does it do? It certainly doesn't make anyone feel more welcome.
I am inclined to agree with you. A perfunctory handshake doesn't mean very much. If that had been the custom when we were still rural communities, it would have been fine as a greeting to people we already knew well.
But today, we have many people who come to church every Sunday but never get to know anyone with whom they worship. Yet we proclaim that we are the body of Christ but a strange body we make if we don't ever communicate. If one part of our physical body were a stranger to another part, they wouldn't function together very well.
I know that something special happens when we are together in God's presence especially during the Eucharistic celebration that makes us one in Christ. We've experienced that in a most profound way when we join with others in making a silent eight or 30-day retreat.
But it seems to me that if we truly gather as a community to celebrate Christ, we need to get to know one another and become truly that body of Christ visible to the world. People would feel so welcome in the house of God that we wouldn't have the dubious distinction of dropping out a greater rate than other Christians.
I would say that being welcoming to one another has taken on an even greater importance at this time when parishes are being amalgamated. If we truly want to make people feel welcome, then we have to be creative enough to find ways of doing this.
When you go to a large dinner gathering, it is usually preceded by a cocktail hour. One reason for this custom is that people can mingle and greet many people because at the table you're restricted to spending the evening with only a few.
If you went to a dinner but did not know the others attending and no one approached you to greet you, how would you feel? Certainly, you would not want to join that group again.
I would like to suggest one simple way of making the handshake more meaningful, although it is not, by any means, the only way, I call this "the cocktail minute." In the time preceding the Mass, instead of a handshake with many people you already know, greet one or two people you've never met before and spend a minute or so getting to know them a bit.
If there is any type of social after Mass (or a later time), invite those persons to join you and get to now them better.
I know some people will object to talking before the Blessed Sacrament but we do that already with our handshake. And surely, our triune God who created us for relationships would be honoured and glorified by our doing that.
It's true some churches have large entrances, so people can get to know one another there. But many of our churches don't have a suitable place. Besides, only those who have become comfortable with a few other parishioners will linger in the entrance to greet others.
Yes, we could save that kind of activity for socials in the parish hall. But would you come to a social if you didn't know anybody? Look around you at social functions and you'll see the usual crowd there, those that have been around a long time and know many others in the parish.
This wouldn't necessarily create a disturbance, as the announcement could be make a minute or so before the Mass and then the first chord of the entrance song would put people into a truly joyful prayer mood. I've had people tell me that they notice how much more lively and joyful the singing is after the greeting of peace.
Catholics who have attended services in other Christian churches have made comments such as: "When I go to this church, I'm made welcome and I feel part of it while after an hour at Mass, I feel isolated and alone rather than a member of the community."
Paul tells us: "You must share with others and make hospitality your special care" (Romans 12:13) and 1 Peter 4:9 says "Welcome each other into your houses without complaining."
Remember, the early Eucharist was celebrated in homes with a meal. So let's be creative in developing ways to follow Jesus' example and Paul's admonition of hospitality and care for one another.