Last Week I published Bishop Kenan’s statement on practices accepted and prohibited during mass. I received this question on my Google+ account (+FrRobertCarr):
Thank you for your question. One of the problems with posting an article like this is that it can be out of context. What the bishop is addressing is something that is experienced in some places and not in others. He is addressing his own diocese specifically located just north of the Tropic of Capricorn. It is not what you practice during the sign of peace.
In some places, the sign of peace becomes a kind of party atmosphere during mass. What happens is everyone gets out of their seat and greets everyone else in the church, or they shake hands with certain friends and family members seated elsewhere in the congregation.
Another practice, to which the bishop alludes is for people to get out of their seat at a special event and go forward to congratulate: the bride and groom at a marriage ceremony, the confirmandi at a confirmation, the first communion children at that mass, or give condolences at a funeral. This changes the whole atmosphere of the mass and turns it from a solemn occasion to a party atmosphere. When the priest joins in, it just adds to the reality.
Some parishes and ministries actually ban the sign of peace during special events, exactly for this reason.
This is not what you and your children are doing. What you are doing is well within the rubrics and is really living the spirit of this practice.
The actual reason for the sign of peace comes from Christ’s admonition to make peace with your brothers and sisters in Christ prior to approaching the altar. (Mt 5:23-24) It becomes a real challenge when you are seated near someone with whom you are having a dispute. That is when the sign of peace is most pertinent.
The issues presented by the bishop, although known here in North America as well, are less common, especially in the Northeast where I live (New England), where people are more reserved and generally do not practice what the bishop has called to stop. In fact, during flu season, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) requests that the practice of shaking hands be stopped altogether.