At Christmas time, we typically see lots of people at Mass who aren’t regular church-goers.  It’s nice for them to come. I pray that the Lord touch their hearts and bless them abundantly.

Some of these good people are not totally familiar with the parts of the Mass, the prayers or the hymns.  That’s perfectly understandable since they don’t come often.  But they excel at one thing: they aren’t afraid to shake your hand when it’s time to exchange a sign of peace.

Sadly, the easiest way to distinguish the “regular” church-goers from those that come less frequently is that the regulars are scared to touch anybody.  Now tell me, dear reader, how are we supposed to make our parishes warm and welcoming when nobody touches anybody with a 10-foot pole? Do you think we have a winning image here?

What “vibe” do you think a newcomer feels when he offers his hand to somebody for a shake but the other person dares not give their hand in return?  I personally find it a horrible feeling, even though I know to expect it. But at least I know the context: it’s the whole “hygiene” thing. I know I shouldn’t take it personally. I can’t imagine how a newcomer that doesn’t know the context feels, but I don’t think they are particularly impressed. You see, in secular affairs (like at work, at the gym or the local pub) people shake hands all the time.  It’s a normal sign of courtesy in our culture.  The fact that we fail to do so in church is pathetic. Would you hold back your hand from a colleague at work who wants to give you a shake?  You’ll come across as a weirdo, I guarantee you.  Or maybe try it at your next job interview (good luck with that). So why do it among the people of God, where we are particularly called to grow into a loving community and family?

Remember Jesus’ phrase: They’ll know you are my disciples by the love you have for one another. Gee, I can’t imagine he’s too enthused that we won’t even shake each other’s hand.  These days, it’s more like They’ll know you are my disciples by your cadaverous stiffness.

The whole hygiene thing is blown way out of proportion. There’s no need to get paranoid about getting sick, even if you’re old and frail.

Only a person who is sick should refrain from shaking people’s hands.  They are the ones that should hold back at of respect for others. But the rest of the congregation shouldn’t be afraid.  If you want to keep you winter gloves on while you shake my hand, please do it.  I’d rather shake your mitten then nothing at all.  Or maybe bring some surgical gloves to Mass.  Or just use a bit of hand sanitizer during the Lamb of God to wipe off any potential microbes.

But please, don’t be a wet blanket. We’re giving the Church a bad name. It’s like anti-evangelization.  No matter how much somebody smiles at me while they reject my hand, they still can’t undo the negative vibe projected by their body language.

For the love of God and of neighbour, please shake my hand.

3 Responses to “Somebody, please, shake my hand!”
  1. Young Canadian RC Male says:

    Steve G. While normally I respond to Pacheco’s posts, yours was quite interesting. Being in health care where one of the possible disciplines I can work in is clinical microbiology, I see these little buggers as instant death and it scares me. Also some conservative/traditional sources or forums on the web tend to look with disdain on the sign of peace (either move it or don’t do it at all because it was one of those “implementations” of Vatican II’s “spontanieously manufactured product” of Bugini’s Mass cough … Voris … cough). With those ideas in mind I started recently to refrain from shaking hands with others.

    Now that you’ve mentioned it, and that I’ve also heard about the New Evangelization, I’ll definitely change my tune and shake hands with people around me.

  2. Steve G says:

    Thanks for the comment. I used to be more preoccupied with microbes when I was younger,but I realized that I was exaggerating and the chances of getting infected from someone who wasn’t displaying any symptoms was negligible and insignificant.

    While the old Latin Mass may not have had an exchange of a sign of peace, the current Mass does. As such, I feel we should do it properly and not send chills down people’s spine with the refusal to extend a hand. It’s so sad that our congregations are cold and impersonal.

    Of course, Mass is not a social gathering. It is a time of worship and intercession, so we shouldn’t be forcing social dynamics into the Mass. But there could certainly be efforts made for more social gatherings and community building after Mass, in the church hall (not in the body of the church which is a place of prayer).

  3. Leonard says:

    You are 256% right! I still remember how the sign of peace made me feel welcome in the Church on the day I had come to a Catholic Church for the first time in my life. I was praying for the Lord to give me a sign that would make it clear that I should have been there (and, looking back at that day I realize that I must have been praying for some 40 minutes or so) and then suddenly people around me rush to shake my hand – as if in response to my prayer (or maybe not “as if”). I wouldn’t say that this moment sealed my fate but it sure was quite a positive feedback that encouraged me to proceed down the inquirer’s path.

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