Q — We have been going to Mass and find it disturbing that the priest has moved the Sign of Peace to just after the Introductory Rites. It is my understanding that according to the GIRM, he doesn’t actually have the authority to change the order of Mass. I asked the priest about this, and he replied that he felt it was better suited at the beginning because when it happens where it is supposed to be, the members of his congregation get out of hand and disrupt the Mass where we should all be focused on Jesus in the Eucharist. Again, my understanding is that it is up to the priest to catechise the faithful about the sign of peace, which is supposed to be reverent and only to the person on either side, because it is Christ’s peace we are offering each other. Also, the priest should not leave the altar, although many other priests ignore this as well. My problem is that my husband doesn’t go to Mass with us because of this. What can I do?

A — The liturgy, and perhaps the Mass in particular, has become something of a battlefield in our time. Some people even speak of “liturgy wars,” a dreadful expression. There is obvious pain behind this question, and so in response I would make the following observations. First, all of us should remember that the rubrics of the Mass are our friends. They exist not so much as a set of rigid rules designed to extinguish all spontaneity and style on the part of the celebrant or the congregation, but rather to enable harmony and concord within the Church. Second, no individual celebrant has the freedom to alter the Order of the Mass, except where the details of the ritual admit of such freedom. Third, the Sign of Peace, strictly speaking, is limited in the ways you suggest. Fourth, it seems to me not a good reason to be absent from the Eucharist “just because of this.” It is important not to lose sight of the Eucharistic forest by focusing too much on individual rubrical trees, as it were. The Eucharist makes the Church, and the Church, Vatican II tells us in the Constitution on the Church, par. 1, is the sacrament of communion with God and with one another.