The Kiss of Peace

From this edge of the Anatolian peninsula, a natural bridge between continents, let us implore peace and reconciliation, above all for those dwelling in the Land called “Holy” and considered as such by Christians, Jews and Muslims alike: it is the land of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, destined to be the home of a people that would become a blessing for all the nations (cf. Gen 12:1-3). Peace for all of humanity! May Isaiah’s prophecy soon be fulfilled: “They shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more” (Is 2:4). We all need this universal peace; and the Church is called to be not only the prophetic herald, but even more, the “sign and instrument” of this peace.

Pope Benedict XVI, Homily at Ephesus, 29 November 2006



How is the Church to be the “sign and instrument” of peace? I (Neil) would like to explore this question by looking at how peace is manifested in the Liturgy. Most of what follows will come from an article by the Jesuit scholar Keith Pecklers, published in the most recent East Asian Pastoral Review.

Fr Pecklers begins, properly, with Holy Scripture. He notes for us that, in the Hebrew Bible, shalom, besides being a form of greeting and farewell, meant peace from invasion, hunger, and scarcity. How do we receive such a peace? Pecklers directs our attention to Psalm 122:

For the peace of Jerusalem pray: “May those who love you prosper! May peace be within your ramparts, prosperity within your towers.” For family and friends I say, “May peace be yours.” For the house of the Lord, our God, I pray, “May blessings be yours.”

Earlier this year, Cardinal Walter Kasper, in an exegesis of this psalm, reminded us we must pray for shalom, because decisions for war ultimately “spring from the hearts and minds of men and women,” and “it is in the hearts and minds that conversion and renewal must begin.” But only “God can grant us a new heart, not a heart of stone but a heart of flesh and blood, a compassionate heart.” Shalom must be received as a gift from God – the God who, as Ezekiel prophesies, will make with Israel “a covenant of peace; it will be an everlasting covenant with them” (Ezek 37:26). The Messiah will be the “Prince of Peace” (Is 9:5).

In the New Testament, the gift of peace begins to mean God’s ultimate defeat of sin and sickness. This is peace from the depredations of the Devil. And, so, after forgiving the “sinful woman” who has anointed his feet, Jesus tells her, “Your faith has saved you, go in peace” (Lk 7:50). Jesus triumphs once and for all over the “ruler of the power of the air” and the “spirit that is now at work in the disobedient” on the Cross (Eph 2). As Pope Benedict XVI said in the aforementioned homily, “Inspired by the Holy Spirit, Paul tells us that Jesus Christ has not only brought us peace, but that he is our peace.” When we receive Christ, the “Prince of Peace,” we enter into God’s everlasting “covenant of peace.”

Indeed, the Pope continues, “[Paul] justifies this statement by referring to the mystery of the cross: by shedding ‘his blood,’ by offering in sacrifice ‘his flesh,’ Jesus destroyed hostility ‘in himself’ and created ‘in himself one new man in place of the two’ (Eph 2:14-16).” Christians must live in this peace of Christ, being new men and women reconciled to God and to one another “in Christ,” their hearts decisively changed. And, so, in place of hostility and division, peace must distinguish the life of the Church. The Thessalonians are told, “Be at peace among yourselves” (1 Thess 5:13). Furthermore, this peace is to be extended to all people (the Pope says, “Peace for all of humanity!”). The Romans are told not to seek revenge, but, “If possible, on your part, live at peace with all” (Rom 12:18). We may even say that this gift of peace is to be extended to all creation.

This peace, like I said, is visibly enacted in the Liturgy. Already, writing to the Corinthians, St Paul makes it very clear that the celebration of the Eucharist demands real community. He laments that, in Corinth, “each one goes ahead with his own supper, and one goes hungry while another gets drunk.” Paul suggests that “when you come together to eat, wait for one another” (1 Cor 11: 22, 33). Perhaps a bit more directly, following good Gospel precedent (Mt 5:23-24), the Didache warned that Christians must be reconciled before offering the Eucharist “lest the sacrifice be profaned.” As a symbol of reconciled community, Justin Martyr would write around the year 150 about a ritual kiss exchanged among members of the assembly following the Prayer of the People and before the gifts were brought to the altar. Obviously, then, the Church that would celebrate the Eucharist had to be a church that quite visibly was at peace with itself.

The Kiss of Peace could be counter-cultural. In the Greco-Roman world, kissing was restricted to close friends and family. Thus, the Kiss of Peace, Fr Pecklers says, implied “the sort of intimate link between brothers and sisters in Christ which would have been considered scandalous by those outside the Church.” In fact, the Kiss of Peace was restricted to the baptized alone, Peckler says, “since it was actually an exchange of pneuma (‘breath’ or ‘spirit’)” that dwelt within them. Such was its significance.

The Kiss of Peace still occurs after the intercessions and before the offering of the bread and wine in the East. For, it is rightly considered, bread and wine cannot be offered without unity and charity first prevailing among those who would offer it. Fr Pecklers quotes a sixth century homily of Mar James of Sarug enjoining his fellow Christians, “Bring bread and wine and love to the place of atonement, that with your memorial the priest may enter in before the majesty” (my emphasis).

But the Pax was moved in the West because of Roman practice. During the fifth century, Pope Innocent I urged that churches near Rome place the Kiss of Peace after the Fractio panis and just before Communion. His reason? Innocent said that “by the Kiss of Peace the people affirm their assent to all that had been done in the celebration of the mysteries.” The great Anglican liturgist Gregory Dix, in his classic The Shape of the Liturgy, once suggested that Innocent should have cited Augustine’s claim that “the kiss of charity is a good preparation for communion.” In any case, like it or not, the ritual was moved. (A bit later, Pope Gregory the Great arranged the Mass so that the Kiss of Peace followed the Embolism). The next general development was towards a more orderly exchange of peace, starting with the President, who would “receive” a kiss from the altar, then moving to the other clergy, before finally extending to the assembly. The great Austrian Jesuit liturgist Josef Jungmann saw this preserved in an old French wedding custom in which the officiating priest would first kiss the groom, who would then extend the kiss to his bride. But, eventually, during the early modern period the laity was just left out of the exchange of Peace.

There is a clerical Kiss of Peace in the Missal of Pius V, with the possibility of extending it to the laity, but, once more, the extension fell out of use. And eighteenth century attempts at liturgical renewal came to nought. Is the Kiss of Peace shared with the entire assembly in contemporary celebrations of the Tridentine Mass? I wouldn’t know. The Kiss of Peace for everyone was restored in the reforms following the Second Vatican Council.

But there are two problems that we still must face today, Fr Pecklers says:

1. The Peace extended among Christians in the assembly sometimes does not reflect or change their “everyday” lives. It becomes a empty ritual. Fr Pecklers notes this dichotomy in a variety of contexts “in which the community remains divided outside of the Eucharistic celebration but gathers for the liturgy nonetheless, politely wishing ‘The Peace of Christ’ to one’s neighbor as required but nothing more.”

2. The Kiss of Peace becomes the sign of “a certain liturgical isolationism in which our worship becomes rather idiosyncatic and self-referential to the point where the community potentially risks celebrating itself.” The Peace becomes a Peace “for us” that is not extended to others or to the cosmos. Fr Pecklers notes that he has travelled through the United States and presided at more than one church that would offer General Intercessions for American soldiers or the protection of America, as they should. But they would do this without ever mentioning the Iraqi people at all. 

The initial question was: “How can the Church be a ‘sign and instrument’ of peace?” Difficulties duly noted, I think that we can say that Christians should pay closer attention to the role of peace in the Liturgy. That might be one small step.  

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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2 Responses to The Kiss of Peace

  1. Pingback: The Kiss of Peace II « Catholic Sensibility

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