Last month, I (Neil) posted a summary of an article in the East Asian Pastoral Review by the Jesuit scholar Keith Pecklers on the Kiss of Peace. Fr Pecklers has himself written a shorter version of his article for this week’s Tablet. It can be read here. Here is a short excerpt about the practice in modernity and present-day worship:
In the Missal of Pius V (1570) and also the Ceremoniale Episcoporum of 1600, the kiss of peace was provided for, allowing the possibility of extending it also to the laity. But the Pax shared by the congregation was more the exception than the norm as it came to be viewed less an act of social reconciliation and more as an honorific gesture passed exclusively among the clergy. Thus, sharing the kiss of peace with the entire assembly gradually fell into disuse in the post-Reformation Catholic West and would remain so until the Second Vatican Council.
The situation was not much different within the Church of England. While the 1549 Book of Common Prayer placed the Peace within the Communion Rite consistent with standard Roman practice, it was removed three years later in the 1552 edition. With the 1928 edition of the Book of Common Prayer, the Peace returned to the same position as an option within the Communion Rite. The Church of England’s Common Worship published in 2000 restored the Peace to its ancient position at the Conclusion of the Word Service, although it allows for the possibility of placing it before Communion, or at the very beginning of the Eucharist, or as part of the Dismissal Rite as in the classic Cathedral form of the Liturgy of the Hours.
During his recent visit to Rome and presiding at the festal Anglican Eucharist celebrated in the fifth-century Basilica of Santa Sabina, the Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams followed the ancient Roman practice of the Pax that proceeds from the altar. Before inviting the assembly to exchange the Peace prior to the Preparation of the Gifts, the Archbishop first kissed the altar – symbol of Christ – and from that altar the Peace was then extended to the assembly.
A major problem is the ongoing dichotomy between liturgy and life – what our gesture of exchanging peace actually signifies outside Mass. What does it mean, in other words, to wish the peace of Christ upon someone with whom I am at odds outside the worship space? It is clear that, if a parish or religious community is divided but gathers for the liturgy none the less, politely wishing “Christ’s peace” to one’s neighbour as required but nothing more, then the body of Christ remains divided and the Pax is nothing more than an empty gesture devoid of meaning. This sort of dichotomy reminds us of Paul’s rebuke of the Corinthian community for their scandalous lack of charity toward one another outside the Eucharist. In other words, if we are not united with ourselves, with our communities, and with Christ’s body in the world before we enter the worshipping assembly, we will not miraculously encounter Christ’s peace in the Eucharist.
That great divide between liturgy and life also reveals itself in a sort of liturgical isolationism in which our worship potentially becomes idiosyncratic and self-referential. This can happen to such an extent that the community risks celebrating nothing more than itself, ignoring the strangers in our midst and oblivious to the global crises that cry out for our attention.
If the peace that we offer one to another is only about “us” in this particular parish or neighbourhood, then our liturgy is severely anaemic, the body of Christ remains divided, and our Catholicity suffers as a result. As we exchange Christ’s costly gift of Peace, we do so in communion with the whole of God’s world – with the people of Iraq and Afghanistan, Congo and Sudan, Lebanon, Palestine and Israel, because those countries or regions and those people matter deeply to the heart of God.