Kiss of Peace

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The kiss as an expression of fraternal love and peace derives from several New Testament epistles in which the faithful are urged to salute one another with the kiss of love, or holy kiss. (1 Pt 5:14, Rom 16:16, 1 Cor 16:20, 2 Cor 13:12). Many scholars believe that there is reference here to a liturgical rite. In the middle of the 2nd century it is clearly referred to by Justin Martyr as a liturgical act (I Ap 1:65).

The kiss of peace was used in many circumstances that called for a special expression of charity, such as the welcoming of the newly baptized into the Christian community and the reconciliation of penitents. But it has been most widely practiced in the celebration of the Eucharist. In the early centuries, it took place before the Canon and usually before the Offertory (see Ap. Trad. 4). While the kiss of peace has retained its ancient position in the Christian East until today, in the West it was transferred to the end of the Canon before 417 (Innocent I, Epist. Ad Decentium 1; Patrologia Latina, ed. J. P. Migne, 217 v., indexes 4 v. (Paris 187890) 20:553), apparently in order to associate it with the expression of fraternal peace in the lord's prayer. Later it became a part of the rite of communion as a sign of unity and bond of love.

The kiss of peace was extended to all the faithful up to the end of the Middle Ages (Innocent III, De sacro altaris Mysterio 6.5; Patrologia Latina 217:909). Originally it seemed to have been done with the mouth (Ap. Trad.22). In the latter part of the Middle Ages we find the substitution of an embrace for the clergy and the circulation of an object to be kissed by the faithful, at first the paten or a liturgical book, such as the Missal or the Gospel Book, later a crucifix, a reliquary, or an object called the osculatorium or peaceboard, which was often a piece of wood with a cross inscribed, but sometimes a highly decorated object of precious metal or ivory.

The liturgical reforms of Vatican II gave the kiss of peace a new lease on life. The 1969 General Instruction of the Roman Missal exhorted the people to express their love for one another and beg for peace and unity in the Church in the exchange of peace according to the "customs and mentality of the people" as determined by the local conference of bishops (General Instruction of the Roman Missal, n.56[b]). This could take the form of an embrace or handshake (as is the usual practice in North America), a bow (as is customary in many parts of the Far East) or even a kiss done with the mouth according to the ancient usage (in many parts of Europe and Latin America).

Bibliography: j. a. jungmann, The Early Liturgy (South Bend, Ind. 1959). g. dix, The Shape of the Liturgy (2nd ed. London 1945). g. w. woolfenden, "'Let Us Offer Each Other the Sign of Peace'An Enquiry" Worship, 67 (1993) 239252. l. e. phillips, "The Kiss of Peace and the Opening Greeting of the Preanaphoral Dialogue," Studia Liturgica, 23 (1993) 177186. r. cabiÉ, "Le rite de la paix," in Les Combats de la paix (Toulouse 1996) 4771.

[b. i. mullahy/eds.]