Kiss of peace
The kiss of peace is an ancient traditional Christian greeting, sometimes also called the "holy kiss", "brother kiss" (among men), or "sister kiss" (among women). Such greetings signify a wish and blessing that peace be with the recipient, and besides their spontaneous uses they have certain ritualized or formalized uses long established in liturgy. Many denominations use other forms of greeting (besides literal kisses) to serve equivalent purposes; they include handshakes, gestures, and hugs, any of which may be called a sign of peace.
However, the New Testament's references to a holy kiss (Greek: εν αγιω φιληματι, en philemati hagio) and kiss of love (en philemati agapēs) transformed the character of the act beyond a greeting. Such a kiss is mentioned five times in the concluding section of letters in the New Testament:
- Romans 16:16 — "Greet one another with a holy kiss" (Greek: ἀσπάσασθε ἀλλήλους ἐν φιλήματι ἁγίῳ).
- 1 Corinthians 16:20 — "Greet one another with a holy kiss" (Greek: ἀσπάσασθε ἀλλήλους ἐν φιλήματι ἁγίῳ).
- 2 Corinthians 13:12 — "Greet one another with a holy kiss" (Greek: ἀσπάσασθε ἀλλήλους ἐν ἁγίῳ φιλήματι).
- I Thessalonians 5:26 — "Greet all the brothers with a holy kiss" (Greek: ἀσπάσασθε τοὺς ἀδελφοὺς πάντας ἐν φιλήματι ἁγίῳ).
- 1 Peter 5:14 — "Greet one another with a kiss of love" (Greek: ἀσπάσασθε ἀλλήλους ἐν φιλήματι ἀγάπης).
It has been noted that these mentions of the holy kiss come at the end of these epistles. Since these epistles were addressed to Christian communities they would most probably have been read in the context of their communal worship. If the assemblies for worship already concluded in a celebration of the Eucharist the holy kiss would already have occurred in the position it would later occupy in most ancient Christian liturgical tradition (with the exception of the Roman Rite), namely after the proclamation of the Word and at the beginning of the celebration of the Eucharist.
The writings of the early church fathers speak of the holy kiss, which they call "a sign of peace", which was already part of the Eucharistic liturgy, occurring after the Lord's Prayer in the Roman Rite and the rites directly derived from it. St. Augustine, for example, speaks of it in one of his Easter Sermons:
Then, after the consecration of the Holy Sacrifice of God, because He wished us also to be His sacrifice, a fact which was made clear when the Holy Sacrifice was first instituted, and because that Sacrifice is a sign of what we are, behold, when the Sacrifice is finished, we say the Lord's Prayer which you have received and recited. After this, the 'Peace be with you’ is said, and the Christians embrace one another with the holy kiss. This is a sign of peace; as the lips indicate, let peace be made in your conscience, that is, when your lips draw near to those of your brother, do not let your heart withdraw from his. Hence, these are great and powerful sacraments.
Augustine's Sermon 227 is just one of several early Christian primary sources, both textual and iconographic (i.e., in works of art) providing clear evidence that the "kiss of peace" as practiced in the Christian liturgy was customarily exchanged for the first several centuries, not mouth to cheek, but mouth to mouth (note that men were separated from women during the liturgy) for, as the primary sources also show, this is how early Christians believed Christ and his followers exchanged their own kiss. For example, In his Paschale carmen (ca. 425-50), Latin priest-poet Sedulius condemns Judas and his betrayal of Christ with a kiss thus, "And leading that sacrilegious mob with its menacing swords and spikes, you press your mouth against his, and infuse your poison into his honey?" The kiss of peace was known in Greek from an early date as eirḗnē (εἰρήνη) ("peace", which became pax in Latin and peace in English). The source of the peace greeting is probably from the common Hebrew greeting shalom; and the greeting "Peace be with you" is similarly a translation of the Hebrew shalom aleichem. In the Gospels, both greetings were used by Jesus - e.g. Luke 24:36; John 20:21, 20:26. The Latin term translated as "sign of peace" is simply pax ("peace"), not signum pacis ("sign of peace") nor osculum pacis ("kiss of peace"). So the invitation by the deacon, or in his absence by the priest, "Let us offer each other the sign of peace", is in Latin: Offerte vobis pacem ("Offer each other peace" or "Offer each other the peace").
From an early date, to guard against any abuse of this form of salutation, women and men were required to sit separately, and the kiss of peace was given only by women to women and by men to men.
In the Church
The practice remains a part of the worship in traditional churches, including the Episcopal Church,Roman Catholic Church, Eastern Catholic Churches, Eastern Orthodox churches, Oriental Orthodox churches; some liturgical mainline Protestant denominations; and Spiritual Christian, where it is often called the kiss of peace, sign of peace, Holy kiss or simply peace or pax; It is practiced as a part of worship in many Anabaptist heritage groups including Old German Baptist Brethren, and Apostolic Christian.
In the Catholic Church, the term now used is not "the kiss of peace", but "the sign of peace" or "the rite of peace". The General Instruction of the Roman Missal states: "There follows the Rite of Peace, by which the Church entreats peace and unity for herself and for the whole human family, and the faithful express to each other their ecclesial communion and mutual charity before communicating in the Sacrament." The priest says or sings: "The peace of the Lord be with you always", to which the people respond: "And with your spirit." Then, as stated in the Roman Missal, "if appropriate, the Deacon, or the Priest, adds: 'Let us offer each other the sign of peace.'"
In the Roman Rite, it is placed after the Pater Noster and before the Fractio Panis. Even within the Catholic Church, there are liturgical rites (the Ambrosian Rite and the Mozarabic Rite) in which it is placed after the Liturgy of the Word, before the gifts for consecration are put on the altar. The latter placing is influenced by the recommendation in Matthew 5:23–24 about seeking reconciliation with another before completing an offering at the altar. It was a practice in Rome itself at the time of Justin Martyr in the middle of the 2nd century. In the 3rd century the present placing was chosen not only in Rome but also in other parts of the West such as Roman Africa, where Saint Augustine understood it as related to the petition, "Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us", in the Lord's Prayer and to the link between being in communion with the body of Christ understood as the Church and receiving communion with the body of Christ in the Eucharist.
In the Tridentine Mass form of the Roman Rite, the sign of peace is given at Solemn Masses alone and is exchanged only among the clergy (unless emperors, kings or princes were present, in which case they, too, received the greeting. If several members of a royal family were present, at least the sovereign received the greeting). It is given by extending both arms in a slight embrace with the words "Pax tecum" (Peace be with you), first by the priest celebrant to the deacon, who in turn gives it to the subdeacon, who gives the sign to any other clergy present in choir dress.
In the Roman-Rite revised in 1969, the sign of peace is used at most Masses but is not obligatory. It is exchanged between all present in no prescribed order, except that "the Priest gives the sign of peace to a Deacon or minister". The manner prescribed is as follows: "It is appropriate that each one give the sign of peace only to those who are nearest and in a sober manner. The Priest may give the sign of peace to the ministers but always remains within the sanctuary, so as not to disturb the celebration. He does likewise if for a just reason he wishes to extend the sign of peace to some few of the faithful."
The following are considered abuses by the Sacred Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments:
- introducing a "song of peace" to accompany the rite;
- the faithful moving from their places to exchange the sign of peace;
- the priest leaving the altar to give the sign of peace to some of the faithful;
- expressing other sentiments, e.g. expressing congratulations, best wishes or condolences among those present at a wedding, funeral or other ceremony.
The gesture by which the sign of peace is exchanged is to be determined by the local episcopal conference. In some countries, such as the United States, the conference has laid down no rules, and the everyday handshake is generally used, while in other countries, such as India and Thailand, a bow is prescribed. A 2014 letter of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments recommended that conferences choose gestures more appropriate than "familiar and profane gestures of greeting".
Eastern Orthodox Church
In the Eastern Orthodox Church's Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, the exchange of the peace occurs at the midpoint of the service, when the scripture readings have been completed and the Eucharistic prayers are yet to come. The priest announces, "Let us love one another that with one accord we may confess--" and the people conclude the sentence, "Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the Trinity, one in essence and undivided." At that point the Kiss of Peace is exchanged by clergy at the altar, and in some churches among the laity as well (the custom is being reintroduced, but is not universal). Immediately after the peace, the deacon cries "The doors! The doors!"; in ancient times, the catechumens and other non-members of the church would depart at this point, and the doors would be shut behind them. At that, worshippers then recite the Nicene Creed. In the Eastern Orthodox Liturgy, the Kiss of Peace is preparation for the Creed: "Let us love one another that we may confess...the Trinity."
In the early centuries the kiss of peace was exchanged between the clergy: clergy kissing the bishop, lay men kissing laymen, and women kissing the women, according to the Apostolic Constitutions. Today the kiss of love is exchanged between concelebrating priests. Such has been the case for centuries. In a few Orthodox dioceses in the world in the last few decades, the kiss of peace between laymen has attempted to be reinstituted, usually as a handshake, hugging or cheek kissing.
Another example of an exchange of the peace is when, during the Divine Liturgy, the Priest declares to the people "Peace be with all", and their reply: "And with your Spirit". More examples of this practice may be found within Eastern Orthodoxy, but these are the most prominent examples.
In the Anglican church it is common practice at more formal services for the congregation to be invited to "offer one another a sign of peace". However, this is usually a handshake although married couples may kiss one another instead.
Different Protestant and Reformed churches have readopted the holy kiss either metaphorically (in that members extend a pure, warm welcome that is referred to as a holy kiss) or literally (in that members kiss one another).
The Holy kiss is particularly important among many Anabaptist sects. These groups include the Apostolic Christian Church, the Amish, the Schwarzenau Brethren, and many conservative Mennonite Churches including the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite
This article from the Apostolic Christian Church describes an Anabaptist viewpoint on the Holy kiss:
Over the years various arguments have been advanced to justify eliminating the holy kiss and replacing it with a handshake or even a hug or dispensing with a Christian greeting altogether. Of course, the real motive behind those who want to do away with the holy kiss is not that the they are convinced that the Scriptures forbid the practice of greeting with a holy kiss, but that the kiss is not a socially acceptable or politically correct greeting. In other words, they find the holy kiss embarrassing; to practice it would force them to look conspicuous for the purpose of devotion to Christ and brotherly love--it is a price they are not willing to pay. So many arguments have been conjured up to enable many denominations to quickly rationalize the holy kiss away.
Amazingly, this line of thinking has even found its way into some of our English Bibles! Specifically, authors of some paraphrased versions of the Bible have chosen to replace the words "holy kiss" in their versions of the Bible with the words "handshake" or "hug" (if you don't find the holy kiss in your Bible, that's why). It is a terrible thing that authors of these Bible versions found some words in the original Scriptures so offensive that they resorted to substituting "less offensive" words. It should make you wonder what else they have censored out of their "Bibles" for your "benefit." Thankfully, the better translations like the KJV, NKJV, NASB and even the NIV stayed true to the Greek of the New Testament Scriptures (the New Testament was written in Greek).
The most common argument for not practicing the holy kiss is that the holy kiss was only a social custom at the time of the Apostles and since our modern culture no longer practices this custom, the Biblical directives regarding the holy kiss do not apply. And if one looks up "holy kiss" in the typical Christian encyclopedia, if it appears at all, you will probably find a mention of the Jewish practice of greeting with a kiss and the implication that this is an obsolete custom not to be practiced in modern times. But never will you find any substantial supporting evidence given for that position and for good reason: there isn't any! Let's look at three reasons why Christians should continue to practice the holy kiss. First: While we know that a kiss of greeting was practiced in Jewish cultures, it was most likely not practiced in the greater Roman Empire, in fact, there was an imperial edict against the practice! And let us not forget that all but one of the Biblical letters encouraging the practice of the holy kiss were written exclusively to churches outside of Jerusalem. Therefore, we know that Paul was encouraging these churches to do something which was contrary to their own culture and even against the law! Paul was very familiar with their culture because he lived in these areas for months and even years, so he knew of the raised eyebrows and hardship that the practice of the holy kiss might bring to those who practiced it.
So why would Paul instruct the early Gentile churches to practice the holy kiss at such great cost? It is very unlikely that Paul was trying to force a Jewish custom on those who lived outside of Judea and who were not Jewish. After all, let's not forget that Paul was the one who was trying to free the Gentiles from the Jewish customs of the Pharisees and from the Jewish Law, he would not want them encumbered with yet another Jewish custom!
And we know that the holy kiss was most likely responsible for vicious rumors which led, in part, to the severe persecution and death of many early Christians. Yet even this did not cause the early Christians to abandon the practice of the holy kiss! If the holy kiss were only regarded as an old Jewish custom, wouldn't they have quit observing it? It is only reasonable to conclude that the holy kiss was not just a Jewish social custom, but something of much greater importance.
Second: We need to remember that the holy kiss is called holy. The word "holy" here comes from the Greek word "hagios," literally meaning "set apart" from that which is common according to Strong's Concordance. This is the very same "holy" found in the "Holy Spirit" (or Holy Ghost) in the Bible. Does anyone believe that the Holy Spirit is just any old spirit? Let's hope not, for blaspheming the Holy Spirit is the one unforgivable sin! This is also the same "holy" found in "Holy Father"--meaning God (John 17:11) in Jesus's prayer on Mount Gethsemane just before His crucifixion. And this is the same "holy" as we shall appear before God if we remain true and faithful to Christ (Colossians 1:21-23). This word appears over 200 times in the New Testament and not once is it used to define something common or less than holy.
The holy kiss is called just that to separate it from the ordinary, common kiss. It has special, godly, significance and that is why the Gentiles were instructed to practice the holy kiss, even when such kissing broke more than one cultural taboo! We should not take things the Bible calls "holy" lightly, they are called holy for a reason!
Third: The fact that a kiss of greeting and a kiss of solidarity between those of the same religious group was practiced in Jewish culture in Biblical times does not make the holy kiss any less holy. Baptism was also a part of Jewish culture, Jews would regularly ceremonially bath in observance of the Law and also as an initiation into a religious group. Baptism was a practice that was much less common than kissing in the ancient world, yet few would suggest that we throw out the practice of baptism because of its cultural origins! We know that baptism has a special significance of its own for Christians.
There can be no doubt that communion has its origins in the Jewish observation of Passover. But obviously, Jesus changed the significance of this meal to something that the Jews of His time would not identify with. Yet we do not know of a single denomination that has thrown out communion because it has Jewish origins! The holy kiss is no different. We know that the greeting of the kiss was practiced between Jesus and His disciples. The Apostle Peter instructed both Gentile and Jewish churches alike to practice it. The churches practiced it because it had a special religious significance to them, it was no ordinary greeting, but a holy one.
To avoid the holy kiss because it is not politically-correct, or socially acceptable means that we place more importance on pleasing men than pleasing God. Jesus made it perfectly clear that we should not place the approval of man before the approval of God. And to assert that a handshake or hug may be substituted for the holy kiss is adding to the Word of God.— Apostolic Christian Church
- Pax (liturgy)
- Pax (liturgical object), an object formerly kissed as a substitute during Catholic masses
- Socialist fraternal kiss
- William Smith, Smith's Bible Dictionary, Kiss, UK, 1988
- SERMON 227, The Fathers of the Church,(1959), Roy Joseph Deferrari, Genera editor, Sermons on the Liturgical Seasons, vol. 38, p. 197.  See also: Sermon 227 in The Works of Saint Augustine: A New Translation for the 21st Century, (1993), Vol. 6, part, 3, p. 255. ISBN 1-56548-050-3
- For a documented discussion of the mouth-to-mouth early Christian kiss of peace, see Franco Mormando, "Just as your lips approach the lips of yours brothers: Judas Iscariot and the Kiss of Betrayal," in Saints and Sinners: Caravaggio and the Baroque Image, ed. F. Mormando (Chestnut Hill, MA: McMullen Museum of Boston College, 1999), pp.179-190.
- Catholic Encyclopedia - Kiss
- Book of Common Prayer, 1979;
- General Instruction of the Roman Missal, 82
- Roman Missal, Order of Mass, 127–128
- Kevin W. Irwin, Responses to 101 Questions on the Mass (Paulist Press 1999) ISBN 978-0-80913888-3, pp. 122–123
- Redemptionis Sacramentum, 72
- Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments. The Ritual Expression of the Gift of Peace at Mass, 6c
- Peter J. Elliott, Liturgical Question Box (Ignatius Press 1998) ISBN 978-0-89870677-2
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