Monday, July 7, 2003

A little catechesis, if you don't mind, on the Sign of Peace, known throughout liturgical history more properly as the "Kiss of Peace."

This is not a "prottie-" inspired innovation. (Lord, how ecumenical we are). The Kiss of Peace is a liturgical element we find in the earliest records of Christian worship. If you doubt me, check out the entry in the 1914 (or whatever) edition of the Catholic Encyclopedia on "kiss", which includes material on the Kiss of Peace

It is not easy to determine the precise link between the "holy kiss" and the liturgical "kiss of peace", known in Greek from an early date as eirene (i.e. pax, or peace). This latter may be quite primitive, for it meets us first in the description of the liturgy given by St. Justin Martyr (Apol., I, 65), who writes: "When we have completed the prayers we salute one another with a kiss [allelous philemati aspazometha pausamenoi ton euchon], whereupon there is brought to the president bread and a cup of wine." This passage clearly shows that in the middle of the second century the usage already obtained — a usage now claimed as distinctive of the liturgies other than Roman — of exchanging the kiss of peace at the beginning of what we call the Offertory. The language of many Oriental Fathers and of certain conciliary canons further confirms this conclusion as to the primitive position of the Pax. Thus St. Cyril of Jerusalem (Cat. Myst., v, 3) speaking of the time between the washing of the celebrant's hands and the Sursum Corda which introduces the Anaphora, or Preface, says, "Then the deacon cries out aloud: 'Embrace ye one another and let us salute each other. . . . This kiss is the sign that our souls are united and that we banish all remembrance of injury'." Many other Fathers (e.g. Origen, Pseudo-Dionysius, and also St. John Chrysostom, "De Comp. Cordis", 1, 3) speak in a similar tone and use language which implies that the Pax preceded the oblation of the elements. Even the so-called "Canons of Hippolytus", referred by some to Rome in the third century, though Funk ascribes them to a much later date, imply that the kiss was given at the Offertory. The same was undoubtedly the case in the Mozarabic and the Gallican liturgies. In Rome, however, the kiss of peace was more closely united to the Communion, and it must have followed shortly after the Pater Noster as it does at present. Thus Pope Innocent I in his letter to Decentius (A. D. 416) blames the practice of those who give the Pax before the Consecration and urges that it was meant as a token that "the people give their assent to all things already performed in the mysteries".

and further, how it had evolved by the time of the writing of this entry:

From a very early date, also, the abuses to which this form of salutation might lead were very carefully guarded against. Both in the East and the West women and men were separated in the assemblies of the faithful, and the kiss of peace was given only by women to women and by men to men. Then in about the twelfth or thirteenth century the use of the instrumentum pacis, or osculatorium, known in English as the "pax-board" or "pax-brede", was gradually introduced. This was a little plaque of metal, ivory, or wood, generally decorated with some pious carving and provided with a handle, which was first brought to the altar for the celebrant to kiss at the proper place in the Mass and then brought to each of the congregation in turn at the altar rails. But even this practice in course of time died out, and at the present day the Pax is only given at High Mass, and is hardly anywhere communicated to the congregation. The celebrant kisses the corporal spread upon the altar (he used formerly in many local rites to kiss the sacred Host Itself) and then, placing his hands upon the arms of the deacon, he presents his left cheek to the deacon's left cheek but without actually touching it. At the same time he pronounces the words Pax tecum (Peace be with thee); to which the deacon replies, Et cum spiritu tuo (And with thy spirit). The deacon then conveys the salute to the sub-deacon, and the subdeacon to the canons or clergy in the stalls.

In other words, the Kiss of Peace never was abandoned in the West, it was merely, like so much of the liturgical action, confined to the personages in the sanctuary.

History is always much more complicated than we would like it to be, isn't it?