Monday, May 21, 2012

The kiss of peace - we've lost the knack

The modern kiss of peace - often followed by a general feeling of relief that it's over

And we'll never get it back.

In my experience, the kiss of peace generally amounts to little more than an awkward smile and a fumbling hand shake.  At weekday Mass the kiss of peace has degenerated into a nod of the head or a tiny wave directed only at those to one's immediate right, left and front.   However, the early Church set great store by this ceremony, as evidenced by these Church fathers quoted by Jean Danielou, SJ in "The Bible and Liturgy":

". . . St. Cyril tell us, 'let us embrace one another and give the kiss of peace.   Do not think that this is the kiss which friends are accustomed to give one another when  they meet in the agora.  This is not such a kiss.  This unites souls to one another and destroys all resentment.  The kiss is a sign of the union of souls This is why the Lord said: If you bring your offering to the altar and you remember that you have anything against your brother, go first and be reconciled with your brother"  (XXXIII,  1112 A).  St. Augustine, in one of his sermons on Easter, commenting on the sacramental rites to the newly baptized, says: "After this is said: Peace be with you: and Christians give one another the holy kiss.   It is the sign of peace. That which the lips show outwardly, exists in our hearts.  (P. L. XXXVIII, 1101 A)."

"Theodore of Mopsuestia deepens the meaning of the rite:  "All give the peace to one another , and by this kiss they make a kind of profession of the unity and charity that they have among themselves."

The practice of the kiss of peace was subsequently confined to the priest and other clergy before the altar.  The passage of so many centuries during which the kiss of peace was conducted in this manner undoubtedly has had a powerful effect upon the faithful.   Though the practice of the early Church respecting the kiss of peace has been restored, restoring the attitude of the early Church towards the kiss of peace has proved a much more difficult matter.  The restoration of the kiss of peace is an instance where those seeking renewal of the liturgy, while perhaps well informed historically and patristically, were very unwise concerning the effect of longstanding custom upon the attitude of the ordinary Catholic.     

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