(Adapted from the website of the Eparchy of Edmonton)
The kiss of peace is one of the most primitive rites of the Christian liturgy.
Robert F. Taft, S.J.
Introduction and History
In early Christianity the Kiss of Peace was a common greeting, probably exchanged at every Christian assembly. The custom was widespread in the ancient Western Mediterranean world. Tertullian described it as the symbol of fraternal love (signaculum orationis).
It is clearly the custom referred to by Jesus when he defends the sinful woman at the house of Simon the Pharisee: “You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet (Luke 7: 45).
The Apostle Paul instructs the Churches on three separate occasions: “Greet one another with a holy kiss” (Rom. 16: 16; 1 Cor. 16: 20; 2 Cor.13: 12; 1 Thess. 5: 26).
Two early reports concerning the Eucharistic celebration in the early Church confirm that the Kiss of Peace was an integral element of Christian liturgy. Justin Martyr (100-165) clearly echoes the Apostle’s instructions: “Having ended the prayers, we salute one another with a kiss.” Hippolytus of Rome (170-235) gives a more detailed treatment: “After the catechumens have finished praying, they do not give the kiss of peace, for their kiss is not yet pure. But the faithful shall greet one another with a kiss, men with men, and women with women. Men must not greet women with a kiss.”
The Kiss of Peace continued to be part of Christian worship. In the Byzantine tradition the Kiss of Peace seems to have always been exchanged right before the Anaphora. Its position here is due to a very early interpretation that relates it to the preparation for bringing an offering to the altar, so that one may “first be reconciled to [one’s] brother or sister” in accordance with Mathew 5: 23-24.
Scholars of the Divine Liturgy observe that the Kiss of Peace was originally exchanged not merely among the bishops and priests as today, but among the deacons and lay people as well.
The Kiss of Peace was likely only exchanged between neighboring worshippers, as opposed to everybody in the congregation exchanging with everybody else in the congregation.
By the time of Philotheos, Patriarch of Constantinople (latter half of the 14th century) the Kiss of Peace was no longer exchanged among the people in the congregation, but nobody seems to know why.
That the Kiss of Peace was an element of the liturgy also in the lands of Rus’-Ukraine is evidenced by various Slavic manuscripts of rubrics, and some of these even as late as the 17th century.
Even today this giving and receiving of the Kiss of Peace by everyone in the congregation (clergy and laity alike) remains in the rubrics of the ritual of forgiveness at the beginning of Great Lent during Forgiveness Vespers and at the exchange of the Paschal Kiss (also between clergy and laity alike) during Resurrection Matins.
- In accordance with the Byzantine tradition, the liturgical rite is referred to as The Kiss of Peace.
- The Kiss of Peace, from the earliest recorded history was common to the Latin West and throughout the Eastern Churches. Neither is it a recent innovation, but rather the restoration of a custom which became obsolete for reasons that are unclear.
- In essence, the Kiss of Peace is not a mere salutation or greeting, but rather a public profession of love for one another and a sign of mutual forgiveness, which precedes the Symbol of Faith (The Nicene Creed). Mutual love for one another and unity in the true faith are essential prerequisites for the celebration of the Eucharist.
Very Rev. Dr Brian J. Kelty