Tuesday, October 02, 2007

NLM Guest Article: The Liturgical Kiss of Peace


Sicut Unguentum Quod Descendit

by Edmund Waldstein, O.Cist.

WHEN ST. PAUL ADMONISHED THE CORINTHIANS to keep order at their assemblies he gave as the reason the famous words, “God is not a God of confusion, but of peace.” (I Cor 14:33) How ironic that in many churches nowadays the moment of greatest confusion seems to be the kiss of peace! Just how contrary such a situation is to the very meaning of the kiss of peace, and to thus to the nature of that of which the kiss of peace is a part, became increasingly clear to me recently as I wrote an essay on the good of order, of peace—“the tranquility of order,” in St. Augustine’s definition.

This is not the place to give a very detailed account of the good of order(1) , but here is a brief summary of what might be said. The purpose of all creation is to give glory to God by reflecting His Goodness in its beauty. Now, since it belongs to the very account of God’s Goodness that it be one, it follows that the multitude of creatures must be brought together, in some way, so as to imitate the Divine Unity. The way in which creation imitates the divine unity is by the unity of order—the unity proper to beauty.(2) “The order of the universe,” teaches St. Thomas Aquinas, “is the ultimate and noblest perfection in things.”(3) It is the chief end or purpose of all that God creates.(4)

Now, this order is hierarchical; there are different levels to it, each subordinate to the higher. “The very idea of order implies the idea of the subordinate,”(5) says Cardinal Newman, thus he who loves the order of peace loves his own subordination; he loves to be bound, to others, to serve the whole. But in the person of Lucifer, creation fell from this ideal, for he was too proud to love subordination: “I have broken my yoke, I have broken bonds, I have said: I will not serve.” (c.f. Jer 2:20) Thus the sin of Lucifer is a sin against peace: “And there was war in heaven.” (Rev 12:7) And, as we know, he brought our first parents—and through them all material creation—to fall away from this peace as well.

But of course God only permitted His creation to fall away from the good of peace that He might redeem it and bring it to an even greater peace—the peace that Christ brought through the cross—the peace of the new creation. This peace, which will not come in its full flower till the Second Coming, is already present “in mystery,”(6) in the Holy Church. “Behold, how good and pleasant it is,” sings the Psalmist,

When brothers dwell in unity!
It is like the precious oil upon the head,
Running down upon the beard,
Upon the beard of Aaron,
Running down to the very skirts of his robe.
(Psalm 132:1-2)

By this he means that the peace of the Church comes from the oil of Divine grace, flowing from her divine Head, the Christ, and descending through the ordered ranks of the hierarchy to “the very skirts of his robe.” Already now the Church can say, “He hath made my borders peace; he hath filled me with finest wheat.” (c.f. Psalm 147:3) This takes place above all in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass when, through the hands of the bishops and priests, the faithful are sacramentally united to their Divine Head, and thus are made part of the new creation, and built up into the new Jerusalem (a name which means “city of peace”).

And thus the Church prays immediately before communion: Domine Iesu Christe, qui dixisti Apostolus tuis: pacem relinquo vobis, pacem meam do vobis: ne respicias peccata nostra, sed fidem Ecclesiae tuae; eamque secundum voluntatem tuam pacificare et coadunare digneris. And then the kiss of peace is given.

The kiss is supposed to have originally taken place before the offertory (with Matt 5:23 in mind), but it was soon moved to its present place precisely because it was able to signify the peace which Holy Communion was about to effect.(7) The priest used to kiss the altar—and in some churches the chalice, the paten, or even the host—before giving the peace, to show where it came from. “The kiss of Peace is a glorious symbol of the communion of the faithful with each other and with Christ,” writes Pius Parsch,

For the kiss comes from the altar, from Christ; that is Christ kisses the sharers in the Holy Sacrifice; the kiss goes from mouth to mouth and unites all the faithful in an intimate unity, a unity in Christ. Thus, that which the Holy Sacrifice and Holy Communion are to effect is beautifully represented by the kiss of peace.(8)

The kiss of peace is a sign of order, of the tranquility of order, of the oil of Divine Life which descends in order from Christ through the various ranks of His Church. It seems to me that in most churches today it fails rather completely to be this. It is perhaps a good sign of chaotic, horizontal “good fellowship,” but not of the peace of Christ. A reform of the reform will have to find a way of solving this problem.

In our abbey we found a good way of doing it in monastic liturgy, but we have yet to find a comparably satisfactory way for the parishes. In any case here are some pictures of how the pax is given in our monastery. After the Pax Vobiscum the monks process out of the choir and stand, according to seniority, in a double line in the lower sanctuary.

The celebrant bows to the senior concelebrant, on each side, and then embraces him saying, “pax tecum,” (fig. 2) he answers, “et cum spiritu tuo,” and then gives the peace to the next in line in the same way, who gives it to the next, and so on, while the Agnus Dei is sung.

Thus the peace flows, like oil from the head, through the whole community, precisely according to rank, ending with the novices, “the very skirts of his robe.”

When the last novice has received the pax, everyone kneels for the ecce Agnus Dei.

Frater Edmund Waldstein, O.Cist, is a monk of Heiligenkreuz Abbey in Austria, where the Pope recently visited.


1. If anyone wants a fuller account I can send them my essay. Just e-mail me at edmundocist{at}gmail.com.
2. Cf. St. Thomas Aquinas, Compendium theologiae, Lib. 1, cap. 102, end.
3. Summa Contra Gentiles, II, 45.
4. Cf. Summa Theologiae, Ia, Q 65, A 2, c.
5. Order, the Witness and Instrument of Unity (Sermons Preached on Various Occasions, Sermon XI ).
6. C.f. Gaudium et Spes, 39.
7. Cf. P. Parsch, Messerklärung, (Klosterneuburg, 1937), pp. 304-307; J. A. Jungmann, Missarum Sollemnia, Band II, (Wien, 1949), pp. 389- 403.
8. Messerklärung, p. 306.

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