Rorate Caeli

FIUV Position Paper: the Kiss of Peace

Today I can publish Positio 19, which is the twentieth in the series, counting the two parts treating Holy Week. This is on the subject of the Kiss of Peace, the Pax, which in the Novus Ordo is called the Sign of Peace.

This is an interesting topic historically, and though it may not seem of the utmost importance it illustrates two very important issues in the debate about the liturgical reform. The first is the demand, by the reformers, for more 'participation': the Peace should be exchanged, as it had been in ancient times, between all the members of the congregation. The second is the unforeseen practical difficulties which this has created, including liturgical abuses. This has reached such a pitch that, in the 2007 Synod of Bishops, it was argued that it had become so disruptive that it should no longer be part of the preparation for Communion in the Novus Ordo.

The next paper will be on the subject of Vigils and Octaves; it will be published, when it is ready, perhaps a month from now. The pace of publication has slowed, but we still have a pipeline of subjects.

The Kiss of Peace at High Mass in a small English chapel; more on this Mass here.
I give some more commentary on the paper on my own LMS Chairman blog.
This paper can be downloaded as a pdf here. The whole series can be seen on the FIUV webstie here. The collected set of papers 1-13, printed as a short book, is available from Lulu here.

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Print  FIUV Position Paper 19: The Kiss of Peace

   The Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite makes significant use of the osculum, the liturgical kiss, of which the amplexus, the embrace, is a variant. A number of times throughout the Mass, the celebrant kisses the Altar, turns to the congregation and says ‘Dominus vobiscum’;[1] he also kisses the Altar before giving the blessing to the Faithful.[2]

2        This conveying to the congregation the greeting or blessing of Our Lord, in these cases represented by the Altar, is played out in a more extended fashion at the Pax. Following the Pater Noster and its embolism, during the latter of which the celebrant signs himself with and kisses the paten, the celebrant says aloud ‘Pax Domini sit semper vobiscum’, while making the sign of the cross over the Chalice with a particle of the Host, and putting this into the Chalice. He receives the response ‘Et cum spiritu tuo’.[3] The celebrant then says, silently, the prayer Haec commixtio, and then the Agnus Dei. In Missa Solemnis, while the Agnus Dei is being sung, the celebrant and the deacon kiss the Altar and exchange the Kiss of Peace, in the form of a light embrace, the Deacon passes it on to the Subdeacon; it is passed thence to all clergy and servers present in choir.[4] The Pax is omitted in the Mass for the Dead and on Maundy Thursday.

             In certain circumstances the Kiss of Peace can be given using a Paxbrede, and, using this, at Missa Cantata and Low Mass: again, the Pax is conveyed to the Paxbrede from the Altar, by a kiss. The use of the Paxbrede in the Extraordinary Form today is explained in more detail in the Appendix to this paper.

        The practice of the Extraordinary Form contrasts somewhat with the ‘Sign of Peace’, most commonly an exchange of handshakes,[5] found in the Ordinary Form, before the Agnus Dei. This paper aims to provide an explanation and rationale of the practice of the Extraordinary Form.[6]

The Historical Development of the Pax

5         While the Pax is deeply rooted in the Latin liturgical tradition,[7] its history is a complex one, and only a rough outline can be attempted here.[8] Justin Martyr notes an exchange of kisses as the conclusion of the service of prayers and readings.[9]

             Later, it is found in Gallican Rites before the Offertory. Pseudo-Germanus comments:
They offer to one other the Peace of Christ in such a way that by a mutual kiss they may maintain the affection of love for one another.[10]
This seems naturally suggested by Matthew 5:23f.[11]

       In the African and Roman liturgies, however, it is found immediately before the Communion Rites,[12] a location recommended by Pope St Innocent I in a letter of the year 416:
By the peace it is clear that the people give their consent to all that has been done in the mysteries celebrated in the church. The peace is the seal that shows that these mysteries have been accomplished.[13]

The Pater Noster coming before it, by the time of Pope Gregory the Great (d.604), suggests the mutual forgiveness enjoined in that prayer.[14] One may, therefore, regard the Roman practice as involving both the themes of a concluding ‘seal’ for the mysteries, similar to the Amen at the end of the Canon, and the mutual forgiveness emphasised in the Gallican tradition.

Over time the Pax developed from a simultaneous giving of the kiss between the ministers at the Altar and neighbours in the congregation,[15] to a more ceremonious practice in which the kiss is, as it were, passed from Our Lord Himself, in the Consecrated Host, or else represented by the Paten, the Altar, the Chalice, the Missal, or the Crucifix, or some combination of these, to the Sacred Ministers, and then to the Faithful, passing from one person to another. This adds an extra pertinence to the Pax taking place while the Agnus Dei is being sung, and after the Consecration: the effect is that the peace is radiating from the Lamb of God slain (as it were), upon the altar, not just because the Kiss begins there, but also because of the text and music which are simultaneous. As Joseph Jungmann expresses it:
Thus the kiss of peace is made to proceed from the altar and, like a message or even like a gift which comes from the Sacrament, is handed on “to the others and to the people.”[16]
This practice is well-established in Pontificals of the 10th Century. In the context of infrequent reception of Holy Communion at that time, the symbolism of a blessing being conveyed from the Blessed Sacrament upon the Altar to the Faithful was of particular significance.

         There is, therefore, no danger of mistaking the peace at issue in this ceremony for a mere secular communal harmony: it is very specifically the Peace of Christ, radiating from the Blessed Sacrament, now present on the Altar.

     In all the Rites of the Church the Kiss underwent a process of stylisation, becoming for example a bow or a kissing of the fingers in certain Oriental churches. In the West the embrace found in the Extraordinary Form today developed, and in England, the elegant solution of the Paxbrede came into use in parish churches,[17] which spread to continental Europe and appears in the 1570 Missale Romanum. Variations on the Paxbrede included the use of a crucifix or reliquary.

        The Paxbrede allowed the Pax to be made between the sexes, which had otherwise been forbidden (except, notably, for the couple at a nuptial Mass).[18]

        The direct participation of the Faithful in the Pax, for which the Paxbrede was particularly well suited, began to die out in the following centuries in most countries.[19] The liturgical scholar Polycarpus Radó suggests ‘reasons of hygiene’ for this.[20] Another practical reason seems to have been that the practice of passing the Paxbrede among the Faithful according to their social degree led to unedifying disputes over precedence.[21] A modern factor which reduces the time available to present the Paxbrede is the frequency of the Communion of the Faithful during Mass.[22]

Participation and Proposals for Reform

      The possibility of the Faithful’s direct participation in the Pax causing disruption, just noted, has a modern parallel in the difficulties encountered with the practice in the Ordinary Form. This was discussed in the 2007 Synod of Bishops,[23] and the Congregation for Divine Worship was asked to examine the proposal that it be moved to the beginning of the Offertory to mitigate this.

       However, as noted earlier, the meaning of the Pax in the Extraordinary Form is bound up, more clearly than in the Ordinary Form, with the Blessed Sacrament as the source of the peace. As St Alphonsus Ligouri expressed it:
Before giving the peace, the priest kisses the Altar to show that he cannot give peace unless he has first received it from Jesus Christ, who is represented by the Altar.[24]
The kissing of the Altar, next to the Host Itself, as well as the Paten, is the first link of a chain conveying the Peace of Christ to the Sacred Ministers and others in the Sanctuary.

     The Extraordinary Form is able to maintain this important and ancient symbolism, without any danger of disruption, by inviting the Faithful to unite themselves spiritually with the very vivid and gracious ceremony performed in the Sanctuary by the Sacred Ministers. Any physical sign of peace is itself a symbol, and the question is whether members of the Faithful can best make truly their own a symbolic gesture made by the Sacred Ministers, or one made by themselves; there is less difference between the two than may first appear.

1      This development is an example of a very widespread twofold phenomenon in the history of the liturgy: of rites and ceremonies being reduced to a symbolically important minimum, and of ceremonies once involving the Faithful being performed solely by the clergy, on the Faithful's behalf. Some have regarded such developments as a matter of regret, but Pope Pius XII reminds us that archaic liturgical practices are not necessarily to be preferred to the more developed forms, since the development has taken place under the guidance of providence.[25]

1      The Roman Rite frequently retains archaic ceremonies in an abbreviated or even vestigial form, allowing the meaning of the whole rite to be expressed succinctly, and reminding us of the antiquity of the Rite. The compressed meanings of the rite are a bulwark against banality: the smallest aspect of the Extraordinary Form is freighted with significance, like the details of any great work of art.


1    The Pax in the Extraordinary Form is the most significant of a series of occasions on which the celebrant conveys to the Faithful the peace of Christ, represented by the Altar which he kisses. It has this special significance because on this occasion the Lamb of God is present on the Altar in the consecrated Host.

2      The Pax exchanged among the Sacred Ministers and others is a visually eloquent expression of what happens on each of these occasions, of this peace radiating out to the Faithful. The themes of approving and sealing the foregoing mysteries, and of mutual reconciliation and preparation for the reception of Communion, are, in this context, dependent upon this central idea, of the Peace which comes from Christ.

2     The continued use of the Paxbrede in certain places and in certain Orders, discussed in more detail in the Appendix, illustrates the legitimate diversity of the Extraordinary Form, and the preservation of older customs in particular contexts. Such customs are part of the authentic liturgical culture of their proper regions or orders, and should be preserved and fostered whenever possible.

Appendix: The Paxbrede

A Paxbrede (also spelt pax-brede or paxbred), in Latin instrumentum pacis or osculatorium, in Spanish portapaz,[26] is often a decorated silver plate with a handle on the back, but it can take a number of forms, sometimes incorporating a relic. In the Middle Ages it was often made of wood, with a painted image. More modern examples are often gilded, with an enamelled image. A crucifix or icon can also serve as a Paxbrede.[27]

The use of the Paxbrede in the Extraordinary Form today must be considered in three contexts: first, in the Roman Rite simpliciter; secondly, in the Rites and Usages of certain religious orders, and thirdly, in the customs and privileges proper to Spain and the former Spanish Empire.

The first is summarised by the rubrical handbook, John O’Connell’s The Celebration of Mass.
To ‘greater’ prelates present at low Mass, to the clergy in a sung Mass, and to lay persons of high rank present at solemn Mass or low Mass the kiss of peace is conveyed by means of the instrumentum pacis or pax-brede.[28]

The Paxbrede is kissed by the Assistant Priest (at Pontifical Mass), or the deacon (at Solemn Mass), who has just received the Pax from the celebrant by means of the amplexus, or by the celebrant (at Low Mass), who has just kissed the Altar, and taken to the others mentioned by O’Connell.

Secondly, in the Rites and Usages of a number of religious orders, in addition to what is noted above, the Paxbrede is used to give the Pax to the servers and members of the community in choir at Solemn Mass, and in this way either supplements the embrace among the Sacred Ministers, as just described, or replaces it: thus the Dominicans, for example, do not use the amplexus at all. The liturgical scholar Archdale King discusses the details in the context of the Carthusians,[29] the Premonstratensians,[30] and the Dominicans.[31] It has also historically been used, and in some places continues to be used, by the Dominicans in Low Mass.[32] Jungmann also mentions the Capuchin Franciscans as using the Paxbrede on Sundays and important feasts.[33]

Thirdly, in Spain and in the former Spanish Empire, the Manual de Liturgia by Fr. Gregorio Martínez de Antoñana, CMF, notes that in addition to what is said by O’Connell, referring to Low Mass:
You can also give it generally to all the Faithful .... But whatever you do, to princes and people of equivalent dignity, it is given with an amplexo. ...In Spain there is the privilege whereby the acolyte brings the peace to the choir with the Paxbrede.[34]
In other words, the Paxbrede can be extended at Low and Sung Mass to the congregation, with the embrace reserved for lay dignitaries; this may be called a custom of Spain and her former possessions. Furthermore, the ‘Privilege of Pius V’ allows an acolyte to take the Pax to clergy in choir with a Paxbrede, as is done in the religious orders just noted.

The offering of the Paxbrede to the Faithful in Spain and the former Spanish represents a important survival of the Medieval practice of England and elsewhere. Today, if time is short, the Paxbrede can if necessary be offered to a representative number of the Faithful, such as those in the front row, or the first person sitting in each pew.

[1] ‘The Lord be with you’. The response is given ‘Et cum spiritu tuo’ (‘And with thy spirit’). On the first of these occasions, if the celebrant is a bishop, he says ‘Pax vobis’ (‘Peace [be] to you.’) The response is the same.
[2] ‘Benedicat vos omnipotens Deus, Pater, et Filius, et Spiritus Sanctus.’ (‘May the omnipotent God bless you, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.’) The response is given: ‘Amen’.
[3] ‘The Peace of the Lord be with you [plural] always.’ ‘And with thy spirit.’
[4] When Mass is celebrated by a bishop, the bishop gives the embrace to the Assistant Priest, and then (if they are not receiving communion) to the deacon and the subdeacon. The Assistant Priest gives it to clergy in choir and then to the Master of Ceremonies.
[5] See General Instruction of the Roman Missal 82: ‘As for the sign of peace to be given, the manner is to be established by Conferences of Bishops in accordance with the culture and customs of the peoples. It is, however, appropriate that each person offer the sign of peace only to those who are nearest and in a sober manner.’ (‘Ad ipsum signum pacis tradendæ quod attinet, modus a Conferentiis Episcoporum, secundum ingenium et mores populorum, statuatur. Convenit tamen ut unusquisque solummodo sibi propinquioribus sobrie pacem significet.’)
[6] The use of a handshake instead of the embrace (or the kissing of a paxbrede) is incompatible with the practice in the Extraordinary Form of the celebrant holding his thumb and forefinger together from the Consecration of the Host until the Ablutions after Communion, when these fingers are washed with wine and water. This practice reflects a concern for fragments of the Host which might adhere to the fingers. A special washing of the fingers (in addition to the cleansing of the Chalice) begins to be found in the Latin liturgical tradition from the beginning of the 8th century: see Josef Jungmann The Mass of the Roman Rite: its origins and development (English Edition: New York, Benzinger Brothers, 1955) Vol II p417. The washing of the celebrant’s fingers after Communion is omitted from the 1970 Missal. Rubrics instructing the celebrant to hold thumb and forefinger together are found in the earliest printed Missals of the late 15th century.
[7] Archdale King points out that in all the Celtic languages the ordinary word of ‘kiss’ derives from the Latin Pax, through its association with the liturgical kiss: see his Liturgies of the Past (London: Longmans, 1959) p270.
[8] For a discussion of recent scholarship, raising doubts about the understanding of the historical development put forward by Josef Jungmann and others, see Robert Cabié The Eucharist, new ed., trans. Matthew J. O’Connell (Collegeville: The Liturgical Press, 1986), at 113–115 (the second volume of the series The Church at Prayer ed A. G. Martimort).
[9] Justin Martyr First Apology 65.
[10]: Pseudo Germanus: Expositio brevis antiquae liturgiae gallicanae ‘De Sono’ (PL 72.93D-94A): The passage continues: ‘… and that he who is black with some discord may promptly rush back to grace or beg forgiveness of his neighbor, lest he bring upon himself the company of the Betrayer by giving a false peace. In this way too the reception of the Eucharist or the granting of the blessing may be all the more profitable that Christ sees that hearts are at peace, since He commanded his disciples, as he ascended to heaven, “I leave you peace, my peace I give you” (Jn 14:27) and let all know that you are my disciples in this: that you love one another.’ (‘Pacem autem ideo Christi mutuo proferunt ut per mutuo ósculo teneant  in se caritatis affectum, et qui aliqua fuscatur discordia, cito recurrat ad gratiam vel petat proximo veniam, ne pacem falsam dando incurrat proditoris consortium, et tantum melius proficiat Eucharistia suscepta vel benedictio tradita quantum Christus conspicerit pacifica esse corda quia ipse mandavit discipulis caelos ascendens pacem relinquo vobis pacem meam do vobis (Joan xiv 27) et in hoc cognoscent omnes quod discipuli mei estis si vos invicem dilexeritis.’) This passage is quoted in part by Archdale King op. cit. p171. King also quotes the Missale Gothicum’s Epiphany Collect: ‘ut osculum quod in labiis datur in cordibus non negatur’ ‘that the kiss given with lips not be contradicted in hearts.’)
[11] ‘If therefore thou offer thy gift at the altar, and there thou remember that thy brother hath any thing against thee; Leave there thy offering before the altar, and go first to be reconciled to thy brother: and then coming thou shalt offer thy gift.’ (‘Si ergo offeres munus tuum ad altare, et ibi recordatus fueris quia frater tuus habet aliquid adversum te: relinque ibi munus tuum ante altare, et vade prius reconciliari fratri tuo: et tunc veniens offeres munus tuum.’)
[12] Jungmann op. cit. Vol II p322.
[13] St. Innocent I , Letter to Decentius, Bishop of Gubbio, Epistula 25.1.4 (PL 20.553A) A literal translation of a longer passage: ‘You say that some priests order the Peace to the people before the mysteries have been confected, or that they give it to one another even though the peace must necessarily be proclaimed after all the things which I need  not mention explicitly, since by it [sc. the pax] is manifested that the people have given their consent to all that is done in the mysteries and celebrated in the church, and these are shown to have been accomplished by the sign of the conclusion of the peace.’ (‘Pacem igitur asseris ante confecta mysteria quosdam populis imperare vel sibi inter se sacerdotes tradere cum post omnia, quae apperire non debeo, pax sit necessario indicenda, per quam constet populum ad omnia, quae in mysteriis aguntur atque in ecclesia celebrantur, praebuisse consensum, ac finita esse pacis concludentis signáculo demonstrentur.’) St Innocent I also maintains in this letter that the Roman practice of the Pax, at this point in the Mass, is of ‘apostolic tradition’.
[14] Matthew 6:12: ‘And forgive us our debts, as we also forgive our debtors.’ (‘Et dimitte nobis debita nostra, sicut et nos dimittimus debitoribus nostris.’)
[15] Jungmann op. cit. Vol II p321 n1-2, citing St Augustine on African usage and the oldest Roman Ordines.
[16] Jungmann op. cit. Vol II p326
[17] Jungmann op. cit. Vol II pp328-9, cites English diocesan statutes of 1248; the origin of the Paxbrede is put at c.1000, in an English monastic setting, by Maxwell E. Johnson, The Eucharistic Liturgies: Their Evolution and Interpretation, Alcuin Club Collections, no. 87 (London: SPCK, 2012), 215.
[18] Jungmann op. cit. Vol II p327.  However, in former times men and women usually sat on different sides of the nave, a practice recommended in the 1917 Code of Canon Law (Canon 1262.1).
[19] See the Appendix for exceptions.
[20] Polycarpus Radó, OSB Enchiridion Liturgicum  (Herder, 1961) Tomus II; ‘in very many places it has fallen into disuse, particularly for reasons of hygiene.’ (‘plerisque locis nunc in desuetudinem abiit, praecipue ob rationes hygienicas.’) It is noteworthy that the Sign of Peace in the Ordinary Form has on a number of occasions been suspended in time of epidemic.
[21] See Eamon Duffy The Stripping of the Altars, (New Haven: Yale, 1992), p. 126-127. ‘In 1494 the wardens of the parish of All Saints, Stanyng [England], presented Joanna Dyaca for breaking the paxbrede by throwing it on the ground, “because another woman of the parish had kissed it before her.” On All Saints Day 1522 Master John Browne of the parish of Theydon-Garnon in Essex, having kissed the pax-brede at the parish Mass, smashed it over the head of Richard Pond, the holy-water clerk who had tendered it to him, “causing streams of blood to run to the ground.” Brown was enraged because the pax had first been offered to Francis Hamden and his wife Margery, despite the fact that the previous Sunday he had warned Pond, “Clerke, if thou here after givest not me the pax first I shall breke it on thy hedd.”
[22] J.B. O’Connell comments, on those occasions when the Paxbrede is employed: ‘When the kiss of peace has to be given to a number of persons, it should come to an end before the celebrant sings Dominus vobiscum preceding the Postcommunion Prayer’ (The Celebration of Mass: a study of the Rubrics of the Roman Missal, 4th Edition (Milwaukee: The Bruce Publishing Company, 1963)). This appears to assume that there will be no Communion of the Faithful in Mass, as was indeed the practice for many centuries, either because the Faithful would receive only on the most important feasts, or because they received outside Mass.
[23] Pope Benedict XVI, Post-Synodal Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis (2007) 49: ‘…during the [2007] Synod of Bishops there was discussion about the appropriateness of greater restraint in this gesture, which can be exaggerated and cause a certain distraction in the assembly just before the reception of Communion. It should be kept in mind that nothing is lost when the sign of peace is marked by a sobriety which preserves the proper spirit of the celebration, as, for example, when it is restricted to one's immediate neighbours.’ (‘Synodo Episcoporum, opportunitas est considerata moderandi hunc gestum, qui nimium pondus assumere potest, quandam confusionem gignens inter fideles et quidem ante ipsam Communionem. Probe est asseverandum quemadmodum huius actus praestantiae nihil detrahat sobrietas, necessaria ad servandum idoneum celebrationis spiritum, exempli gratia, cum efficitur ut mutuum signum pacis detur solummodo personae proximae.’)
[24] Quoted in Thomas Crean OP The Mass and the Saints (Oxford: Family Publications, 2008) p180; the quotation comes from Ligouri’s The Sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
[25] Pope Pius XII Encyclical Letter Mediator Dei (1948) 61:  ‘The liturgy of the early ages is most certainly worthy of all veneration. But ancient usage must not be esteemed more suitable and proper, either in its own right or in its significance for later times and new situations, on the simple ground that it carries the savour and aroma of antiquity. The more recent liturgical rites likewise deserve reverence and respect. They, too, owe their inspiration to the Holy Spirit, who assists the Church in every age even to the consummation of the world. They are equally the resources used by the majestic Spouse of Jesus Christ to promote and procure the sanctity of man.’ (‘Utique vetustae aetatis Liturgia veneratione procul dubio digna est; verumtamen vetus usus, non idcirco dumtaxat quod antiquitatem sapit ac redolet, aptior ac melior existimandus est vel in semet ipso, vel ad consequentia tempora novasque rerum condiciones quod attinet. Recentiores etiam liturgici ritus reverentia observantiaque digni sunt, quoniam Spiritus Sancti afflatu, qui quovis tempore Ecclesiae adest ad consummationem usque saeculorum, orti sunt; suntque iidem pariter opes, quibus inclita Iesu Christi; Sponsa utitur ad hominum sanctitatem excitandam procurandamque.’)
[26] Other terms used are, in English, Paxboard, and in Latin Pacificale, Paciferum, Pax, Tabula ad pacem or Asser ad pacem.
[27] Polycarpus Radó op. cit. Tomus II, pp. 1440: ‘Many Instruments of Peace are square tablets decorated with Christ's image or saints' relics. Others were made in an even more exquisite fashion like the reredos of an altar, while yet others show the appearance of a shield (medallion). A fourth type of Instrument of Peace is a Cross provided with a foot, called a Pacificale. The material they were made from was wood, often also stone, ivory, silver, gold or another metal.’
[28] J.B. O’Connell The Celebration of Mass: a study of the Rubrics of the Roman Missal, 4th Edition (Milwaukee: The Bruce Publishing Company, 1963).  Cf Ritus servandus (1962) X, 3
[29] Archdale King Liturgies of the Religious Orders (London: Longmans, 1955) p53
[30] Ibid, p218 and 223
[31] Ibid, p388
[32] Archdale King refers to the Spanish Province as retaining this custom (ibid). Today is it used in the Australian province, and by the Fraternity of Saint Vincent de Ferrer (Fraternité Saint-Vincent-Ferrier (FSVF)), who use the Dominican Rite.
[33] Jungmann op. cit. p330 n47
[34] Fr. Gregorio Martínez de Antoñana Manual de Liturgia, p419, note 1