Four times in the Epistles of St. Paul we meet the injunction, used as a sort of formula of farewell, "Salute one another in a holy kiss" ( en philemati hagio ), for which St. Peter (1 Pet., v, 14) substitutes "in a kiss of love " ( en philemati agapes ). It has been suggested by F. C. Conybeare (The Expositor, 3rd Ser., ix, 461, 1894) on the ground of two passages in Philo's "Quæstiones in Exodum" (ii, 78 and 118) that this was an imitation of a practice of the Jewish synagogues. The evidence adduced, however, is very slight. In any case it seems probable that in these very early days the custom of Christians so saluting each other was not necessarily confined to the time of the liturgy. Such salutations were no doubt used somewhat promiscuously even between those of opposite sexes in token of fraternal solicitude and charity ( pietatis et caritatis pignus , as St. Ambrose, "Hexaem.", VI, ix, 68, points out), and the modesty and reserve which so many of the pre-Nicene Fathers inculcate when speaking of this matter must be held to have reference to other occasions than the kiss of peace in the liturgy. This is also implied by Tertullian, who speaks of the pagan husband's reluctance that his Christian wife should "meet one of the brethren with a kiss" ( alicui fratrum ad osculum convenire , "Ad Uxor.", ii, 4). Not improbably St. Paul's injunction was so interpreted that any synaxis of the faithful where there was reading of the Scriptures terminated in a salute of this kind, and it is even possible that the appearance of the kiss in certain liturgies at the Mass of Catechumens is due to the same cause. In any case we have definite evidence that a kiss was on some occasions bestowed outside the actual liturgy. After baptism the newly initiated, whether infants or adults, were embraced first by the baptizer and then by the faithful who were present (see Cyprian, "Ad Fidum Epis.", Ep. lix, 4, and Chrysostom, Hom. l, "De Util. leg. Scrip."). The use of the formula Pax tecum in some of the later rituals of baptism is probably a survival of this practice.
Again a kiss was and still is given to the newly ordained by the bishop who ordains them. Similarly after the consecration of a bishop and, at a later date, after the coronation of a king, the personage so exalted, after he was enthroned, was saluted with a kiss, while a kiss, no doubt suggested by the Scriptural example of the prodigal son, was enjoined in many of the rituals for the absolution of a penitent. Of the kiss solemnly exchanged between those newly betrothed something will be said under MARRIAGE (q.v.), but we may note here the custom for Christians to bestow a last kiss, which then had a quasi-liturgical character, upon the dying or the dead. The prohibition against kissing the dead which was issued by the Council of Auxerre, A. It 578, almost certainly had some relation to the abuse at that time prevalent of placing the Blessed Sacrament in the mouth of the dead or burying It with them. It may be added that throughout the Middle Ages an almost religious solemnity attached to the public exchange of a kiss as a token of amity. Remarkable examples of this may be found in the history of the quarrels of Henry II with St. Thomas of Canterbury, and of Richard Coeur de Lion with St. Hugh of Lincoln. In the latter case the bishop is recorded to have taken hold of Richard by his mantle and to have positively shaken him until the king, overcome by such persistence, recovered his good humour and bestowed on the saint the salute which was his due.
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".
Another clear testimony of about the same date occurs in a sermon attributed to St. Augustine, but probably written by St. Cæsarius of Arles (P. L. XXXVIII, 1101): "After this [the Lord's prayer ], Pax vobiscum is said, and the faithful salute each other with the kiss which is the sign of peace." The Roman Ordines, the Stowe Missal which represents Irish usage at an early date, and a chorus of liturgical writers from the eighth century onwards attest that wherever Roman influence prevailed the Pax invariably followed the great consecratory prayer and the Pater. lt is easy to understand that the usage which placed the kiss of peace before the Offertory Was prompted by the remembrance of those words of our Lord (Mat., v, 23-24): "If therefore thou offer thy gift at the altar, and there thou remember that thy brother hath anything 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." It seems to be pretty generally held that this position before the Offertory was the primitive position of the liturgical kiss of peace even at Rome. Dom Cabrol and others incline to the view that the kiss formed the natural sequel to the commemoration of the living and of the dead, and that all these three elements, which originally found a place at the Offertory, were deliberately transferred elsewhere in the course of some early revision of the Roman Liturgy, the commemoration of the living and of the dead being inserted separately in the great consecratory prayer, or Canon of the Mass, while the Pax was made to follow the Pater Noster, having been attracted to that position by the words "Forgive us our trespasses", etc. (Cabrol, "Origines Liturgiques", Paris, 1906, pp. 360-361). However, the rival theory, that there were originally two occasions when the kiss of peace was given, one before the Offertory and the other before the Communion, does not lack probability; for St. John Chrysostom, the Prayer Book of Serapion, and Anastasius Sinaita seem all to know of some such rite before Communion, and the practice of kissing the bishop's hand before receiving the Blessed Sacrament (see Card. Rampolla, "S. Melania giuniore", note 41) may possibly be connected with it. According to this second theory of the double kiss of peace, both the Roman and the Oriental liturgies omitted one of these salutations, the Oriental retaining that at the Offertory, the Roman that at the Communion. In any case it is certain that in the early Middle Ages the kiss of peace was most intimately associated in idea with the reception of Communion (see Pseudo-Egbert, "Confessionale", xxxv, in Wasserschleben, "Bussordnungen", p. 315), and it seems probable that the omission of the Pax in Masses for the Dead was due to the fact that Communion was not distributed to the faithful at such Masses.
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. The Western Church, however, has not been the only one to discover that the ceremony of the Pax could not be decorously maintained when manners had grown less austere. Among the Greeks hardly a trace of the original salute is preserved. Just before the Creed, which itself precedes the Anaphora, the celebrant says, "Peace be to all", and then he kisses the gifts (veiled), while at the same time the deacon kisses his own orarion, or stole. In the Syrian rites, the deacon touches the priest's hands, then moves his own hands down his face and gives them to be touched by someone else. In this way the salute is passed on. Dean Stanley declares that in the Coptic Rite the kiss is still passed among the people from lip to lip, but the truth seems to be that each one merely bows to his neighbour and touches his hand (see Brightman, "Liturgies Eastern and Western", 1896, p. 585).
It is clear that from the earliest times a kiss was not only a token of love, but also under certain circumstances a symbol of profound respect. For example, the son of Sirach ( Ecclesiasticus 29:5 ) describes how would-be borrowers, when they wish to ingratiate themselves "kiss the hands of the lender, and in promises they humble their voice". It is in accordance with this symbolism, so universally understood and practised, that the Church enjoins the kissing of many holy objects, e.g. relics, the book of the Gospels, the cross, blessed palms, candles, the hands of the clergy and nearly all the utensils and vestments connected with the liturgy. In particular the altar is repeatedly kissed by the celebrant in the course of the Mass, and this practice is of very ancient date. The earliest of the Ordines Romani mentions it twice, but only twice: first, when the bishop ascends to the altar at the beginning, and secondly, at the Offertory, when he comes again to the altar from his throne. Innocent III speaks of the altar being kissed three times, but in the days of Durandus nine such salutations were in use, as at present. By a symbolism prevalent from a very early period the altar was regarded as typical of Christ, the God-Man, abiding permanently with His Church in the Sacrifice of the Mass, and this conception is preserved, for example, in the address now made to the candidate in the ordination of a subdeacon. The appropriateness of kissing the altar before the salutation Dominus vobiscum need not be insisted upon: it clearly implies that the greeting comes, not from the priest only, but from Christ, the head and corner-stone, to the faithful who are the members of His Church. On the other hand the prayer said by the priest, on first ascending to the altar, indicates that this kiss has also special reference to the relics therein enshrined.
The veneration shown in the kissing of a person's hand or the hem of his garment is accentuated in the kissing of the feet. This is probably implied by the phrase of Isaias (xlix, 23): "Kings...shall lick up the dust of Thy feet." Under the influence, no doubt, of the ceremonial of king-worship, as manifested in the cultus of the Roman emperors, this particular mark of veneration came to prevail at an early date among the usages of the papal court (see Lattey, "Ancient King-Worship", Lond., 1909 C. T. S. pamhlet). We read of it in the first "Ordo Romanus" belonging to the seventh century, but even earlier than this the "Liber Pontificalis" attests that the Emperor Justin paid this mark of respect to Pope John I (523-26), as later on Justinian II also did to Pope Constantine. At the election of Leo IV (847) the custom of so kissing the pope's foot was spoken of as an ancient one. It is not, therefore, wonderful that a practice supported by so early a tradition should still be observed. It is observed liturgically in a solemn papal Mass by the Latin and Greek subdeacons, and quasi-liturgically in the "adoration" of the pope by the cardinals after his election. It is also the normal salutation which papal etiquette prescribes for those of the faithful who are presented to the pope in a private audience. In his "De altaris mysterio" (VI, 6) Innocent III explains that this ceremony indicates "the very great reverence due to the Supreme Pontiff as the Vicar of Him whose feet" were kissed by the woman who was a sinner.
The Catholic Encyclopedia is the most comprehensive resource on Catholic teaching, history, and information ever gathered in all of human history. This easy-to-search online version was originally printed in fifteen hardcopy volumes.
Designed to present its readers with the full body of Catholic teaching, the Encyclopedia contains not only precise statements of what the Church has defined, but also an impartial record of different views of acknowledged authority on all disputed questions, national, political or factional. In the determination of the truth the most recent and acknowledged scientific methods are employed, and the results of the latest research in theology, philosophy, history, apologetics, archaeology, and other sciences are given careful consideration.
No one who is interested in human history, past and present, can ignore the Catholic Church, either as an institution which has been the central figure in the civilized world for nearly two thousand years, decisively affecting its destinies, religious, literary, scientific, social and political, or as an existing power whose influence and activity extend to every part of the globe. In the past century the Church has grown both extensively and intensively among English-speaking peoples. Their living interests demand that they should have the means of informing themselves about this vast institution, which, whether they are Catholics or not, affects their fortunes and their destiny.
Copyright © Catholic Encyclopedia. Robert Appleton Company New York, NY. Volume 1: 1907; Volume 2: 1907; Volume 3: 1908; Volume 4: 1908; Volume 5: 1909; Volume 6: 1909; Volume 7: 1910; Volume 8: 1910; Volume 9: 1910; Volume 10: 1911; Volume 11: - 1911; Volume 12: - 1911; Volume 13: - 1912; Volume 14: 1912; Volume 15: 1912
Catholic Online Catholic Encyclopedia Digital version Compiled and Copyright © Catholic Online