Saturday, August 2, 2014

Why the Vatican is right about the "Kiss of Peace"

Fr. Thomas Reese criticizes a recent Vatican directive in his article "Vatican says 'Don't Enjoy Kissing' (National Catholic Reporter, Aug 1, 2-014).

First off, the title is as misleading as it is needlessly provocative. 

Fr. Reese knows full well that most people will interpret that title as implying that the Vatican is against the enjoyment of kissing in any context. In fact, the article is touching on a very specific context addressed by the Vatican, the Kiss of Peace in the Mass. 

The letter from the Vatican's Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, headed by Cardinal Antonio Canizares Llovera, urges bishops to address certain "abuses" taking place such as the practice of replacing the traditional "Kiss of Peace" with a "Song of Peace," or to use that moment of the Liturgy to publicly recognize birthdays or anniversaries in the congregation.

In this post, I will defend the Vatican's position and demonstrate that Fr. Reese's main proof text for his own position actually proves him wrong

The Kiss of Peace as Reconciliation

The Vatican's letter points out that in some Catholic liturgical traditions the Kiss of Peace:

"occurs before the offering in response to Jesus' exhortation in Matthew 5:23-24: "If you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift."

The original purpose and position of the Kiss of Peace in the Mass should color its tone. And if the Kiss of Peace is originally a ritual in which people liturgically forgave one another prior to the consecration, then of course it should have a somewhat somber character and the Vatican correctives are justified. 

This is true even if, as is the case, the ritual has become misplaced in the Latin Mass until after the consecration.

Fr. Reese's Counterargument

Fr. Reese asserts:

 "Some have incorrectly seen the kiss not as a conclusion of the Liturgy of the Word but as a preparation for the Eucharistic sacrifice."

His primary evidence for his position is his interpretation of the earliest reference to the Kiss of Peace in early Christian liturgy. Fr. Reese writes:

[Justin Martyr] notes: "Having ended the prayer, we salute one another with a kiss." Then the gifts are brought forward. Thus the kiss occurred immediately after the prayers that concluded the Liturgy of the Word. 

Fr. Reese asserts that Justin Martyr presents the Kiss of Peace as the concluding ritual of the prayer. In fact, Justin's own words, in the original Greek, make it clear that Justin does indeed consider the Kiss of Peace to be the first ritual of the Eucharistic Sacrifice. It all hinges on the true meaning of the word "then" (epeita [ἔπειτα]).

Epeita (ἔπειτα): Then and only then...

Again, Justin Martyr writes:

Having finished the prayers, we greet one another with a kiss. Then (epeita) bread and a cup of wine mixed with water is brought to the president of the brethren. (Apology 65)

Fr. Reese is interpreting the word "then" as merely an adverb describing a sequence of events. This happened, then that happened.

In fact, however, epeita is used to express the fact that one thing only happens after the previous thing occurred.

Note the following examples:

And the dead in Christ will rise first (proton [πρῶτον]). Then (epeita) we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up... (1 Thess 4:16-17)

In other words, the word epeita is used to express the concept of "first this happens and then and only then the other thing happens."

Here's yet another example that proves this meaning of epeita:

But the wisdom from above is first (proton) pure, then (epeita) peaceable, gentle... (James 3:17)

Applying this meaning to the passage from Justin Martyr, the Kiss of Peace is clearly presented as something that happens not just prior to the consecration, but first, and in preparation of what comes after it.

The Kiss of Peace Before the Consecration

If, as Justin Martyr describes, the Kiss of Peace was somehow a preparatory ritual for the Eucharistic Sacrifice, what then was it?

The answer comes from an early Christian text even older than Justin Martyr.The Didache, the Teaching of the Apostles from the late 1st century AD, unambiguously describes Christians as making sure they are reconciled one to the other prior to the Eucharistic gathering, as a prerequisite to the sacrifice being pure:

And let no one, having a dispute with another,  join your assembly until they have been reconciled, that your sacrifice may not be defiled. (Didache 14)

This passage, as well as Matt 5:23-24 cited above, clearly demonstrates an early Christian practice of ensuring reconciliation with each other prior to the offering of the Eucharistic sacrifice. If, as the quote from Justin Martyr proves, the Kiss of Peace was a prerequisite ritual in preparation for the consecration, a reconciliation character for the Kiss of Peace is probable


And so, the Vatican's directive that this ritual preserve a somber tone proper to its original reconciliatory nature is quite appropriate. 

Within my Eastern Orthodox Church, the Kiss of Peace sadly fell into disuse. It is still there officially in the Liturgy, and it occurs prior to the consecration, as it should. In the Ambrosian and Mozarabic Rites of the Latin Church, it is also there where it belongs, prior to the consecration. 

May it be restored to its proper timing in the Latin Mass, and may we all, Orthodox and Catholic alike, one day soon share the Kiss of Peace, full reconciliation, that our common sacrifice of the Eucharist may be pure...

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