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A number of bishops appear to share this view.

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They argue that before Communion the congregation should be preparing to receive the body and blood of Christ and not be greeting one another. The worshipers should be facing toward Jesus, not toward one another. In its crudest form, this argument smacks of an individualistic piety that sees the Eucharist as something "between me and Jesus," with the rest of the congregation only a distraction. Some who complain about the kiss of peace even object to singing at Communion because it distracts them from preparing to receive Jesus and from making their private thanksgiving.

Those defending the present location of the sign of peace respond: "Is there any better preparation for Communion than expressing our love for our neighbors? In order to sort through these opposed arguments, it is necessary first to examine the nature of symbolic gestures and then to examine the history of the kiss of peace in the Roman liturgy. Human beings communicate in a number of ways: through written words, through spoken words, through music, through art and through gestures.

Gestures are nonverbal, symbolic actions used by a person to communicate with others. A police officer directing traffic uses gestures to communicate with drivers in their cars. Drivers, either through training or through observation, have learned how to interpret these gestures. When I was in high school, a new teacher from Germany asked for volunteers to put the homework assignment on the black board. When no one raised his hand to volunteer, the teacher said he wanted to see some fingers. The students immediately showed him some fingers-whose meaning he luckily did not understand.

Gestures can also have different meanings in different contexts. Extending the right arm in a classroom means the student wants to be called on, extending it at an auction means you are making a bid extending it at a Nazi rally means something else. Often, therefore, when the meaning of a gesture is not clear, people add words to make the meaning clearer. If you walk into a bar and hold up two fingers, the meaning is clarified if you say "peace," or "two beers," or "a table for two.

Finally, it should be noted that the meaning of many gestures is culturally determined. Gestures can even have exactly opposite meanings for different people. Wearing a hat in a synagogue is a sign of respect wearing one in a Catholic church is a sign of disrespect-unless you are a bishop. In the film world of Humphrey Bogart's Casablanca, a kiss was just a kiss, but in real life things are more complicated. A kiss, an embrace and a handshake are gestures used to communicate some meaning.

They are forms of nonverbal communication, symbolic gestures. But the meaning of these symbolic gestures is not always self-evident. A KISS can have many meanings, depending on the persons who kiss, the place, the time and the culture. Depending on the circumstances, a kiss can be an invitation to a sexual encounter, a greeting, a good-bye, an expression of a special spousal, familial relationship, an expression of sympathy to someone in pain, an expression of reconciliation kiss and make up , an act of aggression if the kiss is unwanted or even an act of betrayal as with Judas.

It can also be a sign of subservience, as in the kissing of feet. Similarly, a handshake can have many meanings: hello, good-bye, a sign of agreement let's shake on it , an indication of a promise or commitment, a sign that a conflict is not personal shake hands and come out fighting.

It can also be a sign of congratulations when receiving a diploma or a sign of reconciliation. Handshakes can take place between strangers or intimate friends. What then is the meaning of the sign of peace in its present location in the liturgy? Coming as it does after the Lord's Prayer, some would see it as a sign of reconciliation: "Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us Following this interpretation, some priests introduce the sign of peace by saying, "Let us show that we are at peace with one another," although these words are not in the liturgical texts.

The new Sacramentary proposed by the International Commission on English in the Liturgy gives as a second option: "As children of the God of peace, let us offer one another a sign of reconciliation and peace. The prayer that immediately precedes the sign of peace does not speak of mutual forgiveness or reconciliation. It is an unusual prayer, one of the few in the eucharistic liturgy addressed to Jesus. Most prayers in the Eucharist are addressed to God, that is, to the Father.

In that fourth Gospel, the Lord then speaks of not being distressed or fearful. Elsewhere, he speaks of reconciliation, but not here.


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The eucharistic prayer asks Jesus to look not on our sins, but on the faith of his church, and to grant us the unity and peace of his Kingdom, where he lives for ever and ever. The prayer does not even ask for forgiveness it asks that Jesus simply ignore our sins. After this prayer, the presider says, "The peace of the Lord be with you always. Thus we are not talking about mutual reconciliation.

Rather, the words sound like a blessing or a prayer: "Peace be with you. The presider or deacon then says, "Let us offer each other the sign of peace. There is a tendency among some clerics to believe that sin and reconciliation must be brought up during the liturgy every 60 seconds or the people of God will forget that they are sinners in need of forgiveness. Prayers of praise, thanksgiving and petition must be constantly interrupted with a remembrance of sin. That conviction is clearly at work when the sign of peace is turned into a sign of reconciliation or a mini-penitential rite.

But the people in the assembly do not buy this. Despite what the priest might say, most people do not see the sign of peace in its present location as a sign of reconciliation. Of course, there are exceptions: The family that had an argument in the car on the way to church the parish ripped by racial tension the old enemies who accidentally sat next to each other.

But the average person turning to his neighbor is not thinking of his sins against that neighbor or of that person's sins against him. In many cases he does not even know the person's name. Too often during the kiss of peace, people are simply saying hello to their neighbors. Some, like the presider, are wishing the gift of Christ's peace for their neighbors. They are bestowing a blessing. They say, "Christ's peace be with you. The kiss of peace can also be a physical gesture indicating an openness to communion with one's neighbors, those with whom one will be united in Christ through Communion.

The Pastoral Introduction to the Order of the Mass proposed by the International Commission on English in the Liturgy gives one of the best interpretations of the kiss of peace. It points out:. The exchange of peace prior to the reception of communion is an acknowledgment that Christ whom we receive in the sacrament is already present in our neighbor. In this exchange, the assembly acknowledges the insistent Gospel truth that communion with God in Christ is enjoyed in communion with our sisters and brothers in Christ.

The rite of peace is not an expression merely of human solidarity or good will it is rather an opening of ourselves and our neighbors to a challenge and a gift from beyond ourselves.

CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA: Kiss

Like the Amen at communion, it is the acceptance of a challenge, a profession of faith that we are members, one with another, in the body of Christ. The bishops are now asked, however, whether the sign of peace should be moved or stay where it is. Before considering that question, it will be helpful to look at the history of the kiss of peace and its place in the liturgy.

Kissing and hugging are ancient practices among Christians.

Kiss of Peace: Father Matthew Presents

After telling the Corinthians to live in harmony and peace, St. Paul tells them to greet one another with a holy kiss. In his Letter to the Romans, after greeting a series of people, Paul writes: "Greet one another with a holy kiss. All of the churches of Christ send you greeting. Peter tells his readers to greet one another with the embrace of true love.

He then immediately concludes his letter with, "Peace to all of you who are in Christ. Kissing at Christian liturgies, then, has a long history. According to the ancient custom, adults were baptized and then confirmed by the bishop, who immediately welcomed the new Christian with a kiss. Catechumens, on the other hand, were not to give or receive the kiss of peace. According to Joseph J. Jungman, S.

The Kiss of Peace

The Christians took this secular practice and incorporated it into their own sacrament of initiation, where it took on added meaning. While the practice died out in secular society as culture changed, its meaning in the Christian community continued, although it degenerated, through German influence, to a mere tap on the cheek. The first record of a kiss in the eucharistic rite goes back to the oldest recorded description of the liturgy-the one provided by the first Apology of Saint Justin in the mid-second century. Justin describes the Liturgy of the Word as including readings from the memoirs of the Apostles or the writings of the prophets.

Instructions and exhortations from the presider follow the readings and then all rise together and pray. He also notes: "Having ended the prayer, we salute one another with a kiss. Thus the kiss occurred immediately after the prayers that concluded the Liturgy of the Word.


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