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Holy kiss

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Alonzo Rodriguez Commiato dei santi Pietro e Paolo Messina Museo Regionale

Farewell of Saints Peter and Paul, showing the Apostles giving each other the holy kiss before their martyrdom. (Alonzo Rodriguez, 16th century, Museo Regionale di Messina).

The holy kiss is a traditional Christian greeting. The term comes from the New Testament, where it appears five times.

It is mentioned in:

  • Romans 16.16a — "Greet one another with a holy kiss" (Greek: ἀσπάσασθε ἀλλήλους ἐν φιλήματι ἁγίῳ).
  • I Corinthians 16.20b — "Greet one another with a holy kiss" (Greek: ἀσπάσασθε ἀλλήλους ἐν φιλήματι ἁγίῳ).
  • II Corinthians 13.12a — "Greet one another with a holy kiss" (Greek: ἀσπάσασθε ἀλλήλους ἐν ἁγίῳ φιλήματι).
  • I Thessalonians 5.26 — "Greet all the brothers with a holy kiss" (Greek: ἀσπάσασθε τοὺς ἀδελφοὺς πάντας ἐν φιλήματι ἁγίῳ).
  • I Peter 5.14a — "Greet one another with a kiss of love" (Greek: ἀσπάσασθε ἀλλήλους ἐν φιλήματι ἀγάπης).

Superficially, there was nothing new in the practice of Christians greeting one another with a kiss: cheek kissing was the normal way that men in the ancient western Mediterranean would greet one another. However, the New Testament's emphasis on its being a holy and love (agapē) kiss meant that it quickly developed into something more than a greeting.

The writings of the early church fathers speak of the holy kiss, which was already part of the Eucharist, occurring after the Lord's Prayer. Augustine, for example, speaks of it in one of his Easter Sermons:

Then, after the consecration of the Holy Sacrifice of God, because He wished us also to be His sacrifice, a fact which was made clear when the Holy Sacrifice was first instituted, and because that Sacrifice is a sign of what we are, behold, when the Sacrifice is finished, we say the Lord's Prayer which you have received and recited. After this, the 'Peace be with you’ is said, and the Christians embrace one another with the holy kiss. This is a sign of peace; as the lips indicate, let peace be made in your conscience, that is, when your lips draw near to those of your brother, do not let your heart withdraw from his. Hence, these are great and powerful sacraments.[1]
In this way it still remains a part of the worship in traditional churches (Eastern Christianity, Roman Catholic Church and liturgical Protestant churches), where it is often called the kiss of peace or sign of peace, or simply peace or pax.

The Latin term translated as "sign of peace" is simply pax ("peace"), not signum pacis ("sign of peace") nor osculum pacis ("kiss of peace"). So the invitation by the deacon, or in his absence by the priest, "Let us offer each other the sign of peace", is in Latin: Offerte vobis pacem ("Offer each other peace" or "Offer each other the peace").

Presently, the greeting is not normally shared as a kiss in English-speaking cultures, but by shaking hands or performing some other greeting gesture (such as an embrace) more in tune with the culture and time. In fact, handshaking, which can seem quite prosaic today, was popularised by Quakers as a sign of equality under God, rather than stratified system of etiquette of seventeenth century England. One could even say that the handshake greeting is also of biblical origin: it is mentioned in Galatians 2.9d: "They gave me and Barnabas their right hands of fellowship" (Greek: δεξὰς ἔδωκαν ἐμοὶ καὶ Βαρναβᾷ κοινωνίας).

In the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite, also known as the Tridentine Mass, the sign of peace is exchanged only among the sacred ministers and clergy. The sign of peace is given by the celebrant to the deacon, who in turn gives it to the subdeacon, who gives the sign to any other clergy present in choir dress. In this context, the sign of peace is given by extending both arms in a slight embrace with the words "Pax tecum' (Peace be with you).

In the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite of the Mass the sign of peace, if used, is exchanged shortly before Holy Communion, following the Lord's Prayer and the Agnus Dei. The instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum of 25 March 2004 explains: "According to the tradition of the Roman Rite, this practice does not have the connotation either of reconciliation or of a remission of sins, but instead signifies peace, communion and charity before the reception of the Most Holy Eucharist."[2]

The manner prescribed is as follows: "It is appropriate that each one give the sign of peace only to those who are nearest and in a sober manner. The Priest may give the sign of peace to the ministers but always remains within the sanctuary, so as not to disturb the celebration. He does likewise if for a just reason he wishes to extend the sign of peace to some few of the faithful."[3]

Different Protestant, Reformed and Restorationist churches have readopted the holy kiss either metaphorically (in that members extend a pure, warm welcome that is referred to as a holy kiss) or literally (in that members kiss one another). This practice is particularly important among many Anabaptist sects.


  1. SERMON 227, The Fathers of the Church,(1959), Roy Joseph Deferrari, Genera editor, Sermons on the Liturgical Seasons, vol. 38, p. 197. [1] See also: Sermon 227 in The Works of Saint Augustine: A New Translation for the 21st Century, (1993), Vol. 6, part, 3, p. 255. ISBN 1565480503
  2. Redemptionis Sacramentum, 71
  3. Redemptionis Sacramentum, 72

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