Pray for the Peace of Jerusalem: Liturgy and Peace in Context

Resources »Eapr »East Asian Pastoral Review 2006 »Volume 43 2006 Number 3 »Pray For The Peace Of Jerusalem Liturgy And Peace In Context

By Keith F. Pecklers, S.J.

Keith Pecklers, S.J. is Professor of Liturgy at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome and Professor of Liturgical History at the Pontifical Liturgical Institute of Sant’ Anselmo. He is the author of numerous articles and several books including Dynamic Equivalence: The Living Language of Christian Worship (Liturgical Press) and Worship (London: Continuum/ New Century Theology). He is a visiting lecturer at the East Asian Pastoral Institute, Manila.


The complexity of the relationship between Liturgy and Peace is nothing new to our own times. Liturgical history in both East and West reveals a wide range of meanings on how the Pax Christi (Peace of Christ) was enacted and interpreted over the centuries and how that Peace lived out in charity was both a prerequisite for celebrating the liturgy as well as a fruit of the Eucharist itself. Beginning, then, with a consideration of biblical foundations of our argument, I will trace the historical evolution and ritual expression of peace within Christian liturgy. The essay will then conclude with some reflections on our current liturgical situation and the complexity of this relationship in the post-Vatican II Church.

Biblical Foundations

In the Hebrew Bible "shalom" was commonly used both as a greeting (Jud 6:23, Ez 5:7, Dan 4:1) and farewell (Ex 4:18, 2 Sam 15:9), wishing wholeness and well-being but also indicating peace between nations as opposed to conflict (Jos 10:1,4; 1 Sam 7:14, 1 Kings 5:12). The term had other meanings as well: "peace and security" normally as protection from invasion (2 Kings 20:19, Ps 122:12); "peace and prosperity" suggesting material wealth and a good harvest (Deut 13:6, Ez 9:12). We think, for example of Psalm 122, a classic hymn sung by pilgrims traveling together to Zion, rejoicing at their arrival at the temple:

"Pray for the Peace of Jerusalem: May they prosper who love you. Peace be in your walls, and security within your towers. For the sake of my relatives and friends I will say ‘Peace be within you.’ For the sake of the house of the Lord our God, I will seek your good."1

The Hebrew Scriptures also speak of peace as related to morality: as related to truth revealed in faithfulness, and as a fruit of righteousness (Is 32:17). Yahweh himself is shalom (Jud 6:24) and so peace is God’s gift (Lev 26:6, 1 Kings 2:33, Ps 29:11, Is 26:12), God’s promise to Israel (Is 54:10) and the future, eschatological blessing (Ezek 34:25-31; 37:26): The Messiah will be the "Prince of Peace" (Is 9:6). This shalom generally gives emphasis to relationship: peace between people or between people and God. The spiritual notion of an individual peace with God or of "peace of mind" is not prevalent here: The emphasis is on the group—the community, the tribe, the nation (Dewey 1985:766-67).

New Testament usage incorporates much of the meaning of shalom that one finds in the Hebrew Bible but also includes some new, specifically Christian interpretations of the theme. Like the Old Testament, "Peace" is used in the gospels both as a greeting and farewell (Jn 20:19, 21, 26; Mk 5:34, Lk 7:50). In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus says "Go in peace," but that expression takes on salvific meaning as it accompanies the healing of the woman with a hemorrhage and forgives a repentant sinner (Lk 7:50), indicating victory over the power of sickness and sin (Dufuor 1973:413). The disciples of Jesus offer peace as a blessing on those to whom they are sent but it returns to them if they and their message is rejected (Mt 10:13, Lk 10:5,6). The majority of the New Testament letters begin by wishing "Peace" paired with "Grace" (Rm 14:19, 1 Cor 1:3, 2 Cor 1:2, Gal 1:3).

"Peace" in the New Testament signifies the absence of conflict among individuals or nations but also within the Christian community itself (Lk 11:21, 14:32; Rev 6:4), as we see so clearly in St. Paul (Rom 14:18, 1 Cor 14:33, 2 Cor 13:11, 1 Thes 5:13). Christians, moreover, are exhorted to work for peace with all people—both with those who are Christian and those who are not (Heb 12:14). We read in the Letter to the Romans: "If possible, so far as it depends upon you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God" (Rom 12:18-19). Unlike the Old Testament relationship between peace and material wealth, the Christian Scriptures give meaning to the relationship between peace and spiritual blessing: peace and righteousness (Rom 14:17, Heb 12:11, Js 3:18), grace (Phil 1:2, Rev 1:4), and mercy (Gal 6:16, 1 Tim 1:2), love (Jude 2), joy (Rom 14:17; 15:13), and life itself (Rom 8:6). Christ’s mission is to bring peace to a fragmented world which he accomplished by his death on the cross, smashing barriers between Jew and Gentile (Eph 2:14, 17), and ultimately, between God and the entire human race (Rom 5:1; Col 1:20; Dewey, 766-67).

The Corinthian context provides some indication on the relationship between Christian liturgy and peace in the first century. The community of the Body of Christ is an organic unity whose members are linked one to another through participation in a common life. It is precisely this koinonia that is expressed and symbolized in sharing the one bread and one cup. Thus, in the Corinthian account of the Eucharist (1 Cor 11), the essential elements are all there: bread and wine, giving thanks and remembrance, but that was not enough. Eating and drinking in Jesus’ memory was a cause of condemnation for those whose divisive behavior within the community provoked a lack of charity and thereby fractured the koinonia (Murphy-O’Connor 1982:3-4, 16, 19-20). In that Pauline context, the bond of charity, "ecclesial peace" is both a prerequisite for the Eucharist but also a fruit of the celebration itself (Serra 2000:97-98).

That passage from 1 Corinthians is one of the most overt references to liturgy and peace that we have in the Christian Scriptures, but, as Joseph Jungmann notes, there may also be more subtle examples, as well. In his classic work MissarumSollemnia he comments on how frequently the New Testament Letters conclude with the invitation to "greet one another with a holy kiss (Rom 16:16, 1 Cor 16:20, 2 Cor 13:12, 1 Thess 5:26, 1 Pet 5:14), and suggests that perhaps the reading of the particular letter was appended to the celebration of the Eucharist (Jungmann 1950:19, n.57). Be that as it may, what is significant in this early period is an already established relationship between liturgy and peace which comes from union with Christ’s body, the Church, as a gift of the Holy Spirit. Thus, Christians pray for peace, because that peace which comes from God is deeper than anything they could ever achieve by themselves (Taft 1995:20).

Liturgy and Peace: Early Developments within Christian Worship

In the late first and second centuries we begin to find more direct liturgical references to the relationship between liturgy and peace both in East and West. Consistent with Matthew’s injunction to leave one’s gift at the altar and make peace before offering the sacrifice (Mt 5:23-24), the Didache insisted on reconciliation among Christians before offering the Eucharist, "lest the sacrifice be profaned" (Didache 14:7-8). In Rome, Justin Martyr writes around the year 150 c.e. about the ritual kiss exchanged among members of the assembly following the Prayers of the People and before the gifts are brought to the altar (Prima Apologia65:2). This way of concluding the Service of the Word and preparing for the Eucharist does not appear to be unique to Justin, but can also be found in other sources from the end of the second century, suggesting that the Peace was presumably already a constitutive part of the Sunday Eucharist in that period.

Tertullian (+c225), for example, speaks of the Kiss of Peace as the signaculum orationis, thereby sealing the prayer that had just been prayed. Indeed, he criticizes those Christians who refuse to join in the Pax when they were fasting, presumably because they thought they would be breaking their fast if they exchanged the ritual kiss with other members of the assembly!2 It should be noted, however, that by the end of the 11th century the Byzantine tradition omitted the "holy kiss" during Lent as it was apparently too enjoyable to be continued in that penitential season! (Taft 1978:391)

The Anglican liturgical pioneer Gregory Dix viewed the Peace as a fairly common bridge between the service of Word and Eucharist which he argued was inherited from Jewish practice (Dix 1982:107-108), although Paul Bradshaw discounts Dix’s theory in his recent book Eucharistic Origins. Bradshaw contends that the only evidence we actually have comes from the Pauline Corpus where Christians are exhorted to exchange a "holy kiss" (Bradshaw 2004:74-75). Bradshaw notes that in the Greco-Roman world kissing was limited to very close friends and family members and the kiss in that early period was always on the lips (Serra, 99, n.3). So the symbol of kissing other Christians in the liturgical context when church members were not so related was "a powerful counter-cultural symbol," implying the sort of intimate link of brothers and sisters in Christ which would have been considered scandalous by those outside the Church (Bradshaw, 75. See also Phillips, 5-15; Penn 2002:15-58). In Antioch John Chrysostom testifies to the same practice and even provides a spiritual interpretation of that gesture:

Concerning the holy kiss we will give another reason... We are the temple of Christ. It is then the entrance, the vestibule of this temple that we kiss when we kiss one another ... And it is through these doors (i.e. our mouths) that Christ enters us... whenever we receive communion... It is no ordinary honor that our mouth receives when we receive the body of the Lord. It is above all for this reason that we give the kiss here (i.e., on the mouth) [Taft 1978:391].

As we consider "peace" in the liturgical context of the early Church, it is important to remember that the Fathers themselves were largely pacifists, in accordance with the "Sermon on the Mount." Thus, the pre-Constantinian liturgy rejected war and forbade enlisting in military service as evidenced in The Apostolic Tradition (Mt 5-7, Taft 1995:27). That same document also makes mention of the ritual Kiss of Peace.3 Following the baptism, the neophytes were sealed with oil and then kissed by the bishop, assuring them that they were now joined to the community of the faithful in the Eucharist (Serra, 98-100). As we know, the Peace was normally reserved to the baptized alone since it was actually an exchange of pneuma("breath" or "spirit"). And so those who had not yet received the Spirit in baptism were excluded from this gesture, since "their kiss was not yet pure" (Bradshaw et al., 99).

The Greeting of Peace in the East

The Byzantine Divine Liturgy speaks of the "Peace from on high" which the President proclaims at the opening of the Liturgy: "Peace to all!" (Taft 1995:21-22). In his excellent article "War and Peace in the Byzantine Divine Liturgy," Robert Taft notes that the original text of the Byzantine anaphora is itself called "a mercy, a peace, a sacrifice of praise," thus demonstrating that in the Byzantine context "peace" was actually a synonym for Christian worship itself (Taft 1995:22).

The Apostolic Constitutions of late fourth century Syria also note the exchange of Peace taking place at the conclusion of the General Intercessions and before the offering of the bread and wine. This happens only after the catechumens and those in the Order of Penitents have been dismissed. The President then proclaims: "The Peace of God be with you all" after which the deacon invites the assembly: "Greet one another with a holy kiss." After exchanging the Kiss of Peace the faithful then approach the altar for the offering. Only "true participants" in the Eucharistic sacrifice exchange the "Peace" both as a sealing of the Word4 and as a symbol of that ecclesial charity to which the Christian community is called.

Dominic Serra writes:

The Churches of the East have continued to use the kiss in precisely this way up to the present. Once the communion of the faithful became a rarity rather than the norm, they did not abandon the kiss, but some rites restricted it to those whose participation in the sacrifice could be taken for granted, the concelebrating clergy. The reservation of the kiss to the baptized faithful remains constant as does the relationship of the kiss to their offering of the eucharistic sacrifice and to their participating in it by Communion. Its placement before the anaphora allows it to proclaim the identity of the assembly as a church living in the bond of charity, thus capable of fulfilling the Lord’s command (101).

In the largely unknown sixth century homily of Mar James of Sarug (+521) the relationship is emphasized yet again between the bread and wine to be offered and the unity and charity among those in the assembly: "Bring bread and wine and love to the place of atonement, that with your memorial the priest may enter in before the majesty (Taft 1978:10).

The Greeting of Peace in the West

In the West, the tradition of placing the Peace immediately before Communion rather than as a bridge sealing the Liturgy of the Word expanded from North Africa to Rome by the fourth century. The classic testimony of that Roman practice comes from Pope Innocent I’s Letter to Decentius, Bishop of Gubbio around the year 416 c.e. In that oft cited text, Innocent urged that other churches within the vicinity of Rome which had retained the Peace in the original position before offering the gifts, should conform to this new Roman practice of placing the Peace after theFractio panis just before the Communion. His reason was so that "by the Kiss of Peace the people affirm their assent to all that had been done in the celebration of the mysteries." Gregory Dix remarked that Pope Innocent’s argument would have been more convincing had he cited Augustine who said that "the kiss of charity is a good preparation for Communion" (Dix, 109).

Gregory the Great’s rearrangement of the Lord’s Prayer included the Kiss of Peace which followed the Embolism. Indeed, in that period the Peace was seen as a natural preparation for receiving the sacrament. In his Dialogues, Gregory makes mention of a group of monks who, threatened by shipwreck, exchanged the Kiss of Peace and then received the Communion which they were carrying with them (Jungmann 1950a:323).

The Mozarabic Rite adopted the Byzantine practice in the sixth century thanks to Byzantine occupation of Spain under Justinian. It wasn’t until the ninth century that the Ambrosian Rite adopted the African and Roman tradition of placing the Kiss of Peace just before Communion with the Deacon proclaiming to the assembly: "Have peace, one with another" (Dix, 109-10). Meanwhile, in the Roman Stational Liturgy, the Peace was given by the archdeacon to the first bishop who then extended it to the other clergy and then the entire congregation, not unlike what one found in the classical Byzantine Divine Liturgy.

In the Carolingian period, even as the gap continued to widen between sanctuary and nave, we do find at least some encouragement for continuing the Pax among the faithful before Communion, including when giving Communion to the sick (Jungmann 1950a:323). Such testimony is found in the reform Synod of Mainz held in the year 813. Canon 44 states that the lay faithful were admonished to participate both in the Offertory Procession and in the Kiss of Peace (Jungmann 1950:85, n.52). We still find the tradition of exchanging the Pax as late as the year 1000—at least in monasteries–both in England as well in the rest of Europe. On Communion days, the monks would exchange the Pax as a preparation for receiving the sacrament (Jungmann 1950a:324-25). As late as 1584, the statutes of a convent of Cistercian nuns in southern Germany stated that the Kiss of Peace was to be given to the nuns on Communion days, beginning with the Abbess (Jungmann 1950a:325, n.22). Alternatively, as in late 11th century Cluny, for example, the Paxbecame a kind of substitute for receiving Communion (Jungmann 1950a:325, n.23).

Consistent with the practice of the Roman Stational Liturgy of the fifth to the eighth centuries, the ongoing evolution of the Roman Rite moved from an exchange of Peace shared among all those present, one to another, to a more ordered Paxthat proceeded from the altar—from the Sacrament itself—passed among the clergy and then from the presbyterium to the assembly. The ritual kiss no longer began with the deacon but with the President who had himself first received the kiss from the altar when he reverenced it. An early 12th century text from Monte Cassino, for example, notes that the President first kissed the altar, then the book, and finally the Host itself, before offering the Pax to the deacon, while in France, the President’s kiss was limited to the Host before greeting the deacon (Jungmann 1950a:326). The ancient tradition of men only exchanging the kiss with other men and women with other women which could be traced back to the time of Tertullian also flourished in certain cultural contexts in the medieval period. The great Austrian Jesuit liturgist Joseph Jungmann, for example, referred to an old French custom whereby a priest officiating at a wedding would offer the kiss to the groom who in turn, extended the kiss to his bride (Jungmann 1950a:327-28, n.35).

In the Missal of Pius V and also the Ceremoniale Episcoporum of 1600, the Kiss of Peace is provided for, allowing the possibility of extending it also to the laity (Jungmann 1950a:329). Sharing of the Pax with the entire assembly gradually fell into disuse in the West and would remain so until the Second Vatican Council. There were various attempts at its restoration such as at the Jansenist inspired Synod of Pistoia in 1786 and also the German Congress of Ems in the same year, but ultimately to little or no avail (Jungmann 1950:153).

The Kiss of Peace in Modern Day Liturgical Usage

With the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council the Roman Rite restored the Kiss of Peace for the entire assembly just before the Fractio panis. In January, 1968, as the Consilium continued its work of implementing the reforms, discussion turned to the Greeting of Peace. One ecclesiastical observer remarked that "this part of the Mass is one of the least transparent," while another suggested that it was time to give the Peace "a greater prominence" since it has "great value for the people of our day" (Bugnini 1997:364).

Forty years after Vatican II, we have come to recognize the importance of contextualizing the exchange of Peace. This is especially important within the diverse cultures of Asia and the Pacific, many of which would find the traditional Roman Kiss of Peace to be completely foreign to their own cultural situation where public displays of affection are inappropriate. So that gesture of wishing the Peace of Christ to another is adapted, inculturated, contextualized accordingly. Whatever physical form it takes, today the Greeting of Peace has again become a constitutive part of the Eucharistic celebration intended to manifest the liturgical assembly’s "fraternal communion of love in the Spirit of Jesus Christ" (Gascó 2003:1097). That, of course, would be the ideal, but as we know all to well, the reality can be somewhat different. The relationship remains complex and I would like to suggest several challenges—perhaps obstacles—to the authentic living out of Christ’s peace liturgically.

The first involves the ongoing dichotomy between liturgy and life. I remain convinced that despite our best attempts, we have not yet succeeded in fostering the sort of liturgical formation that necessarily bridges the gap between what we do in church on Sunday and what happens during the rest of the week. I am speaking about worship’s capacity for moral and social transformation, shaping how the community lives and acts when it lives the liturgy in daily life. It is extraordinary to think that in the years of the Holocaust, numerous SS officers went to Mass each morning before going about their daily chores of exterminating thousands and thousands of Jews. More recently, William Cavanagh’s provocative book Torture and Eucharist (1998) has addressed a similar problem in terms of the Pinochet dictatorship in Chile and the tension lived there between Eucharistic participation and adherence to the oppressive directives of that dictatorship.

But even in the contemporary Asian context, there are the less dramatic examples of this disconnect in which the community remains divided outside of the Eucharistic celebration but gathers for the liturgy nonetheless, politely wishing "The Peace of Christ" to one’s neighbor as required but nothing more. Michael Amaladoss has noted that it took the Church in India more than 300 years to declare the caste system "sinful and unchristian" yet even today, there are still villages and religious communities that celebrate the Eucharist as if nothing were wrong (2005:227).

This sort of dichotomy reminds us of Paul’s rebuke of the Corinthian community for their scandalous lack of charity toward one another outside of the Eucharist. It also recalls the fundamental truth: "the Eucharist makes the Church and the Church makes the Eucharist" (McPartlan 1993). In other words, if we are not united with ourselves, with our communities, and with Christ’s body in the world before we enter the worshiping assembly, we will not miraculously encounter Christ’s peace in the Eucharist. As we are reminded in the Gospel of Matthew and throughout the Church’s long tradition, peace is a prerequisite for offering our gifts—a prerequisite for our Holy Communion. And that peace comes first and foremost from God.

A second problem involves a certain liturgical isolationism in which our worship becomes rather idiosyncratic and self-referential to the point where the community potentially risks celebrating itself. In my travels within the United States during this tragic Iraq War, I have presided at the Sunday Eucharist in a number of parishes around the country. While there are some notable exceptions, I was surprised at how many places offered General Intercessions only for "those serving in our armed forces" or "the protection of our country from terrorism" with no mention of the Iraqi people and their safety, of hopes for peace in that country, or for those in Iraq who mourn the loss of their beloved dead and continue to suffer tremendously because of a war which the United States began. The problems of Iraq, or Ivory Coast, or Sudan, or Palestine, or Israel, Christian-Muslim tensions in Zamboanga, must matter to us as we gather in peace to worship God because those countries or regions and those people matter deeply to the heart of God. And if the Peace that we offer one to another is only about "us" in this particular parish or neighborhood, then our liturgy is severely anemic, the body of Christ remains divided, and our Catholicity suffers as a result.


In the years immediately after Vatican II and in light of the Vietnam War, some parish groups and religious communities began lobbying for "Peace Masses" (i.e., theme liturgies) so as to correspond to a growing awareness of the Church’s social vision. But isn’t every Mass a "Peace Mass"? At the end of the day it is the paschal mystery of Jesus Christ that we celebrate. And after thanksgiving itself, every liturgy is about making peace, about reconciliation with God, with one another in the community, and beyond the walls of our churches. So we do not need theme liturgies to bring our common worship into harmony with the Church’s vision of justice and peace. The Eucharist itself is "a rite of peace and justice in the reign of God" from beginning to end. What we need is to have our eyes opened to recognize God’s gift of peace that is set before us and which the Church is called to embody in its Eucharistic participation (Hovda 1994:171). In the Byzantine Divine Liturgy the Kiss of Peace is intended to be a "prefiguration and foreshadowing" of that unity which can only be found in God, that unending bond of charity which will one day be a reality (Schultz 1986:47). That is the Pax Christi which we celebrate and for which we long as we worship God in spirit and in truth.


1. Ps 22:6-9. The New Oxford Annotated Bible (New York University Press, 1991), 785.

2. Tertullian, De oratione 18. See Phillips 1996:19-21; Taft 1978:376.

3. No. 18. See Bradshaw et al. 2002:99-100.

4. Apostolic Constitutions VIII: 6.3–12.3 as quoted in Serra, 100.


Amaladoss, Michael S.J.

2005 "The Eucharist and the Christian Community," in East Asian Pastoral Review 42/3).

Bradshaw, Paul F.

2004 Eucharistic Origins (London: SPCK).

Bradshaw, Paul F.; Johnson, Maxwell E., and L. Edward Phillips

2002 The Apostolic Tradition (Minneapolis: Fortress Press).

Bugnini, Annibale

1997 La Riforma Liturgica (1948-1975) (Roma: CLV).

Cavanaugh, William T.

1998 Torture and Eucharist (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers).

Dewey, Joanna

1985 "Peace," in Harper’s Bible Dictionary, edited by Paul J. Achtemeier (San Francisco: Harper).

Dix, Dom Gregory

1982 The Shape of the Liturgy (New York: Seabury Press).

Dufuor, Xavier Léon

1973 "Peace," in Dictionary of Biblical Theology (New York: Seabury).

Gascó, Rafael Calatayud

2003 Beso Humano y Ósculo Cristiano: Dimensiones històrico-teológicas del beso litúrgico(Valencia: Facultad de Teología San Vicente Ferrer, Series Valentina XLVI).

Jungmann, Joseph

1950 The Mass of the Roman Rite I (Blackrock, Dublin: Four Courts Press).

1950a The Mass of the Roman Rite II (Blackrock, Dublin: Four Courts Press).

Hovda, Robert W.

1994 "Where Have You Been? ‘Peace Liturgies’ Are the Only Kind We Have" in Robert Hovda: The Amen Corner, edited by John F. Baldovin (Collegeville: The Liturgical Press/Pueblo).

McPartlan, Paul

1993 The Eucharist Makes the Church (Edinburgh: T&T Clark).

Murphy-O’Connor, Jerome

1982 "The Eucharist and Community" in Living Bread, Saving Cup: Readings on the Eucharist, edited by R. Kevin Seasoltz (Collegeville: The Liturgical Press).

Penn, Michael

2002 "Performing Family: Ritual Kissing and the Construction of Early Christian Kinship,"Journal of Early Christian Studies 10.

Philips, L. Edward

1996 The Ritual Kiss in Early Christian Worship (Nottingham).

Serra, Dominic

2000 "The Greeting of Peace in the Revised Sacramentary: A New Pastoral Option," inLiturgy for the New Millennium: A Commentary on the Revised Sacramentary, edited by Mark R. Francis and Keith F. Pecklers (Collegeville: The Liturgical Press/Pueblo).

Schultz, Hans-Joachim

1986 The Byzantine Liturgy (New York: Pueblo).

Taft, Robert F., S.J.

1995 "War and Peace in the Byzantine Divine Liturgy," in Peace and War in Byzantium edited by Timothy S. Miller and John Nesbitt (Washington, D.C., The Catholic University of America Press).

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