Be safe: bring back the Kiss of Peace

These days, lots of people are scrutinizing their liturgical practices to make sure people are safe from needless risk of disease and infection. Hardly a day goes by when we don’t read of some other whacky liturgical change. I haven’t yet encountered the idea that the lectern Bible be encased in antimicrobial plastic, but I’m sure that’s coming. But I digress.

Many of the changes are rooted in fear, not in a reasoned analysis of risk versus benefit. I alternate between anger and pity every time I read about a church that has suspended the common cup in communion out of fear (see this paper or this blog post to learn more). I am a little sad when I read that the Peace has been omitted. Well, here’s some fact-based good news. You can have the Peace with increased safety. And at the same time, you can be returning to the ancient practice of the church! It’s time for the Kiss of Peace!

Researchers in London report that it’s safer to give a kiss on the cheek than it is to shake hands. That’s just the way things were done back in the day! And, just like then, modesty is important now — to avoid sin (i.e. sex cooties) and to avoid infection. The researchers warn “people to observe proper etiquette by kissing others on the cheek instead of the lips and to avoid touching the person being kissed except on the shoulder or the upper arms.” Safe church!

Here in the U S of A, you’ll probably want to give one peck on one cheek. Any more than that, and you’ll seem overly eager. If you’re visiting other provinces of the Anglican Communion, the Times Online has a guide to how many pecks on which cheeks. We certainly don’t want to contribute further scandal to the Anglican Communion!

Seriously, this is an interesting case. In this potential change of practice, our desire to avoid any intimacy (Americans mostly don’t kiss strangers!) will run smack (ahem!) into our love of fear, in all its forms. If I shake hands, I might get sick! But if I kiss that person, I might get cooties! I predict most parishes will persist with elbow bumps, waves, and awkward nods — epidemiology and liturgical tradition be damned.

Kiss on the check (one only, right side) to Gadling. Photo by Thomas Hawk, via flickr.

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4 Responses

  1. Bob Chapman says:

    The Pax-Brede

    Liturgically correct, and can be cleaned with anti-microbial soap.

    Combine two actions into one: Have the faithful process forward to kiss the pax-brede. While forward, leave they can leave their offering in a basket and add a portion of bread that will be offered (sacrifice of praise) during the Eucharistic Prayer. You can get a more accurate head count that way for the record book. Cover the action with something from Taizé or Iona.

    Why do people make these things so hard?

  2. Fr Alexander says:

    Actually, Scott, the correct procedure for the liturgical exchange of the peace is as follows: (a) the person “giving” the peace places the palms of his hands on the shoulders of the person “receiving” the peace (keeping the elbows slightly bent); (b) the person “receiving” the peace brings his palms up to grasp the elbows of the person “giving” the peace — both persons thus keeping each other literally at arm’s length — and (c) the two sorta nod at each other as if they were going to peck each other on the cheek but never quite get there. It’s dignified, it’s elegant, *and* it’s hygienic. Perhaps it’s time to revive this ancient practice for the congregation as well as for clergy and acolytes at the altar. The only problem is that we’d have to figure out a hierarchy of rankings so everyone knows who’s supposed to give the peace to whom and who’s supposed to receive it from whom …

  3. Scott Gunn says:

    Fr. Alexander,

    Ah, yes, I should have thought to check Ritual Notes for a liturgical solution that is elegant, hygienic, correct, and ancient. Since I consult the 11th ed. regularly, I easily forget that the first edition dates from the undivided church, and is hence authoritative and binding.

    Seriously, I think your method of sharing the peace (minus some of the hierarchical bits) is most excellent and should be commended.


    P.S. I’m just being silly about Ritual Notes.

  4. MadPriest says:

    I knew this would happen. It was obvious from the start that making Gene Robinson a bishop would lead to kissing in church and other un-English activities. The next thing you know people will be marrying animals.