A liturgical exchange of greeting through word and gesture. It is a sign of reconciliation, love, and renewed relationships in the Christian community. It is initiated by the celebrant, who says, “The peace of the Lord be always with you.” The people respond, “And also with you.” The ministers and people may greet one another in the name of the Lord (BCP, pp. 332, 360). Any appropriate words of greeting may be used in the exchange of peace that follows between individuals (BCP, p. 407). The gesture of greeting has been expressed in a variety of ways, including a kiss on the cheek, an embrace, a handclasp, or a bow. The peace is also known as the kiss of peace and the Pax (from the Latin, “peace”).
The peace is an ancient Christian practice. It has been associated with Rom 16:16, “Greet one another with a holy kiss,” and similar passages such as 1 Cor 16:20, 2 Cor 13:12, 1 Thes 5:26, and 1 Pt 5:14. The earliest references to the peace may be found in writings concerning the baptismal liturgies. After the baptism and the laying on of hands and anointing by the bishop, the newly baptized were included in the exchange of the peace for the first time. Justin Martyr indicates that during the second century the peace took place before the presentation of the gifts at the eucharist. It appears that the peace originally concluded the liturgy of the word. However, the peace was moved to the end of the eucharistic prayer in the Roman rite during the fifth century. The peace was exchanged at the time of the breaking of the bread prior to communion. The peace was exchanged at this time in the eucharistic liturgy of the 1549 BCP, and it continues in this position in the Roman rite. The peace was deleted in the 1552 BCP. The 1979 BCP restored the peace at the eucharist to its ancient position at the end of the liturgy of the word. The BCP still allows the peace to be exchanged at the time of the administration of communion, before or after the sentence of invitation (p. 407).
At baptism, the peace follows the baptism and the welcome for the newly baptized by the celebrant and people (BCP, p. 308). At Confirmation, Reception, or Reaffirmation, it follows the bishop’s concluding prayer and precedes the prayers of the people or the offertory (BCP, pp. 310, 419). The peace concludes the service for the Celebration and Blessing of a Marriage, although communion may follow (BCP, p. 431). The new minister’s first action at the Celebration of a New Ministry is to initiate the peace (BCP, p. 563). The bishop initiates the peace at the end of the liturgy for the Consecration and Dedication of a Church, prior to the eucharist (BCP, p. 574). In the Order for Celebrating the Holy Eucharist, the peace may be exchanged after the prayers for the world and the church and before preparing the table, “or elsewhere in the service” (BCP, p. 401). Depending on the pastoral needs of the situation, it might be more appropriate to exchange the peace at the end or the beginning of this more informal eucharistic liturgy. The peace may be intoned by the celebrant and the people. The Hymnal 1982 provides musical settings for the peace (S 110-111).
In the late middle ages, a wooden plaque or plate with a projecting handle was used to pass the peace without direct personal contact. It had an image of the crucifixion or another religious subject on the face. It was known as a Pax Board, Pax Brede, or Osculatorium. It was first kissed by the celebrant, and then passed to other ministers and members of the congregation who also kissed it. The custom of passing the peace by use of a Pax Board is now obsolete.
Glossary definitions provided courtesy of Church Publishing Incorporated, New York, NY,(All Rights reserved) from “An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church, A User Friendly Reference for Episcopalians,” Don S. Armentrout and Robert Boak Slocum, editors.