A holy kiss

Image: Catholic Herald

I preached last night at the Saint Anthony Novena at St. Anthony Parish in Fitchburg. The parish is 101 years old and parishioners have prayed this novena to their patron saint for 101 years!

The service was standard novena fare with prayers, hymns, scripture and homily, two litanies (one to St. Anthony and one to the Sacred Heart) and Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament. About 100 people were in attendance and the response in prayer and song was beautifully strong.

The service ended with an invitation to come forward to venerate a relic of St. Anthony in a reliquary. The photo above gives a good image of what this looks like for those who may be too young to remember this from their youth.

I held the reliquary and offered it to each person who came forward to kiss it, wiping the small glass case with a napkin each time it was kissed.

As I watched the people kiss the relic, I thought of how I kiss the altar at the beginning and end of every Mass I celebrate. With a frequency that surprises me, as I kiss the altar at Mass I often think of the altars I've kissed in the parishes I've served in over the past 36 years. That's a lot of kissing!

I wondered about what was in the minds and hearts of the men and women who came forward last night to venerate the relic of Anthony. Mostly I wondered about the intimacy of this gesture: a kiss... Many people kiss the Cross as an act of veneration on Good Friday. In some churches, people kiss the feet of a statue of the Lord or his Blessed Mother or a particular saint. But kissing, such a warm, human gesture of affection, does not play a large role in our liturgy. Although we offer a "kiss" of peace to others at Mass, it's likely that most worshippers only truly kiss a family member or two and let a handshake or maybe a hug suffice for others. (And no, I'm not suggesting that we start kissing strangers, left and right!)

Honoring a relic of St. Anthony was certainly the reason for the procession to the altar step last night, but to honor Anthony with a kiss - that was beautiful!



  1. This parish is fortunate to have this continuing tradition. Not many parishes do this.
    Viewing relics makes me think not only of the saint and his/her life but also of the history of both the church and world that transpired while this relic was kept and honored. I think about the people who came to honor it over the years, both the rich and poor.
    Traveling through Europe I found that Europeans have more devotion to relics than people in the US. I think it may have to do with how our society views death. Viewing body parts, even in a respectful gold vessel is probably considered weird or even laughable by many American Catholics. While in Siena I witnessed a group of American tourists laughing at the head of St Catherine. My thoughts when witnessing the behavior of these tourists is how sad that they can't appreciate and make a connection to the "whole mystery of Christ".

  2. Are you a friend of the pastor at St. Anthony's? Is that how you came to be the preacher for the St. Anthony Novena?

    Do all altars still have a relic placed in them?

    I don't know that I have ever been one who has had a great interest in relics. I don't mean that in any disrespectful way...it is simply the truth. It strikes me as a bit superstitious. The closest I have come is wanting to have my throat blessed on the Feast of St. Blaise. It doesn't involve a relic, but at the same time it does seem a bit superstitious to think that crossed candles and a prayer could prevent any diseases of the throat. Yet I have believed this through the years.

    Benediction is another church practice that is no longer as widely celebrated as it once was.

  3. I only met the pastor of St. Anthony's for the first time in the sacristy just before the novena service began.

    To the best of my knowledge, permanent altars still have relics placed in them.

    If one superstitiously belives that having one's throat blessed on St. Blaise Day prevents diseases of the throat, then of course that would be superstitious.

    Of course, the Church does not present the blessing in that manner. It's a way of honoring St. Blase and for praying for health.

    The blessing includes a mention of illness of the throat but is also more widely inclusive of any illness:
    Through the intercession of Saint Blase, bishop and martyr, may God deliver you from every disease of the throat and from every other illness: In the name of the Father, and of the Son, + and of the Holy Spirit.

  4. While no one would ever accuse me of being overly devotional in the sense of relics and so forth, I do have a particular love for St. Anthony for many reasons. It would be lovely to go to this novena and be with so many people.

    The fine line between superstition and faith is always before us, with faith inviting us ever deeper and deeper.

    And I must say that every time mass begins and the priest kisses the altar table, I am always moved.


  5. ...and it's not even called a "kiss" of peace, but a "sign" of peace... is that something that is said everywhere, now? I mean, did it used to be actually called, or said, a "kiss" of peace?
    (I hope my question is clear)

    anyway, I like a "sign" of peace because it sort of gives the freedom (or permission?) to express it (peace) however one wants or feels comfortable. I remember one time I offered my hand to a little boy but he didn't want to shake it, so I asked him "high-five?"- he smiled and gave me a whole-hearted high-five.
    This not only seemed to make the little boy feel more comfortable, but me as well.

  6. Good question, Michelle. If you Google "kiss of peace" you'll get a link to the Wikipedia article on "holy kiss" which gives a short but good response to your question and some history on this gesture.

  7. I just read your link suggestion- VERY helpful- thank you.

  8. Within the last few weeks at church at the sign of peace I had a man say to me "I don't shake hands." I hadn't had that happen since the days I used to go to the Prudential Center Chapel (1970s) to find that some people didn't shake hands. They didn't even say anything. They just sort of rebuffed you. I attributed that to still getting used to Vatican II changes. I don't know what this was all about!


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