altar_venerationWhen the entrance procession reaches the sanctuary space and the ministers have made their reverence of the altar, the presider approaches the altar and kisses it. We are occupied with singing the entrance hymn, so we probably don?t pay too much attention to this profound gesture. Yet it is fraught with meaning.

?

?

This gesture dates at least to the fourth century and probably has its origin in ancient culture; often families would kiss the table before a meal began as a kind of greeting. Thus, one interpretation of the veneration of the altar by a kiss is that the presider is greeting Christ who is present among the assembly.

?

In ancient times this gesture of the presider kissing the altar was directly linked to the exchange of the kiss of peace among the faithful.

?

At its dedication the altar was anointed with holy chrism and thus became a symbol of Christ?s presence. We begin liturgy, then, with a gesture that reminds us of Christ, and we are at the same time reminded that we are the Body of Christ, now gathered around the Head who is present. We also prepare ourselves for the coming of Christ in both word and sacrament. So there is a kind of ?already? and ?not yet? at play in the veneration of the altar with a kiss.

?

Christ is present, yet we anticipate Christ still to come.