WHY DOES THE PRIEST KISS THE ALTAR?
In the Middle East in Bible times, both in the Old Testament and New Testament ages, as well as in modern times, the kiss, exchanged between persons of the same sex or persons of opposite sexes, has been a common token of affection at greetings and farewells between persons of the same family or kin, proximate or remote, by blood or marriage.
Biblical examples of kissing:
This ancient greeting survives in the Catholic Mass in the ritual of the Pax: the sign of peace, a rite described in St. Justin Martyr's letter to the Roman Emperor Antonius Pius [138-161AD] explaining how Christians worshipped circa the year 155AD
A kiss was also given as a sign of submission and homage. When a priest kisses the altar (and the Bible) he is in effect offering that kiss to Jesus as Savior and Lord. In 1 Samuel 10:1 Samuel anoints Saul as King: "Then Samuel took a flask of oil and poured it on Saul's head and kissed him saying, 'Has not the LORD anointed you leader over his inheritance?'" This act of submission was unfortunately also practiced by the Children of Israel who fell into pagan worship. 1 Kings 18:18 God tells Elisha, "Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel, all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and all whose mouths have not kissed him;" and in Hosea 15:2 "Now they sin more and more; they make idols for themselves from their silver, cleverly fashioned images, all of them the work of craftsmen. It is said of these people, 'They offer human sacrifice and kiss the calf-idols." Therefore to offer a kiss of homage and submission to a king or to God or to gods was a common practice. But I believe the strongest evidence for why our priest offers the kiss of obedience, homage and submission to Jesus Christ our King and High Priest is because of the verse found in Psalms 2:11&12. This Psalm is frequently quoted in the New Testament where it is applied to Christ as the great Son of David and God's Anointed: "Serve the LORD with fear and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the SON, lest he be angry and you be destroyed in your way, for his wrath can flare up in a moment. Blessed are all who take refuge in him."
Michal Hunt, Copyright © 1995 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.