QUAERITUR: TLM servers and kissing stuff

A question was received:

Dear Fr. Z,

I am an altar server at a TLM since last month. I read in a liturgical manual written by a priest of the FSSP that when the server handles the cruets to the priest, he should kiss them before and after receiving them back. So I began doing it. But recently I read that this is a pre-1962 practice. So should it be done?


After consulting Trimeloni, [US HERE – UK HERE] which is a reprint pertaining to the 1962 edition of the Missale Romanum, I confirmed (not that I needed to) that the server kisses things when giving them to and receiving them from the priest.

(p. 421 – #445.5)  At the beginning of Mass the server kisses the hand and then the biretta.  (The he goes and puts the Missale on the stand, etc.)

(p. 423 – #447.1) He kisses the cruet and gives it to the priest, and kisses it when receiving it back.  Both wine and water cruets.  He doesn’t kiss the priest’s hand.

(p. 424 – #448.5) At the end of Mass he kisses the biretta and gives it to the priest, kissing his hand as he does so.  Be SURE, of course, to make sure the middle “point” of the biretta is offered to the priest’s hand.

If the priest saying the TLM would prefer that you not do this, don’t worry about it.  But in 1962 that was the custom.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. Fr. BJ says:

    If memory serves, the Canons Regular of St. John Cantius told us at the TLM workshop that I attended that this practice was abrogated in the United States at one of the Plenary Councils of Baltimore (perhaps the Third?). Then, I heard that one still had to kiss the cruets, but never the priest’s hand. In any event, I do not have access to the Acts of that Council, so I cannot say for sure, but this would be an interesting research project for someone who has access to these things to look up and inform us about.

  2. Carlos Palad says:

    Finally, somebody brought this up!

    I’ve seen videos of the TLM in which the solita oscula are not done, so
    I’m quite confused by this too. And none of the old priests I know have ever
    mentioned it to me.

    Furthermore, there is a passage in O’Connell (in the section on the Serving of Low Mass
    by One Server) that has left me baffled:

    “10. Whether the server — following the rubric of C.E. I, xviii 16 — should,
    when handing anything to the celebrant, kiss his hand is a moot point. Some
    authorities, among them Martinucci, de Amicis, Vavasseur-Haegy-Stercky, Vismara,
    consider that R. VII, 4 and S.R.C. 4193 say that in this case the priest’s hand is
    not to be kissed. Other authorities are silent but do not prescribe these kisses.
    Others, again, for example, De Herdt, Hebert, Callewaert, are definitely against
    the practice, because of the prohibition at the Offertory and because, as
    Callewaert adds, inferior ministers are not ordained, as the deacon and subdeacon
    are, for immediately ministering to the celebrant.” (J.B. O’Connell, The Celebration
    of Mass, A Study of the Rubrics of the Roman Missal, p. 355)

    There is a footnote to this passage which does note that the thing handed
    or received is kissed.

    So… whaddoido? Are Trimeloni and O’Connell in conflicting interpretations here?

    (We are, of course, speaking of lay servers and MC’s here)

  3. Carlos Palad says:

    Yes. Fr. BJ, I watched the SSJC training video for Low Mass and I saw no trace
    of the kisses to the hand.

    Right now, I just kiss the things handed or received. I kiss the priest’s hand only
    when he specifically instructs me to do so.

    Really getting confused…

  4. John says:

    When I was trained in ceremonies (episcopal) in the 50’s by Roman-trained MC’s, I was taught that the solita oscula were never given in the US. I think the influence of European-trained groups like the FSSP and the Institute of Christ the King, together with the disappearance of those trained in the liturgy before VII, has started a new tradition.

  5. Stefano says:

    I served Mass as a kid from 1957 to 1963 and never was there any kissing of hand or cruets or anything except the altar by the priest. I served Mass in several places during this time and never saw any of it. The first time I saw it was on the video of the TLM from Holy Angels (?) parish in Bayswater, London, England in the 80’s
    I am surprised to hear that this was supposedly the custom in 1962, at least in America.

  6. Hans says:

    In this video narrated by Archbishop Fulton Sheen – the ministers do these kisses beautifully and gracefully. In my Northern Virginia TLM parish – the MCs do this so awkwardly and iconsistently that it seems best if they just didn’t worry about it. When it applies to this gesture in particular, I would say that if in doubt, don’t.


  7. Garrett says:

    “But in 1962 that was the custom.”

    And in 2008 it would seem to be the custom, too!

  8. I was told it was only customarily done when the altar server was also a cleric. Who knows?
    I figure it’s best to do what is done locally, or by that priest. There’s many more grey areas in the
    Tridentine rubrics than one thinks…though that doesn’t mean one has leave to do simply as one wishes.

  9. Fr. Steve says:

    While on the topic. Does anybody know where I can find a hard copy of all the rubrics for the Extraordinary Form in English for a new priest to learn from? What good books are out there?

  10. Fr. Steve says:

    Correction; I didn’t mean the Extraordinary Form in English, but the rubrics in English for the Extraordinary Form. Thanks.

  11. Ken says:

    Father — I don’t think a hardcopy book of the rubrics exist, but here are other versions:


  12. Louis E. says:

    I think I read somewhere that kissing the chalice was abolished in 1923?

    Does anyone have an annotated chronology of rubrical changes?

  13. joshua says:

    Fortescue, O’Connel and Reid (Ceremonies of the Roman rite) say that the kisses of politeness were customarily not done when the servers were not clerics, which is not to say they cannot be done. It is important, I suppose, that he distinguishes the solita oscula (polite kisses) from ones required in a Solemn Mass; the former are omitted in requiems and in the presence of a high prelate.

  14. A Latin Altar Boy says:

    The Institute of Christ the King embraces the practice of the servers kissing the priest’s hand when handing him objects, except for cruets (the cruets are kissed but not the priest’s hand).

    There are different practices, and it is neither correct nor incorrect. But it does demonstrate a profound reverence for the hands of the one who offers the Holy Sacrifice of Mass.

  15. Fr Ray Blake says:

    Interestingly, one of my predecessors here, Mgr George Wallis, who had been the MC for Westminster Cathedral, including its consecration, apparently forbade kissing as being unliturgical and un-English.

  16. Carl H. Horst says:

    This is an interesting topic with, I think, many permutations. As I recall (and I’m old enough (and not quite senile) to do so) this practice was often affected by local custom. In Milwaukee circa 1950 to 1960 it was not commonly done. I also recall reading somewhere the practice of kissing the priest’s hand — and by extension objects such as cruets and biretta — was reserved to tonsured males; in otherwords seminarians, those in the minor orders,or clergy.

  17. Peg says:

    I remember my older brother saying he liked the smell (and maybe taste) of the wine when he kissed the cruet. In our Parish they (the altar boys)didn’t kiss the hand of the priest. In fact I don’t remember ever seeing this done until after Vatican II.

  18. Lee says:

    Well, I am 65 yrs old, and have never seen this done until at a Mass by an FSSP priest last August. I understand that this expresses reverence for the priest’s hands and the holy things pertaining to Mass, but nevertheless I found it utterly obnoxious. It strikes me, and I think it would strike most citizens of this country as obsequitious and un-American. Besides that, it had the very unhappy effect of recalling to mind the worst aspects of the recent scandals. That the liturgy itself could bring this to mind seems utterly regrettable.

    This may not be an entirely rational reaction, I know, but if the symbols and symbolic actions of the Mass are meant- among other things- to raise the imagination to the things of heaven, it seems fair to observe that in my case at least this gesture had a very different, opposite effect. I doubt very much that I am alone in this.

  19. JR Benedict says:

    I agree that this is a matter of local custom in the U.S. and Britain and that one may also rely on the general law and do it.

    As for the practice being unseemly, I definitely disagree… Even if you omit these kisses, there are others that are still customary, for instance of the Bishop’s ring.

    Among Eastern Catholics in the U.S. you’ll also find hand kissing of priests(which used to be more widespread among Latin cultures as well), both inside and outside of the liturgy, by servers, pther clerics and laymen…

  20. Larry says:

    I’m 62 years old and I don’t recall this as a normal practice for the years I served. I do faintly recall that kissing the cruet was done at certainl Masses perhaps Solemn High or Solemn Pontifical. Since our pastor had these faculties we had both.
    Never recal kissing a priest hand save for the bishop or Prot. Apos.

  21. Paul Goings says:

    I believe that there is a slight error Mr Palad’s quotation of O’Connell above. I have checked both the 1st and 3rd editions, and Martinucci, etc., actually say that the usual kisses should be given. It would seem that a contra legem custom to omit these kisses did exist, at least in certain Anglophone countries. Whether this ever obtained the force of law, or instead should be considered an abuse, I cannot say. I am unaware of any decrees of the S.R.C., or any local synodal decrees, which addressed this issue. In my opinion, it is more conformable to Roman usage to give the kisses in the usual way (of both the object and the hand, excepting only the hand when presenting the cruets at Low Mass).

  22. Cornelius says:

    I have been trained to kiss the cruets before handing them to the priest, but that’s it. I’ve heard of the hand-kissing, but find that a bit out of place, though I understand the rationale for it. Generally, however, the priest’s hands are in motion and attempting to kiss them would probably result in either a fat lip or an “air-kiss”. Whoops!

    Not to bring this interesting concern to a lower level, but I consider that there are also hygiene issues about kissing objects. One poster above mentions a server who likes the wine taste when he kisses the cruet. Well, frankly, I don’t think a server’s mouth should be in direct contact with the cruet spout in that way.

    When I kiss the cruet handles, for instance, I bring my lips to within a hair’s breadth of the handles but do not actually make contact. But perhaps I’m being squeamish.

  23. GOR says:

    I don’t recall ever kissing the cruets as a server in 1950s Ireland. I had seen it done but probably later in Rome – where we thought the Italians were a little too ‘touchy-feely’ for our Hibernian tastes…

    As to kissing the priest’s hand, the only time I have seen that done was the hands of a newly-ordained priest when he gave individual blessings to people after ordination.

  24. Mike says:

    In my U.S. diocesan parish which celebrates the TLM, we regularly use the liturgical kisses when handing and receiving the biretta and when passing the cruets both for High Mass and Low Mass. There have been no objections to this practice (either from the clergy, laity or altar servers) and it gives the Mass an air of dignity. From what I’ve read, it is a custom which can be used or not used depending on the priest and the local use of the parish.

  25. Fr. Blake: MC for Westminster

    Interestingly, the MC at my home parish in St. Paul, had been trained up in at Westminster in the 30’s. Over the years I learned from him that he didn’t care for kissing stuff during Mass (biretta’s, cruets, etc.). He knew about the Roman rules, but they didn’t set right with him.

  26. Paul Goings says:

    He knew about the Roman rules, but they didn’t set right with him.

    How prophetic!

    Although, of course, I would be among the first to defend legitimate local custom. However, the perennial question is that of what is and what isn’t. In this case there seems to be some room for maneuvering, at least as regards Low Mass; even O’Connell, discussing the ceremonies for High Mass, does not suggest that the M.C. (who might be a layman in smaller churches) could omit the usual kisses.

  27. josephus muris saliensis says:

    As most of your correspondents rightly say, this is not correctly done by non-clerics, it is in some places a general practice, but also therefore an abuse. In the same way, the Pax a High Mass is not to be passed to servers who are not clerics. There is a form of clericalism whereby lay servers adopt clerical privileges, which is to be resisted.

    The United States share their culture with England, and here kissing was certainly regarded as a nasty foreign habit, and rightly so.

  28. Caeremoniarius says:


    Where did you ever read the Pax is not communicated to lay servers? The good O’Connell tells us merely, “In this matter, age and understanding are to be considered.” In the churches where I have acted as Master of Ceremonies, the Pax did not go beyond the acolytes (if these were small, then we stopped at the thurifer).

    That said, I side with Callewaert regarding the solita oscula and do not permit the lay servers to do them (Fortescue was also of this mind). Even so, these kisses cannot be called an “abuse” when done by lay servers, as the rubric does specify them for the cruets.

  29. Paul Goings says:

    There is a form of clericalism whereby lay servers adopt clerical privileges, which is to be resisted.

    Such as wearing the cassock and surplice?

    Perhaps the answer is to adhere to the Decrees of the Council of Trent, and admit a larger number of men (including married men) to the minor orders? Or we could have nothing but Low Masses served by laymen in secular dress. Either solution would avoid having laymen adopt clerical privileges, but the former seems rather less grim than the latter, at least to me.

    The United States share their culture with England, and here kissing was certainly regarded as a nasty foreign habit, and rightly so.

    Would this include even the kisses given by the Deacon at Solemn Mass? Is there some authority for this?

    That said, I side with Callewaert regarding the solita oscula and do not permit the lay servers to do them (Fortescue was also of this mind).

    Both Fortescue and O’Connell both suggest that there is no objection to laymen serving Low Mass in their ordinary clothing, as I mention above. The problem, of course, is that the rubrics simply do not contemplate anything other than clerical assistance at liturgical services. So, if they are to be replaced by laymen, then some decisions need to be made about what clerical privileges they should be permitted. In Europe it generally seemed to have been all of them. Servers made use of the cassock and surplice, and used the so-called Roman collar (still seen at S. Peter’s) and the biretta. The kisses and the Pax were employed without distinction.

    In Anglophone countries this seemed to have met some resistance, and so the too-common phenomenon of Low Mass served by boys in lay dress was the order of the day, only changing in the U.S. with the influx of German, Italian, and eastern European immigrants during the 19th century.

    For the future I would very much prefer that the Continental usages should be everywhere restored, and this appears to be the clear intention of the rubrics as well.

  30. Fr. Scott Bailey, C.Ss.R. says:

    Until recently I had thought the kisses were cultural. Serving as an altar boy in both a territorial parish and a national parish required two ways of doing things. In the territorial parish there were no kisses of hands or things. In the national parish (Italian) there was kissing of both hands and things handed/received. The kissing continued in the Italian parish even into the 1980’s. Even now, however, many people will kiss the priest’s hand after a personal blessing or having something blessed. Also, when something blessed is distributed (palms, bread, roses, lillies, etc.) the people kiss the priest’s hand, then the object before taking it from the priest.

  31. Gregor says:

    Fr Bailey,

    “Also, when something blessed is distributed (palms, bread, roses, lillies, etc.) the people kiss the priest’s hand, then the object before taking it from the priest.”

    This is interesting, because specifically in the case of blessed objects, one should, in exception to the normal order, because of the blessing, first kiss the object and then the hand.

  32. Rubricarius says:

    The solita oscula were abolished (along with choir reverences etc.) by Paul VI’s Motu proprio Sacram Litugiam in 1964.

    Objects such as candles and palms, that had been blessed, were kissed first, the celebrant’s hand second.

  33. We should be clear that the abolition doesn’t apply to the old rite, which generally follows the rules in effect in 1962…

  34. Gregor says:


    really? I can’t find any reference to this in Sacram Liturgiam.

  35. Rubricarius says:


    Thank you. Mea culpa: not Sacram Liturgiam but Inter Oecumenici, #36; eight months later.

    The point is though that the solita oscula were still part of the rite in 1962.

  36. Fr. Scott Bailey, C.Ss.R. says:


    I’m not sure that anyone there has any understanding of why they follow this custom other than “we’ve always done it this way.” While there is a liturgical aspect, my thought is it is more of a cultural practice in this case. The older people especially will kiss the hand of the priest much as they would the “padrone”. It isn’t so much about respect for the priesthood or the anointed hands as it is the priest is someone who wields power and authority like the “padrone”. There is also a superstitious element present in that the priest’s hand is an instrument of power: he uses it to bless and sanctify (and, to some people’s thinking, to curse). It’s interesting to see where liturgy and culture intersect.

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