QUAERITUR: follow-up to “kissing the ring of a bishop”

Taking up issue of kissing a bishop’s ring, which we have look at before, this is from a reader:

I wanted to add a few comments about kissing a bishop’s ring outside of the liturgy. 

Technically there is no hard fast rule about genuflecting on the left knee, though this is often a pious custom.  During the liturgical actions, the genuflection to a prelate is always made on the right knee, because he has the fullness of Christ and is Christ at the altar. 

Also, one should only bow low to an auxiliary bishop when kissing his ring, because he is not the local ordinary. 

The confusing point about this is that traditionalists were so accustomed to genuflecting to Archbishop Lefebvre (who because of his personal rank one would genuflect to), that they continued the practice unaware with the four new bishops consecrated for the SSPX, who are actually only auxiliary bishops themselves.  Several SSPX priests attempted to correct this less-correct practice early on, but gave up after some time.  In any case, my 2 cents worth


Genuflecting on the left knee for a bishop: Yes, pious custom.  But it is a good one.  If one forgets and does so with his right knee, he won’t got to hell for it.

In liturgical actions, the genuflection is always on the right knee.  Good reminder!

One should bow, not genuflect, to an auxiliary.  Okay, he is not the ordinary.  Though I think one should always genuflect in the case of a Cardinal, anywhere, and probably a papal legate.

The "personal rank" of the late Archbishop Lefebvre and genuflecting: He wasn’t an ordinary anymore.  Why genuflect?

The four bishops consecrated by Archbishop Lefebvre are NOT auxiliary bishops.  They are not in union with the Holy See and therefore have no mandate which would indicate a genuflection.  However, I believe they often take to themselves trappings they would have had no right to use even in the old days.  Let’s us pray that their situation, and excommunications, can be taken care of soon, so that everything can be regularized.

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  1. Richard says:

    If one were to only bow low to an auxiliary bishop (I suppose this includes a visiting bishop), wouldn’t the person kissing the auxiliary’s ring have to bow low anyway to kiss the bishop’s ring? Or would the person bow low first and then grab the auxiliary’s hand to kiss the ring? In countries where it is already customary for people to bow to either kiss the priest’s hands or put the priest’s hands to their foreheads, bowing low to kiss an auxiliary’s ring doesn’t offer much of a distinction.

    I wonder, though, about genuflecting to the Holy Father. Before Vatican II, I read that people approaching the Holy Father during an audience had to make three genuflections as they approached. Were these genuflections done with the left knee as well?

  2. opey124 says:

    I have never witnessed this, the genuflecting to a bishop. I have personally never done this.
    We will be visiting the Cathedral next Sunday, so on the way out, as the Bishop is greeting people, it would be a pious gesture to genuflect with our left knee?

  3. Jason Petty says:

    Funny story. So I’m talking with a friend who’s never really been around bishops, and he had just visited the cathedral with his wife. He says, ‘Man, when I kissed the archbishop’s hand, he looked at me like I was crazy!’
    Me: ‘I wonder why?’
    Him: ‘I mean, other people were doing it, and he didn’t look at them strangely when they kissed his hand.’
    Me: ‘Wait, his hand? You kissed the ring, right?’
    Him: ‘ . . . You don’t kiss his hand?’
    Me: //laughter//
    Him: //dying laughing// ‘Man, I planted the biggest, wettest smacker of all time right on top of his hand!’

    Ah, well-intentioned piety.

  4. prof. basto says:

    The late Bishop Licínio Rangel, first Apostolic Administrator of the St. John Vianney Personal Apostolic Administration in Campos, Brazil, was only appointed a titular Bishop AFTER the reconciliation with the Holy See and the lifting of the sanctions by the Papal Autograph Letter Ecclesia Unitas. He had been illicitly ordained.

    Currently, the four SSPX Bishops are not titular Bishops, nor auxiliary Bishops, much less Ordinaries.

    Pending the regularization of their situation, they are not, according to Canon Law, members of the College of Bishops, because, although they have been sacramentally consacrated, they lack hierarchical communion with the Head and the Members of the College.

    In accordance with the teaching of the Encyclical Satis Cognitum, Bishops not in union with the Roman Pontiff are deprived of all jurisdiction.

    Therefore, pending the regularization, the SSPX Bishops have no right to wear pontifical insignia, or to receive bows or genuflections, or to be adressed as “Excellency” (although sometimes representatives of Holy See uses that style in the dialoge with the SSPX Bishops; just as the Pope sometimes adresses Orthodox Patriarchs as “Holiness” for dialogue/Ecumenical reasons).

    We must remember, that technically, it is possible for the Pope to lift the sanctions of the SSPX and to enter into an understanding with them that brings the SSPX back into full communion, without however accepting that the four Bishops discharge episcopal ministry.

    After all, in the Latin Church, the choice of Bishops is the Pope’s prerrogative, and He is not obliged to accept that the current four SSPX Bishops discharge episcopal ministry in a reconciled SSPX. And, although validly ordained as Bishops, the SSPX four have never been canonically appointed to an office (titular or otherwise), in the Episcopate.

  5. Richard says:

    Personally, I find the idea of kissing a ring, no matter how “lightly,” that has been kissed by hundreds of people before me unhygienic. We don’t see the bishop wiping his ring with a “purificator” after every kiss, do we? When I do kiss the bishop’s ring, I do not actually plant my lips on the ring but place them close to it, in a simulated fashion. Nobody notices, not even the bishop. I hope I am not violating any norms.

  6. Marc says:

    While the kissing the hand rather than the ring anecdote was amusing, I think we all know that one performs the kiss of ecclesiastical objects with mouth and lips closed and dry. I suspect that if people pay attention and do it right it isn’t any more unhygienic than shaking hands or embracing and cheek kissing.

  7. Josephus muris maliensis says:

    This is all actually rather silly, as it depends on where one is. I have never heard of the distinction of Auxiliaries, and would believe it to be quite wrong. The dignity of a bishop is his Episcopal order, the ring does not signify his territorial authority. It also seems rather mean and petty.

    However, in many counties, and particularly in Italy, it is customary to genuflect to all priest and kiss there hand (ie as someone above says, a light brush above the skin, not a full-on smack!) the Roman nobility always give this honour to priest, even the youngest curates. It is my practice to kiss the hand of my confessor offer my confession, (assuming of course that a grille does not intervene!).

    Clearly, in such places, a bishop, whoever he is (and what pray does being a visiting bishop have to do with it?) would receive genuflection and kiss.

  8. Josephus muris maliensis says:

    Pray forgive ghastly spelling, it’s after lunch, and the spell-check has obviously had too much port.

  9. Peter says:

    Do the bishops of the SSPX really use clothing they wouldn’t have been entitled to before the Council? I have never noticed this. In fact, at Lourdes last year they wore mozettas rather than mantellete, which would be in keeping with Pope Paul VI’s _Ut sive_ rather than pre-Conciliar practice.

    I think it is members of the Institute of Christ the King who like to wear items they’re not entitled to.

  10. Ahh but The Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest is regulatized isnt it, and in communion with rome (thus allowed to fulfil their office)? I think part of that state defined certain items that were allowable, and since they are an order, they have certain norms, as far as choir dress is concerned, which arent of the norm.

    If we really wanted to be exact, technically the SSPX shouldnt wear any clerical clothing, since they dont have faculties to act in their clerical state.

    I didnt ever realize a left knee genuflect was appropriate, much less allowed. Interesting stuff.

  11. reader says:

    Here’s a question about genuflection during adoration.

    I notice that when people are about to enter a pew, they genuflect on their right knee – then while that knee is still on the aisle floor they get down on their left knee as well: so that they are completely kneeling on both knees. Then, a few seconds later, they get up, go into the pew, and kneel on the kneeler in the pew.

    Do rubrics call for this? Or is it just custom?

  12. Jack007 says:

    It has ALWAYS been the custom to go down on BOTH knees and make a bow before the Blessed Sacrament exposed.
    Genuflecting on one knee (without just cause, infirmity etc.) would be an abuse.
    On the other hand, some people upon entering church when there is no exposition, bless themselves with the holy water and genuflect and even bow. This is a pious practice to be sure, but I am not certain it is required.

    Jack in KC

  13. Bob says:

    “Genuflecting on one knee (without just cause, infirmity etc.) would be an abuse”

    No. It might be desirable to genuflect on both knees before the Sacrament, and I do so myself, but it is allowed by the Pope to genuflect on one knee. Therefore it isn’t an abuse.

  14. reader and Jack007,

    What reader describes is called a double genuflection and the rubric clearly state that it is no longer to be made (Holy Communion and the Worship of the Eucharist Outside Mass, 83; Ceremonial of Bishops 1103). If, however, one chooses to do so out of piety outside of the liturgy one may but there is no requirement to do so and one does not sin if one omits a double genuflection. The reason the change was made in the rubrics is that whether enclosed in the tabernacle or exposed on the altar it is the same Christ who is present and he should receive the same reverence. That being said, to continue to show special reverence for the exposed Sacrament in this way is a most laudatory custom and a beautiful expression of faith in the Real Presence which, I think, should be encouraged.

    A single genuflection is made by keeping the upper body erect and touching the right knee to the floor where the right foot was and immediately rising. One does not make the Sign of the Cross at the same time nor take undue time in the act.

    A double genuflection is made by bringing the right knee to the floor, then the left knee, bowing the head, putting the left foot back on the floor, and standing erect. Again, one does not make the Sign of the Cross at the same time nor take undue time in the act.

  15. I spoke with someone who worked for the government protocol office in Washington, DC, about their policy regarding the kissing of bishop’s rings. She said that according to official protocal their instructions are to genuflect to the pope, all cardinals, and archbishops and bishops only within their own territories, on the right knee, kiss the ring, wait for a blessing (while being aware that one may not be given), and rise. To archbishops and bishops outside their territory as well as auxiliary bishops a medium bow is made, and the ring is kissed only if the bishop extends his hand in expectation.

    FWIW, she also said that they got their protocal from Rome in this case.

  16. Serafino says:

    Well, I for one, am not sorry that the more formal treating of prelates and priests, at least in the Unites States, is a thing of the past. Now, I know that more traditional minded people,(including priests) love to bow, genuflect and kiss rings, however, I personally find it out of place.

    Yes, I know the augment that such signs of “reverence” are for the office and not for the man, and the Pope allows these titles and we should accept them etc. However, in my opinion, genuflecting, “bowing and scraping” and calling priests and bishops “Me Lord, (Monsigore), Your Grace, Your Excellency, Your Eminence, stand in contradiction to the Gospel of Christ who said that “the son of man ( and by extension those who represent Him) has come to SERVE AND NOT TO BE SERVED. Such titles belong to the past and to a useless aristocracy, which by the way, we got rid of in the USA in 1776.

    As I priest, I greet my bishop as a man and fellow Christian with a handshake and a simple “Good morning bishop.” In my pastoral experience, clerics who “bow and scrape” and love to use titles are looking forward to the day when others we address them as “Me Lord” and “Your Excellency.”

    Well, as I said, I know this wont go over too well on this blog. So get the fire wood ready, I am ready for the stake! LOL

  17. wondering wanderer says:


    How often is someone supposed to genuflect before / kiss the ring of a bishop?

    Let’s say you deal with a bishop on an occasional basis, or even every other day.

    What gives?

  18. Semyon says:

    “Such titles belong to the past and to a useless aristocracy, which by the way, we got rid of in the USA in 1776”

    Thank you, Mr President?
    Thank you, Mr President-Elect?
    Thank you, Secretary [X]?
    Thank you, Senator [X]?
    Thank you, Congressman [X]?
    Thank you, Chief Justice [X]?
    Thank you, Justice [X]?
    Thank you, Mayor [X]?
    Thank you, Councilman [X]?

    I could go on, but the practice of addressing and reverencing someone for their office instead of simply using their name is anything but uncommon in the USA. I think it may have been Tocqueville who remarked on the difference between the US and Britain in this regard, where even the Prime Minister is addressed simply as Mr…. It always makes me laugh when CSPAN cover Parliament and the continuity announcer talks about “Foreign Secretary Miliband”!

  19. Garrett says:

    So no reverencing any schismatic bishops, including the Orthodox? I thought that priests and bishops were reverenced because they have Apostolic Succession and are, well, priests and bishops, not because they are (regrettably) not in union with the Holy Catholic Church.

  20. Jack007 says:

    Father Bailey, thank you for the clarification. I was not aware that the custom had been abrogated.
    I am saddened. I classify that as one more in a LONG list of BAD decisions. Just like communion in the hand…
    There was a time the Blessed Sacrament could not be exposed without express permission from the local ordinary. Consequently, Benediction was a privilege not taken lightly.
    The idea that somehow there is little difference between the reserved Hosts in the tabernacle, and ONE host prominently displayed out in the open is, forgive me, absurd. Disingenuous as well.
    Sorry, I will continue to urge people to get down on BOTH knees before HIM exposed. I will inform them there is an option, and let them use their conscience. And yes, I will think LESS of someone who “chooses” to opt for the “lite” version without good reason.
    Does anyone really think God can be fooled?

    Jack in KC

  21. Michael Thoma says:

    Interesting difference in practice between East and West, in the East, we DO kiss the HAND of the priest/bishop, not a ring. His hands are consecrated and make Christ present, therefore we honor them.

    Here are a couple protocol questions which haven’t been brought up:

    How would an Eastern Catholic in the West venerate his ordinary who is Latin, but is not his prelate? For example, my ordinary is the Cardinal Archbishop of city X but my bishop is the Apostolic Exarch/Administrator/Visitor for N.A. (Remember, we Easterners do not have the custom of genuflection at all)

    How could any Catholic show deference to an Eastern prelate who ranks higher than his Latin ordinary? For example, the Syrian Patriarch of Antioch visits the US and is in city X with my Latin ordinary.

    How would respect be shown to a prelate who ranks higher than my ordinary, but is visiting from another diocese – for example Cardinal George is having a meeting in Kansas City with the local ordinary?

    Thanks in Advance!

  22. Doug says:

    I’ve left comments before about the tradition of the left knee genuflection to the ordinary and agree that it should be kept. However, I heartily agree with the reader’s point concerning genuflections during liturgical actions. They should always be on the right knee.

    A commenter mentioned the double genuflection before the exposed presence of Christ in the form of the consecrated host. Although it may no longer be required; I believe it remains a laudable reverence and an aid to devotion.

    Serafino — I could not disagree with you more; but, I will not presume to instruct a priest of God.

  23. Kristin says:

    When I met Pope John Paul II, I knelt on both knees to kiss the Pope’s ring. I assume they had us do this since the Pope was sitting down?

    I also thought that the excommunicated SSPX bishops were validly ordained, but sadly also illictly ordained. So I’m confused about whether or not to kiss their rings.

  24. Jordanes says:

    Semyon is correct, and we can go further and note that it is customary to address America elected officials and judges as
    “the Honorable.” Regrettably the U.S. abolished aristocratic titles, peerages, hereditary honors and whatnot — but respect, manners and proper etiquette were not abolished.

  25. Andrew, UK and sometimes Canada says:

    Re comments by Garrett and Michael Thoma:

    I also wonder about kissing the hand of Orthodox priests and prelates. Personally I have no problem with this, especially as I was informed by a reliable Catholic priest that they possess valid ordinations. Anglican prelates, on the other hand, are more problematic though sometimes simply inspire more reverence that our own polyster-wearing bishops.

    And it is true that the custom is to kiss the hand in the Orthodox churches. Bishop Kallistos (Ware) does not wear a ring to be kissed, or at least was not wearing one on the occasion that I met him.

  26. CDN Canonist says:

    I would like to correct one misconception in the posts above. Most auxiliary bishops are indeed local ordinaries, that is, they possess general ordinary executive power (c. 134). This is due to the fact that a diocesan bishop is to appoint his auxiliary or auxiliaries as vicars general, or at least episcopal vicars (c. 406). The only auxiliary bishop who would not be an ordinary is one who does not possess the ecclesiastical office of vicar general or episcopal vicar, such as a retired auxiliary bishop.

  27. allan says:

    Serphino’s comment and attitude are simply not Catholic
    and reading this comment and others of recidite plebes, it’s easy to see that he has an enormous chip on his shoulder.

  28. James II says:

    In the British Isles archbishops are addressed colloquially as ‘Your Grace’, and common bishops as ‘My Lord’.

    According to sspxwebmaster:

    Technically there is so such rule as genuflecting with the left knee to a bishop, though this is a pious custom. In fact, during the liturgy, one genuflects on the right knee to the celebrating prelate who is pontificating at the throne (at the faldstool, only a bow is made to the prelate) because when he offers Mass he *is Christ* at the altar, since he has the fullness of the priesthood (also signified by him wearing a tunicle, dalmatic and chasuble when pontificating).

    This is also partially the reason why (traditionally) the high altar of a cathedral is not supposed to have the Blessed Sacrament reserved (which was erroneously commonly seen in the USA as opposed to Europe before the VII Council). In a cathedral the Blessed Sacrament is always supposed to be reserved in a special chapel dedicated to the Holy Eucharist complete with its own special altar. However, in a parish the Blessed Sacrament should always be reserved on the high altar.

    By the way, the famous papal triple genuflection made while approaching the pontiff was always done with the right knee. The same (though usually only performed once) was also done for a king in some courts.

    Finally, technically one should only genuflect to the local ordinary, while an auxiliary bishop (which the bishops of the SSPX are in fact) is only bowed to when kissing the ring. Nonetheless, this distinction was never really practiced by traditionalists (usually out of mere ignorance about this point of ecclesiastical etiquette), especially as they were accustomed to Archbishop Lefebvre (who would have been genuflected to due to his rank).”

  29. Claire Traas says:

    Is the protocol for meeting an Auxiliary Bishop the same for both men and women? I thought a lady was not supposed to bow, only curtsy.

  30. Louis Tofari says:

    The bishops of the SSPX are indeed auxiliary bishops. [Noooo…. only in an equivocal sense that they were to help him. Please let me know on what page of the Annuario Pontificio they are to be found.] Archbishop Lefebvre specifically consecrated them for sacramental purposes only (to ordain priests, administer confirmation, etc.); he did not however bestow any jurisdiction on them, which would have been schismatic. [Not to mention impossible.] In fact, a couple of years ago Bishop Fellay signed a letter to Pope John Paul II: Bishop Bernard Fellay, Auxiliary Bishop in the service of the Priestly Society of St. Pius X. [Gratis asseritur, gratis negatur. I shall now start signing my letters with “Emperor of China and Sole Owner of the Chicago Cubs”.]

    As for genuflecting to Archbishop Lefebvre, though he was not an ordinary, he still held the personal title of archbishop, which by protocol dictates various privileges, including genuflecting to kiss his ring. [So, one genuflects to bishops who are neither cardinals nor ordinaries?]

  31. Benedictus says:

    Is it true that you don’t genuflect to a Cardinal in Rome (unless there’s a Sede vacante)?

  32. Louis Tofari says:

    Of course you will not find the SSPX bishops listed in the Annuario; that is just one more aspect of the persecution of Catholic Tradition. [Let me get this straight. These men entirely defy the Roman Pontiff, incur a latae sententiae excommunication and they are being “persecuted”.] Hopefully, this political ostracization will finally come to an end. So Bishop Fellay’s signature is an expression of the reality of situation (e.g., there was no valid excommunication per canon law, [John Paul II and the Congregation for Bishops thought so.]and there certainly is no schism).

    By the way, are you aware that Mgsr. Wach was also not listed in Annuario as a monsignore for many years though he went around dressed as one and insisting people address him as “Monsignor”? [This is true… but so what? What does that have to do with the SSPX?] This was actually an abuse as he had lost the title and dignity when he ceased holding the diocesan position that afforded him the title (it was not a personal title). Only recently has the title been conceded to him.

    As for genuflecting to an archbishop who is not the local ordinary, yes. There are many archbishops who are not local ordinaries, such as those in the Roman Curia (usually a matter of course for those appointed as non-cardinal prefects, and other curial positions), papal nuncios, apostolic delegates, etc. These should also be genuflected to when kissing the ring (though technically in Rome, only bowed to since the pope is local ordinary).

    [Okay… this rabbit hole is now closed.]

  33. Peter Karl T. Perkins says:

    Again, the rule about the left knee, as far as I am aware, is a widespread local custom but not a universal one. It does seem to obtain everywhere in my country (Canada), however.

    I was taught that you genuflect to kiss the ring of the diocesan bishop in his see, the metropolitan archbishop anywhere in his province, a cardinal or the Pope anywhere. A papal legate would represent the Pope and therefore also be covered. For all other bishops, you are supposed to bow deeply to kiss the ring. This would be for auxiliary bishops, coadjutor bishops and archbishops, titular bishops, bishops emeriti.

    The S.S.P.X bishops are bishops and Rome has publicly recognised that they are Catholic. But they are acephalous, a condition forbidden by law. Presumably, since they are recognised both as Catholic and as bishops, they would get a bow but not a genuflexion. What the law (including customary law) does not forbid is allowed. So it might be at least optional.


  34. Peter Karl T. Perkins says:

    I had not noticed this dispute about the status of the Society bishops.

    No, they are not auxiliary bishops at law because they have not been appointed as such, nor have they been appointed as titulars by the Pope. They are acephalous, a condition forbidden at law but arguably justified in a case of necessity. Indeed the law foresees this situation and there were (and still survive) some bishops who were consecrated behind the Iron Curtain in the 1950s and never given appointments after that (although probably all made at least titular bishops. Is Bishop Kalata, S.J., an example?) The Society claims a right of necessity and the Church’s supply of jurisdiction, but they do not claim to hold any titles as bishops; they are only bishops in the Sacramental sense.


  35. ssoldie says:

    Thank you P.K.T.P., that is what I was taught Pre Vatican II and had no confusion about it.

  36. Joshua B. says:

    Due to a handicap, I kneel on the left knee for both protocol and liturgical occasions.

    Yet another of the (innumerable) things for which I am grateful that He is understanding.

  37. pelerin says:

    Joshua B – Since breaking a couple of bones in my foot a year ago I still find it impossible to genuflect on the right knee. I did not feel right just giving a bob so have also had to resort to genuflecting on the left knee.

    Strangely I never knew the right/left knee protocol until reading it here. I had always automatically genuflected on the right knee and presumed that it was probably because I was right handed that it felt the natural thing to do.

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