From a reader…
I was wondering what is the point of kissing in the Extraordinary Form? Such kisses include kissing the priest’s hand after handing the server or deacon his biretta or kissing the celebrant’s hand after handing him the thurible, kissing the water and wine cruets? None of the altar boys do this at the Traditional Latin Mass I serve, including me and none of the celebrants ever mention that we have to kiss their hands, etc. How did this liturgical kissing catch on?
The kisses given to objects handed to the priest, and the priest’s hand itself, serve to show respect to the priest who is alter Christus… another Christ…, to show respect to the sacred things being used and the One to whom they refer us, to show joy in the occasion and action, and to lend decorum and solemnity to the moment.
For those who don’t know about this, in the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite, always in Pontifical and Solemn Masses and sometimes at Low Masses, objects are kissed as they are given to the celebrant, as is his hand. The rule is when giving, kiss the object first, then the celebrant’s hand and when getting kiss the hand first, then the object. However, when receiving a sacramental, such as a blessed palm on Palm Sunday or a blessed Candle at Candlemass, you kiss the sacramental first, and then the hand. Also, because the kiss is a sign of joy, they are omitted on Good Friday and during Requiem Masses. (Our Church is very cool.)
The kissing of objects and hands surely spread to Holy Mass in a courtly context. There’s nothing wrong with that, by the way. There is nothing wrong with respect and decorum. Liberals accuse traditionalists of clinging to the useless bowing and scraping of ancient court practices. They won’t kneel! No! They’ve evolved beyond all that. Liberals would rather has us, as they do, kneel and bow and scrape to the world, the flesh and the devil.
Also, note that in the rubrics sacred ministers such as deacons and subdeacons are directed to give the “usual kisses” or Latin solita oscula. Other ministers and the altar, laymen or boys, may give them. Much depends on local custom.
The giving of solita oscula ties into the style and quality of vestments and vessels used for Holy Mass, as well as the music and the architecture. Be clear about something! When we dress our priests and bishops in gold and lace, and place gold onto and into their hands, and kiss their hands because they were anointed to serve us, we aren’t honoring the priest or bishop the man, however worthy and admirable he may be. We are honoring him and giving our best because we honor Christ at work in them and because we are grateful for the merits of the Cross and our pathway to heaven.
The priest and bishop are our mediators for the one Mediator. They are, during Holy Mass, both priest who offers the Sacrifice, and also the Sacrificial Victim. The lambs prepared for the day of sacrifice were taken great care of and fussed over… right up to the time the knife slashed their throats open. When you see the priest and bishop in fine vestments, remember the love and gratitude and care with which we treat sacred things and persons and places. We look to them and through them as Moses look, straining, to glimpse the Mystery as God passed by on the other side of the cleft in the rock (cf Exodus 33). They are signs that facilitate the encounter with mystery that is simultaneously frightening and alluring, hard to prepare for and yet vital for our spirits. They help us to prepare, through their beauty and challenge for our own deaths.
This is why is wrong for a priest or bishop to refuse the kissing of his ring and hand. People want to give honor and show love for Jesus, the King and Eternal Priest present before them in their person. They instinctively, and also by instruction, seek to reverence what brings them the ordinary means of salvation.
I am reminded of a poem from yesteryear which, though to our ears today it rings a bit saccharin and sentimental, it conveys perennially valuable clues about the attitude we must adopt in the present of the Lord’s anointed. I don’t say that any of us should cringe or fawn (as liberals do before their precious Molochs). Rather, we should reflect on how Christ Himself established the means of our salvation and His holy priesthood. You might know the poem. Think about the moments that the poem describes:
The Beautiful Hands of a Priest
We need them in life’s early morning,
We need them again at its close;
We feel their warm clasp of true friendship,
We seek them when tasting life’s woes.
At the altar each day we behold them,
And the hands of a king on his throne
Are not equal to them in their greatness;
Their dignity stands all alone;
And when we are tempted and wander,
To pathways of shame and of sin,
It’s the hand of a priest that will absolve us,
Not once, but again and again.
And when we are taking life’s partner,
Other hands may prepare us a feast,
But the hand that will bless and unite us
Is the beautiful hand of a priest.
God bless them and keep them all holy,
For the Host which their fingers caress;
When can a poor sinner do better
Than to ask Him to guide thee and bless?
When the hour of death comes upon us,
May our courage and strength be increased,
By seeing raised over us in blessing
The beautiful hands of a priest.
Yes, I think the solita oscula are entirely appropriate. When we choose to jettison practices like this, we jettison helps for our Faith, Hope and Charity.