ASK FATHER: What’s with all the kissing in the Extraordinary Form?

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.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. TheAcolyte says:

    This article might be interesting to your readers on the topic of the “solita oscula”:

  2. ocalatrad says:

    Upon reading that lovely poem I am reminded of the picture of Fr. Terra (FSSP) at the funeral of Fr. Walker sitting in his wheelchair with his hands all bandaged up from the wounds of their attacker. Figures the Devil would seek to mangle the hands of the priest.

    I was brought up in a Hispanic household and to not kiss my parents and grandparents and, for some of my uncles in particular, to not ask for their blessing was tantamount to mortal sin. Even my homosexual uncle–who implicitly (amazingly) knows the teaching of the Church with regards to marriage and sin because he has expressed it to me, even though he sadly rejects it–demands that we greet him with a kiss and ask for his blessing as a sign of respect, and I gladly do so.

    When I greet any priest, I gladly bow and kiss his precious hands because I know that they alone have the privilege of touching the Holy Eucharist, our eternal food and Christ Himself. This is a sublime honor on the part of priest and layman. If only more priests knew what a grace they have imparted to them by virtue of ordination.

  3. truthfinder says:

    For reasons unknown to me, there is no hand kissing by the ministers or altar servers despite every Mass being a solemn high. I don’t know if this was an oversight or if someone felt it was too “strange” for modern sensibilities. I really hope they take up the practice again, but I’m not about to go on a one woman rubrical crusade.

  4. The Cobbler says:

    “Is this a kissing book?”

  5. Brian Cannon says:

    Liberals would rather has [sic] us, as they do, kneel and bow and scrape to the world, the flesh and the devil.

    The lack of Christian love is astounding. Are you having one of those “spittle-flecked nutties” you are so fond of citing?

  6. Former Altar Boy says:

    This is all news to me. I served Mass, both high and low, for years prior to the Vat2 fiasco and never saw or did any kissing. Were our priests — or the religious Sister who trained all us altar boys — lazy or ignorant of the rules? I kind of doubt it.
    Something else I have noted since the “return” of the TLM. No one sits after Communion. Back before 1969, everyone sat after the priest returned the ciborium to the tabernacle. My pre-Vat2 missal even has posture reminders in the margin and says “SIT” after Communion. My only guess it because the SIT after Communion continued into the “new” Mass, the younger “traditionalists” think it is a Vat2 innovation and avoid it.

  7. Dialogos says:

    Serving the Orthodox liturgy we always kissed the priest’s hand when giving/receiving the censer. It is also customary to ask for a blessing from a priest and to kiss his hand then.

  8. andia says:

    OT: I love the poem. I have always wanted to embroider that for someone,,,is it appropriate to do that up for an anniversary of ordination card?

  9. RAve says:

    ovely, edifying, answer, Father (that’s why we visit here – because that’s a staple at wdtprs).

    Your mention of the liberal attitude against kneeling reminds me of hell-parish (my pet name for where for years I tried my best to worship over a dozen years ago). Father “Luc.” was the pastor.

    When parishioners refused to violate the rubrics (when he directed us to stand during the consecration), he yelled and glared at everyone during the elevation demanding we all stand. That abusive tactic worked like a charm – most people (even those inclined to do the right thing) fell in line when the priest decided to wage war during Mass using the Sacred Species as a bludgeon.

    When the few (allegedly “bellicose”) among us politely pressed Fr. Luc for a rationale that could justify his directive that we violate the rubrics, he explained that it is wrong during the Mass for him to pray “we stand ready to serve you” while the people are all kneeling. I’m not sure what my reply was. I was firm but polite as I told him he’d have to do better than that.

    He explained that on really important matters of conscience we are right to disobey things like rubrics, and so he was justified. He was a bit flustered when I thanked him for giving me the freedom to follow his example of disobedience: I informed him that as a matter of conscience I would be disobeying his directive to stand during the consecration.

    I even wrote a heartfelt, clever, and actually beautifully poetic song about it: “Standing On Our Knees”.

    I escaped hell-parish over 15 years ago – I’m offering prayers for those who suffer in a hell-parish every day.

  10. Elizabeth D says:

    In my experience priests hate it if you kiss their hand, and bishops hate it if you kiss their ring. They may endure it but they obviously hate it. Maybe I don’t do it right? Maybe it is just me? But I think most of them just hate it even if they understand what it is about.

  11. lmgilbert says:

    As an old-timer (72 yrs) like Former Altar Boy, this hand kissing business as part of the TLM was news to me when the TLM was reintroduced. I grew up with the TLM and attended daily Mass in grade school, and many high Masses on Sunday. It just was not done. Never. My guess is that it had been quietly dropped on this side of the Atlantic as something uncongenial to the American ethos-and it is. We simply are not into being courtly. Maybe we should be, but we are not, and that is something that should be taken into consideration in re-introducing the TLM. For me it is incredibly tone-deaf given the cultural context in which we live here in the States, and by that I mean the scandal and all the suspicions which that evokes. Put plainly, for adolescent boys to be kissing the hands of priests frequently during the Mass is the liturgical equivalent of Pope Francis’s tone-deaf appointment of Bishop Barros in Chile. No, maybe later when and if the liturgical reform takes root through-out the Church and society, but for now it is simply throwing more obstacles in our own way. For myself, at least, it has discordant associations that definitely detract from the beauty of the Mass and the peace that should be part of it, and it can only be far more discordant for people less traditionally minded than myself. A little common sense here would go along way toward effecting the changes we hope for.

  12. GOR says:

    While the kissing of objects (cruets, etc.) and the priest’s hand is mentioned in Fortescue, it was not done by altar boys in the Ireland of the 50’s and 60’s. I first became aware of it in Continental Europe – France, Spain and Italy – in the early 60’s.

    But Ireland was known – and still is in places – for ‘going their own way’ liturgically. Perhaps we felt it was a ‘Latin thing’, not manly, or appropriate for us dour Celts.

    In similar vein there was little ‘pressing of the flesh’ in Ireland back then. A handshake would only be given after a lengthy absence – a “long time, no see” sort of occasion. Men never hugged one another, even within families. I cannot recall my father ever hugging me – a pat on the back or an arm around a shoulder was as close as it got…

  13. Nathan says:

    The solita oscula, in practice, seems to be one of those things that we tiptoe around in the sacristy, at least in the situations where the TLM is not the everyday Form that our priests celebrate. My experience learning to serve, in a diocesan context ranging from Low Mass to Missa Cantata, is that both priest and servers are a bit discomfited by the idea, which means we don’t really practice the art (and timing things to kiss the celebrant’s hand is an art) and we don’t talk about it, and its practice is truly hit-or-miss, especially when the celebrant is still learning how to offer High Mass.

    What might be really helpful for those of us outside the FSSP or ICRSP-served parishes would be for the good folks at Cantius or the full-time TLM societies to put together a primer on the solita oscula for both priests and servers so we can have a framework to talk about and practice it before we are on the Altar.

    In Christ,

  14. FranzJosf says:

    I had the good fortune to take three of my students to Russian Orthodox Easter Vespers at 11:00 a.m. (! shades of our old Holy Week) last Sunday morning. A day or two later I was reading about a classic scholar’s experience of an Orthodox liturgy and of its “ancient seriousness”. I had never encountered that term, but I knew exactly what he meant. The opening words of Vespers were strongly sung: “Let God arise, and let his enemies be scattered!” Serious, indeed. The server kissed the priest’s hand when giving him the thurible. All part of the seriousness. Seemed perfectly in place. Our old rite has a western version of that same ancient seriousness. I’ve been to TLM’s where they do it, and it seemed perfectly in place. I think it is a situation where one doesn’t stick a toe in the water, one dives in.

    A digression: When we arrived early the Russian priest introduced himself immediately and, when he realized that the three young men were part of his flock, he took them right in hand. It was wonderful to behold. He had them carrying banners in the procession and being part of things (We all processed around the outside of the Church three times, chanting, bells ringing, carrying candles.) He also asked them if they would like to come back, when our school schedule permits, to attend the Divine Liturgy and receive holy communion. Of course they did. “Good,” he said, “here’s my card. Call ahead when your coming so I can arrange to hear your confession before the service, because I can’t give you communion otherwise.” “Yes, Father,” they said. The whole scene was wonderful to behold. These three guys are strapping athletic, beer-drinking, skirt-chasing lads, but dead serious about their religion. They’re already asking when I can take them back, and I will after our upcoming break. Somehow that ancient seriousness of the liturgy affects they way they practice their religion, the muscularity of their faith. (I need to explore this theory more . . . )

  15. q7swallows says:

    Thank you, Father, for this post! I loved the detail and how you discussed that the lamb was fussed over right up to its throat-slitting! (That called to mind several priests I know!)

    And I strongly second Nathan’s plea above–a primer for the proper execution of the solita oscula.

    I have come to regard the reluctance toward the solita oscula as a sort of holdover thread of Puritanical Gnosticism that is aimed particularly against the priesthood and its inherent dignity. It’s very sad to see.

    We who have been understandably repulsed by the enshrinement and excesses of the Kiss of Peace should not throw the baby out with the bath water! And the worries of clericalism are quite remote in these days (case in point: Archbishop Cordileone.) There is a proper and exquisite execution of the traditional Catholic solita oscula by the servers in the EF that is very classy and overflowing with meaning. And there’s nothing remotely effeminate about it, either. The link by The Acolyte above has nice details. Byzantine practice is likewise very formal and beautiful. And I think the time of the solita oscula has come. In fact, I think it’s overdue.

    FWIW, I think of it this way. The gifts that we bring (water and wine) are given into the hands of the priest with a kiss–a signal that each of these things are important and given to God with love. Since the bread and wine were provided to us in love by God and for the purpose of most ineffable act of God’s Love, it is only fitting that we should give them back to Him with our love. And that love is fittingly symbolized with a kiss. It is even a deeper sign that with our gifts of bread and wine, we give our very selves–also symbolized by the kiss. And there is humility in kissing only the receptacle of each–not the gifts themselves. In it all can be seen a little act of reparation for the kiss of Judas.

    And the hand of the priest–as you so eloquently illustrated, Father–is kissed as a token of appreciation and love for the gift of the holy priesthood in the person of the man before us. He IS–in the flesh, in his very person–the alter Christus! This, too, is an incarnate gift to us from God. He is a gift to us from God. And we, in turn, receive that gift with the highest social incarnation of love and appreciation we have: the kiss. And since we congregants cannot all perform it, it is concentrated liturgically (as so many things are in the Mass) in the person and actions of the server. So when he kisses that cruet, I am kissing that gift (and imparting myself). And when he kisses that hand, I am kissing that hand (that Hand). When he kisses the paten, I am kissing that paten (every repository of the Lord’s Body). Etc., etc., etc. Every little solita oscula is rollicking packed with meaning.

    Does it require that the priest pause just a few seconds for these to be performed with dignity? Yes. But it’s a small price to pay for an investment that teaches volumes non-verbally and pays massive long-term dividends.

    Our boys learned the very respectful solita oscula from the beginning and I think it helped foster in them not only a servant’s heart but a profound respect for priests and an extra attentiveness to what is actually going on in the Mass. And outside of it.

    The solita oscula is indeed a practice I (for one) hope to see more. Bring on a primer and more apologia!

  16. asperges says:

    In England this was done at Pontifical masses but generally not as a rule otherwise and was considered a rather ‘continental’ practice and not quite English. In these bleak days when liturgy and doctrine are held equally in contempt, it is refreshing to see it still practised in such places as The Oratory.

    Modern times may see them as quaint, but in mediaeval Europe the Courts of Kings and the Church shared many customs – including hand kissing and bending the knee to superiors. Indeed if the old rite is anything, it is a pertfect example of beautiful manners which reflect a long-lost respect for the sacred and the consecrated state of the participants. Modern liturgy by contrast is the opposite of this: casual and fragmented.

  17. Per Signum Crucis says:

    I must admit to having not noticed this on the few occasions I have attended Brompton Oratory (perhaps I wasn’t looking hard enough) and I wouldn’t have any fundamental objection to the kissing of objects given or received as a sign of reverence during Holy Mass. But kissing of hands, like it or not, raises issues such as that mentioned by Imgilbert and is so open to misinterpretation that it is probably best left in the past.

  18. TMKent says:

    Our parish has had a TLM every Wednesday since last November. This past Wednesday, we had a solemn high mass and the “kissing” was done. Incidentally, we have three priests. Our parochial vicar is the youngest and he offered a TLM for his first mass after ordination. Our resident priest learned it a few years ago as the result of a promise made at the Tomb of St. Catherine. This past Wednesday, our pastor who was ordained in 1999, participated in his first ever OF mass as Sub Deacon. We are very blessed to have these three excellent priests serving us.

  19. jacobi says:

    The hands of a priest are blessed, are special.
    Personally, I follow the ancient Catholic custom of only receiving Holy Communion from and by the anointed hands of a priest, or deacon of course, but no one else.

  20. Vincent says:

    I can’t say I’m a fan. If the priest wishes, I will kiss the spoon before he imposes incense, but I do rather feel it’s a little over the top. If I’m meeting a bishop, then of course, there are certain niceties to be performed…

    I think I would argue that it gets in the way – certainly at Mass. I’ve always been rather glad when serving in environments where it’s not ‘required’. In fact, as ‘asperges’ alluded to, that sort of thing was common during the medieval period amongst the gentry. I think I would argue that the solita oscula were adopted in medieval society precisely in conscious imitation of what occurred at Mass (much the same principle as ‘high table’ at formal dinners, which was perhaps an imitation of the Last Supper).

    So in summary, not sure I like them. Will do, if required. But I’m not a fan..

  21. Joshua08 says:

    My understanding, from Fortescue-O’Connell-Reid is that the solita oscula are “normally” omitted when the servers are not clerics. I only had one priest expect them when I server (he was FSSP) and even then most FSSP didn’t ask about it (maybe because they were visiting and so no need to tinker with the ways we did things)

    I did kiss the cruets and the palm/hand on palm Sunday. But only the servers did that (we had a very tight schedule when I server in College, and to fit Palm Sunday required maximum efficiency. Hence the palms were picked up by the congregation before it began, and blessed with them holding them- which is permissible)

    Anyhow, that would explain the comments above from people saying “we didn’t do it that way” For that matter, customs of sitting, kneeling, etc varied even within the US. People get too worked up on the details there (e.g. sitting or kneeling at the epistle of a low Mass). I remember an older lady, after we introduced a daily TLM, lambasting me because the servers knelt during the creed (at a low Mass) and consequently the lay people followed that same gesture. I actually showed her the rubrics for the servers, and then pointed out their were no rubrics for the laity, but in pre-1962 Missals there was a rubric saying simply to kneel, except at the Gospels. Then she changed tune and insisted sitting during the offertory was an abuse (explaining directive versus prescriptive rubrics, the fact it was omitted in 1962, etc was to no avail)

    For that matter, almost every handmissal I have have slight variations on when to stand/kneel/sit at a High Mass. When asked to write a guide, I basically followed Fortescue/O’Connell/Reid with some tweaks for customs I had observed at multiple locations in our archdiocese. And many people were annoyed with that guide. You can’t win versus people’s memories of how things used to be…

  22. AngelGuarded says:

    LOVE the poem! I often look surreptitiously at my priest’s hands. Although he had a physical job before becoming a priest, his hands always look holy, soft, clean and pure. I pray for those hands with wonder at the miracles they accomplish. We have a lovely photo of him holding his holy hand over our heads during our wedding convalidation a few years ago. One of my favorite prayers is St Therese of Lisieux’s prayer for priests, especially “Keep unstained their anointed hands, which daily touch Thy Sacred Body…” Oh Jesus, eternal Priest, give us holy priests!

  23. christopherschaefer says:

    Less than 10 months after Vatican II promulgated the ‘Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy’ of December 4, 1963, the Consilium (of Sacred Congregation of Rites) began the desacralization of the Mass by issuing ‘Inter oecumenici’ (Instruction on implementing liturgical norms) on September 26, 1964 which stated
    “In order that liturgical services may manifest a noble simplicity more attuned to the spirit of the times…kissing of the hand and of objects presented or received shall be omitted.”
    NOWHERE does Vatican II’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy use the phrase “more attuned to the spirit of the times”.
    HERE is where the very deliberate Great Deception began:
    the mythical “Spirit of Vatican II”.

  24. Bea says:

    Fr. Z., Thank you for your insights and the beautiful poem. I think I read it a long time ago and was so happy to see it once more.

    ocalatrad says:
    “If only more priests knew what a grace they have imparted to them by virtue of ordination.”

    I agree. I think some priests take this beautiful vocation for granted. It is so beautiful to hear priests like Fr. Z. and others see the beauty of their glorious calling.

    andia says:
    “I have always wanted to embroider that for someone,,,is it appropriate to do that up for an anniversary of ordination card?”

    What a beautiful idea! I don’t embroider well anymore but an ordination anniversary card would be a beautiful thing to give to a priest on his anniversary or those with a knack on the computer to print out a congratulatory card with the poem. Mind if I copy your idea?

    Does anyone know the author? to give proper credit?

  25. JesusFreak84 says:

    At my Ukrainian Catholic parish, if I don’t pay attention in the communion line, I can trip over someone who decided to kiss an icon before receiving =-p

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