Catholics and the kissing of rings… or not. Wherein Fr. Z rants. – UPDATES

UPDATE 27 March:

Look at this spectacularly cheap shot from Christopher Lamb who writes for RU-486 (aka ultra-lefty The Bitter Pill, aka The Tablet)

There are also plenty of ways to respect the office of the papacy without kissing the fisherman’s ring, and it’s noteworthy that people expressing upset over the Pope’s reticence over this custom showed great enthusiasm in promoting a dossier from a retired papal diplomat that took the unprecedented decision of calling on a Pope to resign.

Get that?


UPDATE 27 March:

Concerning below, the Catholic Herald corrected its report to say that a “close aide” made comments about Francis and ring-kissing, not “a Vatican spokesman”.

UPDATE 26 March:

I saw this at the Catholic Herald:

A Vatican spokesman said the Pope was “amused” by the reaction to the video. “Sometimes he likes it, sometimes he does not. It’s really as simple as that”.

Francis was “amused”?

“Sometimes he likes it, sometimes he does not. It’s really as simple as that”?

Whatever this is, it isn’t simple when you are on the receiving end of his “back hand”.

____ Originally Published on: Mar 26, 2019 @ 14:06

It could be that you have tried to kiss the hand or ring of a bishop, only to have him snatch it away in an extravagant and conspicuous gesture of humility.

You’ve perhaps by new seen the painful video – it is painful to watch – of the Pope jerking his hand away, even with force, from happy, smiling people at Loreto, Italy, who want to kiss his ring.

In another post, I added a note that public figures often, through repetitive stress to their hands from enthusiastic well-wishers, start defending their digits from painful grabs and twists.  I grant that popes have to do that.  But that does not seem to be what is going on in this infamous video.

And, it seems that Francis is not consistent.

In Italy there is a long custom of the baciamano. It is a gesture of courtesy (from courtliness), loyalty, submission. It is deeply ingrained in Catholics to kiss the ring of prelates, because there was also an indulgence attached. There was once an indulgence attached to kissing the hands of the newly ordained.

Catholics of certain cultures are pleased to kiss the hands of priests, whom they see as alter Christus, because their hands touch the Holy Eucharist. During the celebration of the Roman Rite, it is formally inscribed in the rubrics to kiss the hand of the celebrant and objects presented to him and taken from him. These are the famous solita oscula… the usual kisses.

Kissing the hand of the priest, kissing the ring of the bishop – and especially of a pope – is about as Catholic as it gets. It is in our DNA. Does it carry with it the traces of the trappings of a bygone age and highly stratified societies? Sure.

So what?  Why is that bad?

Fr. Dwight Longenecker jumped into the discussion with a post at his place. His main point:

These displays of “humility” are embarrassing and indicate (like not allowing people to kiss his ring) that he sees himself as bigger than the office he holds.

The difficult with these displays is that they are not much more than theatrics. There are more substantial things Pope Francis might do to make his point. Wouldn’t a top to bottom house cleaning of the Vatican finances complete with total transparency do much more to make the point about poverty and faithful stewardship than the histrionics of living in the Casa St Martha? Wouldn’t it be truly humbling if the Pope were to root out the gay mafia in the church rather than promote them?

The fact is, when Catholics honor their priest they should be honoring Jesus in that man. The priest should understand that and echo St John the Baptist–pointing to Jesus and saying, “He must increase and I must decrease.”

Likewise, to kiss the pope’s ring is not to honor that man, but to honor St Peter, whose successor he is.

Quite a few times here I’ve written about why we must deck out our liturgical celebrations with the best that we can muster, why we must dress our sacred ministers in glory, for the most glorious of all actions, our sacred liturgical worship.  The finery is not about them.

Libs will, like jack asses, bray about the “triumphalism” and ridicule what the Church has through centuries done out of sheer love.  Catholics low and high, poor and rich, gave from their earnings, meager or great, the material representation of sweat and devotion, their money, to build beautiful churches, to obtain fine liturgical objects, to develop art and choirs and windows and statues.

The beauty and the gestures are about self-gift, submission, gratitude.   Catholics know that graces come from God through the mediation of outward signs, through the minister of sacraments, through the matter of sacraments, through our many symbols.   They know that when they kiss the ring of a bishop, they honor much more than, say, the unworthy Most Rev. Fatty McButterpants, by God’s mysterious ways disgraceful wearer of his office.

A whole world of mystery opens up through these gestures and signs.  The one who performs the gesture, comes to a threshold of encounter.

Can anyone who truly understands what authentic religious experience is ridicule this powerful impulse of the devout Catholic to revel in and create and support these threshold signs and gestures?

Take, for example, the way that a bishop is vested – by others – for a Solemn Mass.    He must sit, with docility, and allow himself to be dressed, rather like the paschal lamb about to have his throat cut.  Layer after uncomfortable layer is imposed on him by ministers who work him over literally from head to toe, from miter to those odd booty things on his feet.

Every object and garment of his pontificalia has meaning.    When he allows someone else to put the ring on his finger – a nuptial sign of his vocation – he prays

Cordis et corporis mei, Domine, digitos virtute decora, et septiformis Spiritus sanctificatione circumda.… Adorn with virtue, Lord, the fingers of my body and of my heart, and wrap them about with the sanctification of the sevenfold Spirit.

“The fingers of my heart”!  It is as if the very beating heart of the man who accepts the ring can reach out to touch those who come to him for what he can give.

Snatch that away?!?

Perhaps more bishops should celebrate the traditional form of the Roman Rite, and drink in with these prayers the deep draughts of identity, finely curated by the faithful through millennia of love!

The priest who learns the older, traditional form, with its vesting prayers, its prayers after Mass in the Breviary, with the many reminders of who he isn’t during the Mass, is never the same thereafter.

Identity is offered in these rites.   If so for the priest, how much more for the bishop.

It is interesting that, in these days, I’ve never met a mean bishop who is willing to celebrate the traditional form on a regular basis.  In the past, there were quite a few.  But… now?   I’m not looking for suggestions of names, but I’m racking my brain about the men I’ve observed over the past 30 or so years.  And I mean regularly, not rarely.

I’ve met a lot of truly nasty liberal bishops who won’t have a thing to do with tradition.  Yes, there are kind men as well.  I like to imagine how they would benefit from the gifts of tradition.

When We have been elected Pope, and the lib bishops come to pretend and to prevaricate, I’ll slip the ring off and put it in my back pocket.  They can kiss it there.

But seriously, these gestures are important for us as Catholics.

In 1 Timothy, Paul gives advice to a young bishop, in charge of a community being disturbed by the “circumcision party”.   He quotes Deuteronomy in a way that cuts two directions:  “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.”  We must respect our elders in the Church, who do so much work for the Lord.  However, we also shouldn’t starve the faithful who are also workers in the Church.

Snatching your hand away “muzzles the ox”.

Fathers, Bishops, accept honors with submission and cheerful gratitude, recognizing all that lies behind them.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    Having just read Dietrich von Hildebrand’s “My Battle Against Hitler” (weren’t you recommending that a while back, Father?), I have a hunch that triumphalism builds community whereas debasement (which is what such false humility is, no?) flattens it out into what the good doctor would have called a “mass” (and what can be plainly seen, from their behavior in reaction to politics these days, to be a mob).

  2. Fr. Kelly says:

    What is a little unnerving is that this scene occurs after the Annunciation Mass at the Holy House of Loreto you can see it beginning about 1:12:19 on the video that Fr. Z posted below. from 1:02 to that point Francis is shaking hands and having his ring kissed mostly by religious without apparent objection. It is when the laity come forward that he resists ring kissing so strenuously.
    Then afterwards, beginning about 1:18 he goes to the sick and handicapped and gives them his hand freely.

    It does not seem to be about a sore hand.

  3. haydn seeker says:

    In full charity, videos on the internet aren’t always what they appear, as the Covington Catholic saga showed. Apparently plenty of people did kiss the papal ring at Loreto that day, so Francis is just being weird in this section. Which is why, I must confess, I try to avoid this pope whenever I can. He just induces confusion in me, and that is usually an occasion of sin.

  4. Richard_amdg says:

    Having considered the differences between the two images, I think His Holiness resisted the faithful at Loreto because they were not appropriately attired. Isn’t it obvious?

  5. What makes this egregious is the way it was done. If the Holy Father did not wish to have his hand kissed — perhaps he has pain or feels awkward about a rash — then the courteous thing would be to position ones hands so as to avoid that outcome. He could have kept his hands folded in front of him, for example. After all, this is entirely foreseeable. And to handle it as he did was really awful, because it embarrassed the people who were showing him respect and love.

  6. Kathleen10 says:

    A few years ago a kind priest blessed an object I had brought to church. He didn’t know me, I didn’t know him. I was grateful, and had the impulse to kiss his hand, and did.
    I was reading today a priest commenting on this papal debacle said that “saliva on my hand sends a shiver down my spine”, following I assume, a kiss from one of us, the disgusting laity. I think of that priest as I do people who go into nursing for the money, nobody benefits, you’re unfit for your vocation and it will eventually show, as it does here.
    I am truly sad for the people in that video. I can imagine their excitement at the opportunity of meeting a pope the next day, how thrilled they must be, only to suffer that hurt and embarrassment at his jerking his hand away like that. It’s excruciating to watch. It betrays all of the faux humility and mercy as just words and drama. It’s actually cruel. This is now their memory of the special day.
    These men do not love Catholicism. They hate it. They hate everything about it and are doing their darndest to get rid of it, pomp, circumstances, tradition, dogma, it’s all gotta go.
    Open contempt for anyone acting like a faithful Catholic is just more evidence, as if we needed it.
    Edward Pentin said he always pulls his hand away, but more noticeably on this day while he was being filmed.

  7. Kerry says:

    ” A spokesman for the Charles Schulz syndicate said Lucy was ‘amused’ at Charlie Brown’s reaction when she jerked the football away”.

  8. Jerome Charles says:

    BBC reports that per Vatican tv footage, many people greeted the Pope during that event and kissed his ring. So, I don’t think we can assume that it’s the Pope’s intent to get rid of this tradition. This was a 53-sec clip at the end, when his behavior changed. There hasn’t been a reason stated for it, but I’d guess by tomorrow the Vatican will have addressed it because it’s gotten so much attention. It is very curious, and no doubt deeply disappointing for the people in that segment.

  9. stpetric says:

    I recently celebrated Mass at the central Catholic church in Istanbul — where Christians are 1% of the population, and Catholics are a minority of that 1%. Where we in America have a “handshake line” at the door after Mass, in Turkey many of the faithful kissed my hand, and a number pressed their foreheads to the back of my hand. The honor they show their priests moved me deeply.

  10. HvonBlumenthal says:

    Not long ago, as a Knight of Malta I greeted a chaplain of the order and attempted to kiss his hand, as I do the hands of all priests.

    He snatched his hand away and said “No, no, I’m not a bishop yet!”
    I replied “But your hands are consecrated, are they not?”
    He looked at me as if I was mad and turned his back on me.

  11. SanSan says:

    So painful to watch. He practically pushed people off their feet. Mea Culpa Dear Lord.

  12. tho says:

    Whether I was told or just assumed it, I always thought there was a holy relic in a Bishop’s ring. and that by kissing it we received an indulgence.

  13. Louis Mountbatten says:

    I’ve had enough, of him and this entire hierarchy. Expel and excommunicate the heretics and restore our worship to its traditional forms. Then just maybe the sodomites can be dealt with.

  14. PetersBarque says:

    Cringeworthy. Maybe he deems these sheep not worthy of smelling.

  15. Gab says:

    The charitable thing would have been to allow the Fusherman’s Ring to be kissed and offer up to God the inconvenience for the sins of the Church.

  16. Fr. Kelly says:

    The url for the full video is:
    at 1:02 Francis greets a series of religious, both men and women and allows those who wish to kiss his ring.
    Ten minutes later, at 1:12:19, Lay people begin to approach him and Francis begins to reject the baciamano. The difference is striking and looks very much like a rejection of laypeople.
    Finally at 1:18 he approaches the section of handicapped people and holds a child, shakes hands, and allows his ring to be kissed.

    It is possible that after 10 minutes of having his ring kissed, he has had too much of it, but it is hard to see this as anything other than a disrespect for the laity who come to kiss his ring.

  17. Bosco says:

    Must protect the Precious.

  18. maternalView says:

    And here we are again having to interpret the Pope.

    The only thing he’s consistent about is his inconsistency.

  19. WmHesch says:

    It’s not “traditional” at all to kiss the ring of the Holy Father. Only bishops did that for centuries. Laity and lesser clerics traditionally kissed the Holy Father’s slipper.

  20. Fr_Andrew says:

    I have a great number of Filipinos and Filipina at my parish. While both do it the latter will go out of their way to run across the parking lot saying “Father, father,” then grabbing your hand to touch it to their forehead, not merely kiss it.

    At first I was a bit shocked by the gesture, but to this day I let them, not because I demand the honor (I’m quite a schmuck), but I hearken back to those words “who am I to judge?”

  21. Gab says:

    Written by someone else but sums it up nicely.

    “Veneration of the Fisherman’s Ring is veneration of the office, of St Peter, of the Apostolic See, of Christ Himself. It is not veneration of Bergoglio. This is yet another example of the man’s phony humility.

    A truly humble man who disliked the custom would endure it as a quibbling sort of penance. Or he could have asked his aid to make an announcement to the pilgrims not to venerate the ring, if that’s what he really wanted. Instead, aware of the cameras, he seemed to deliberately humiliate them – mostly elderly folk who would have been deeply hurt – so the whole world would see how “humble” he is. As I’ve said since his irregular and dodgy arrival in the office, if you want to know how humble Bergoglio is, ask him. He’ll tell you.”

  22. Imrahil says:

    Dear WmHesch,

    wasn’t it one step further: only Cardinals, and maybe patriarchs?

    Bishops, I believe, kissed the end of the Pope’s stole. Laity, lesser clergy, and I guess abbots (though I’m not entirely sure about them, they might be grouped with the bishops) kissed his feet.

    Though, I might imagine this was the official rule for Papal Masses (or rather: the rites preceding them), and for the formula at the end of letters, “prostrate at the feet” etc. etc.; I might imagine that in more casual situations, even a layman might have been bold enough to genuflect and kiss the ring and go no further.

  23. Archlaic says:

    “Why was this ring not sold, and the money used for the poor? I have observed that many careerist bishops proudly welcome these anullosculators, and I notice that these are the same rigid ones who like to put on lace and celebrate Tridentine Masses. When they come for their ad limina I notice that they smell like an airport rather than a sheep, and I ask them about their jewelry collections…”

  24. LarryW2LJ says:

    I think what bothered me the most was the Press Office’s statement: “Sometimes he likes it, sometimes he does not. It’s really as simple as that”.

    That pretty much sums up my feelings about going to work everyday. But even “when I don’t like it” I know it’s my duty and I go, anyway.

  25. Suburbanbanshee says:

    I believe that the ancient Romans thought of the ring finger as being directly connected to the heart, and I understand that “digitus cordis” is one of its names. But the prayer does seem to be applying wordplay to make a more meaningful simile.

    [More on fingers HERE.]

  26. Someone said, “This was a 53-sec clip at the end, when his behavior changed.”

    That is a problem with him, his behavior changes too much. That is a red flag for me. If he doesn’t want people kissing his ring then someone should make an announcement before hand an let the people know. I was embarrassed for those poor people. He could have gone all day without shoving them away as well.

  27. mibethda says:

    Whether the practice of kissing the Celebrant’s hands in performing the solita oscula during the Liturgy extends to situations where the minister (or server) is a layman rather than a cleric is not completely clear, but the weight of authority appears to discourage it (the rubrical provisions for the solita oscura derives pricipally from the Ceremoniale Episcoporum and Clementine Instruction (Brief of Clement VIII). C.E I, xviii 16 does not, by its terms, apply to laymen. See for example O’Connell, The Celebration of Mass, 4th ed., p. 355:
    10. Whether the server – following the rubric of C.E. I, xviii 16 – should, when handing anything
    to the celebrant or receiving anything from him, kiss his hand is a moot point. Some authorities,
    among them Martinucci, de Amicis, Vavasseur-Haegy-Sterky, 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 Callwaert adds, inferior ministers are not ordained, as the deacon and subdeacon
    are, for immediately ministering to the celebrant.
    As noted by O’Connell the Ritus Servandus or general rubrics of the Roman Missal of 1962 actually forbids the kissing of the Celebrant’s hands during the Offertory when the cruets are presented and received back:
    Deinde in latere Epistolae accipit calicem, purificatorio extergit, et sinistra tenens ilius nodum,
    accipit ampullam vini de manu ministri (qui osculatur ipsam ampullam, non autem
    celebrantis) et ponit vinum in calicem. VII,4 ).
    (In the Low Mass, the only objects presented to, or received from the celebrant are generally the biretta and the cruets).

  28. UPDATE 27 March:

    Look at this spectacularly cheap shot from Christopher Lamb who writes for RU-486 (aka ultra-lefty The Bitter Pill, aka The Tablet)

    There are also plenty of ways to respect the office of the papacy without kissing the fisherman’s ring, and it’s noteworthy that people expressing upset over the Pope’s reticence over this custom showed great enthusiasm in promoting a dossier from a retired papal diplomat that took the unprecedented decision of calling on a Pope to resign.

    Get that?


  29. Ave Maria says:

    Some are claiming that the video is doctored. I don’t think so. I not only would not ever attempt to kiss his ring nor would I ever make the effort to see him in person.

  30. I have no idea who said it, but someone wise pointed out once that you can make the measure of a person by how s/he treats people less powerful and less important.

  31. Traductora says:

    Sorry for coming in so late, but one thing that I wanted to point out is that Francis’ ring isn’t the traditional papal ring…it’s the same silver one he used as (hated) Archbishop of Buenos Aires. He has another one, a gold-plated copy of the ring of Paul VI, that he uses for some ceremonies. I don’t know which one he was wearing.

  32. Semper Gumby says:

    Good point by Fr. Longenecker.

    semperficatholic: Good point about behavior changes.

    The Cobbler: Thanks for the reminder about von Hildebrand’s “My Battle against Hitler.” On the ‘ol innernet, at the Hildebrand Project, there’s a PDF of the first forty pages. I’ll have to expend some coin of the realm to get the book. In the Table of Contents there’s a chapter titled “Escape from Vienna.” A Catholic theologian who writes such a chapter has my full attention.

    By the way, Fr. Longenecker is working on a book about Warrior Priests.

  33. Uxixu says:

    I’ve always operated under practice of the old indulgences. I’ve genuflected and kissed the ring of my Ordinary, Archbishop of Los Angeles Jose Gomez and have kissed the hands of a half dozen or so newly ordained Fraternity priests after their First Masses…

    My first impression of this was apparently in error, though it’s cringeworthy video, at best. Apparently in the full video he was allowing it at first with Religious and then stopped (where this video starts) and then resumed when there were some sick, etc afterwards. One report said his hand may have been pulled a bit too aggressively, but it definitely wasn’t a blanket or complete refusal. Should definitely be communicated better by the folks managing the line, perhaps.

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