ASK FATHER: Indulgence for kissing a new priest’s hands

From a reader…


Is there really an indulgence for kissing the hands of a newly ordained priest?  I’ve heard different accounts.  And how long is “newly”?

I have written about this before.   For example, HERE.

There is no indulgence, at this time, for a priest’s first blessing or for kissing the new priest’s hand.  It is a praiseworthy custom and it should be fostered.   The hands of the priest are important, because they are consecrated.  It is a good custom to kiss the hand of the priest and to ask for his blessing.

Also, the law permits diocesan bishops to grant a partial indulgence to their subjects (EnchInd 7).  Thus, deacons about to be ordained to the priesthood could ask – ahead of time – the bishop to grant an indulgence for those who receive their first blessing for, say, a period of a year.  In the case of religious, their major superior could grant it.  This should be arranged ahead of time, not at the last minute.  Perhaps it could be part of a diocese’s regular practice.  Perhaps the vocation director or the liturgy director could put a note in their file for “ordination preparation” along the lines of “ASK THE BISHOP FOR…”.

More about “hands”.  Why hands?

Obviously, the priest holds the Host in his hands.  He holds the chalice, which ought to be consecrated with chrism.  But these days, anyone, it seems, and everyone can hold the Most Holy (aka “the white thing”).  This has done horrific damage to our Catholic identity and self-understanding.   The priest’s hands are consecrated for a reason: to handle that which is Most Holy.

On an amusing note, someone wrote recently that a perennial fanatic about women’s ordination made the false claim that women were forbidden to wash altar linens because of the Church’s misogyny.  Women were only allowed to touch the linens after the priest did a first washing.   Imagine the outrage!  The horror of such hatred of women!

The fact is that no lay person, male or female, was to wash linens until a priest had done a first washing or rinsing because the there could be particles of the Eucharist on the linens, stains from the Precious Blood, and the priest’ hands are consecrated to handle the Eucharist.   So, consecrated hands do the first washing and then lay people, male or female, can do the rest.   It’s not that lay hands or people are bad.  It’s just that the priest’s hands are consecrated to handle that which is Most Holy.

This is why there is, in some places, a good custom of altar boys using gloves to move sacred vessels, such as emptied and purified ciboria.

The hands of the priest are indeed special.  We already have a hint about this in the writings of Paul.  In 1 Timothy 2:8 we read:

I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands [hosious xeiras] without anger or quarreling;

Yeah… without “anger or quarreling”.  Nice try, Paul.

Anyway, I think that “lifting holy hands” business indicates a liturgical setting and also points to priesthood.

Paul clearly envisions a liturgical setting that is modelled on the old covenant liturgy.

In Hebrew, the idea of consecration of priestly hands involves the word “filled”.  “Filled” hands are doing holy work.  To “fill the hand” is a way of saying in Hebrew, “ordain, consecrate”.  The Greek version of the Old Testament, when a man was ordained the Greek used for consecrated was “perfected”.  This hearkens to how Christ Himself was “perfected” through His suffering and death.  The Greek talks about the perfection of the priest’s hands.   Priests would fill their hands with the sacrifices of the people, incense, wave-offerings, animals, etc.

In 1 Timothy 2, when Paul talks about “lifting holy hands” he is sure talking about sacred worship and priesthood, liturgy and proper roles.

Paul already underscores how the priest’s hand’s are important.   Since Paul and the early Church, our understanding of the priesthood, Holy Orders, the Eucharist – both its celebration and species themselves – and their interconnection, has become deeper and wider.   Indulgence or not, customs associated with the priest’s hand are sound and helpful and they reflect our ever maturing Faith.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. Matt R says:

    One might also inquire with the Apostolic Penitentiary about an indulgence for a first Mass, either one of the first three solemn Masses or else the first Mass celebrated by the priest publicly and with as much solemnity as possible, in that particular church, that in either case is very likely not the *very* first Mass celebrated by the priest. I know a priest of a traditional community who celebrated a first solemn Mass in an apostolate where he had spent some time in seminary, and the indulgence was granted just like the one ordinarily made available for the first Mass (in the literal sense of his very first).

  2. Geoffrey says:

    Holy Mother Church does grant a plenary indulgence to a priest when he celebrates his first Mass, and to “the faithful who devoutly assist at such a Mass” (Manual of Indulgences, 27). There are also indulgences for ordination jubilees.

  3. JonPatrick says:

    One thing that stands out in my mind from my days at Catholic school in England attending first communion classes, was the nuns showing us the sacred vessels and how they carefully handled them with a cloth, explaining how only the priest was allowed to directly hold them. This was of course pre Vatican II. It impressed my 5 year old mind that something special was going on here. Something we have definitely lost where now Susan the “eucharistic minister” can grab a ciborium and hand out the “white things”.

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