Why are objects kissed during Mass? Print
What's That All About
Thursday, Feb. 25, 2016 -- 12:00 AM

What's That All About column by Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

The fifth in a series by Fr. John Zuhlsdorf about the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite.

In this short series we are looking into what Bishop Robert C. Morlino is up to when you see reports that he has celebrated a “Pontifical Mass at the Throne in the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite” (PMATTITEFOTRR).

So far, we’ve made distinctions about what the Roman Rite and the Extraordinary Form are, we’ve seen the different levels of solemnity with which Holy Mass can be offered in the older, traditional form, and we’ve touched one of the most obvious differences between how a bishop says Mass in the traditional Form and the Ordinary Form, that is, the additional vestments he uses and the different ministers he has to help him.

Objects kissed

Here is another thing which might make you scratch your head when you attend your first PMATTITEFOTRR.

In the older, traditional Form, when objects are handed to and taken from the priest celebrant or the bishop, they are kissed, along with Father’s hand. What’s up with that?

It’s a good question, given the fact that it is so out of keeping with the style of 99 precent of Masses you have seen in the last 50 years.

The kissing of objects and hands probably spread into Holy Mass from a courtly context many centuries ago.

There’s nothing wrong with that, by the way. There is nothing wrong with respect and decorum. There is nothing wrong with old. Archaic doesn’t mean obsolete, much less bad.

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.

Kisses show joy in the occasion and the action. They lend solemnity to the moment.

In some cultures, steeped in the Catholic faith, it is still customary to kiss the priest’s hand when greeting him.

The priest’s hands are anointed with Sacred Chrism and they hold the Host during Mass. The priest kisses the altar during Mass.

The priests serve us

The bestowing of these liturgical kisses of objects and hands ties directly into the style and quality of vestments and vessels used for Holy Mass, as well as the music and the architecture.

When we dress our priests and bishops in gold and lace, and place precious objects 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 show him honor, and use beautiful things, because we honor Christ, and because we are grateful for the merits of the Cross and our pathway to heaven.

The priest and bishop are our mediators with the one Mediator.

They are, during Holy Mass, like Christ Himself, both the Priest who offers the Sacrifice, and also the Sacrificial Victim.

As I wrote in an earlier column, the lambs which the Jews prepared for the Passover sacrifice were fussed over, right up to moment the knife slashed their throats open.

When you see the priest and bishop in fine vestments, remember the love, gratitude, and care with which we treat sacred things and persons and places.

We look through them as Moses looked through the cleft in the rock in order to glimpse the Mystery as God passed by on the other side (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 souls.

They help us to prepare, through their beauty and challenge, for our own deaths.

To be continued . . .


Fr. John Zuhlsdorf, “Father Z”, a Catholic priest ordained by St. John Paul II, has a background in classical language and patristic theology and worked in the Vatican’s Pontifical Commission “Ecclesia Dei.” He has been a weekly columnist for The Wanderer and the UK’s Catholic Herald and runs his award-winning blog (fatherzonline.com). He lives and works in the Diocese of Madison and travels, giving talks, conferences, and retreats.