Fr Z on Catholics and the kissing of rings… or not.

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.



Apparently it was only in the last minute that Pope Francis roughly pulled his hand away from the faithful lining up to kiss the Great Fisherman’s ring. The reasons for this are still unclear, but Father Z suggests now Putting Ring-gate To Rest

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4 Responses to Fr Z on Catholics and the kissing of rings… or not.

  1. I never knew that that there were indulgences or I forgot . For me, it’s merely a deep act of appreciation and reverence for the Church and all we receive from Her; whose representative stands before us. It seems natural. To withdraw is to reject someone’s love. It’s hurtful. It embarrasses them; they wonder what they did wrong! Love, reverence, humility; things the devil can not tolerate. Indeed he has an aversion to these things. But when a proud person generates or initiates or prompts the action of adoration upon his own person, expectantly, the devil revels in his pride and this brings smug satisfaction.


  2. planechant2 says:

    Could it be that the Pope’s actions are prompted by the fear that infection/disease could be passed on from one person to another as a result of all and sundry, regardless, kissing the ring?


  3. brianhoneill says:

    Perhaps it’s his guilt.


  4. I may be the only one , including liberals and conservatives alike, who actually agrees that ring kissing by the multitude is an unsanitary practice. Perhaps there could be some other way of gaining an indulgence by showing some other sign of reverence for the office of Pope.


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