So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter (2 Thess. 2:15). Guard what has been entrusted to you. Avoid the godless chatter and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge, for by professing it some have missed the mark as regards faith (1 Tim. 6:21-22).

Thursday, April 20, 2017

A Whole Lotta Kissing Goin' On. Osculations in the Mass: an overview.

Non-Catholic visitors to Mass, and perhaps many cradle Catholics, likely those C&E (Christmas and Easter) Catholics among us, probably wonder what all the kissing is about. For example, why does the priest kiss the altar?

Depending on the form of Mass one attends, there may be many osculations (kisses) or just three (Ordinary Form: the beginning of Mass; veneration of the Book of the Gospels; at the conclusion of Mass).

For the sake of time and space, let's look briefly at two forms of the Roman Mass: the Ordinary Form; and the Low (or Said) Mass of the Anglican Ordinariate.

The Ordinariate Liturgy (Divine Worship) and the Extraordinary Form have a lot in common, whereas the Ordinary Form is rather shy in the number of kisses the priest offers.

In the Ordinary Form Mass, the priest kisses the altar at the beginning of the Mass and at the end. He also kisses the Book of the Gospels after proclaiming the Gospel during the Liturgy of the Word.

A kiss is a sign of deep respect inherited from the cultures in which the Mass took shape. By kissing the altar, the priest shows his love for Christ and his close connection to the Lord. By kissing the Book of the Gospels, the priest acknowledges the saving Word. Christ is present in/through His Gospel.

In two of the forms of the Mass mentioned above, the Latin or EF Mass and the Mass of the Ordinariate, there are many additional times that the priest offers a kiss as a sign of veneration during the Mass. The symbolism in the Ordinariate, EF and, of course, Eastern Catholic liturgies is much richer than in the Ordinary Form one typically encounters in Roman Catholic circles. For example, the richness of the Ordinariate and Extraordinary forms of the Mass is seen each time the priest is directed by the rubrics to turn away from the altar toward the congregation. The priest kisses the altar in acknowledgement of Christ Who is symbolized by the altar.

The priest is not the only one offering a kiss now and then. The server in the Extraordinary Form (Usus Antiquior) typically kisses the wine and water cruets before handing each one—first the wine then the water cruet—to the priest and after the priest returns each cruet back into the hands of the server. When a priest's biretta is handed to a server or returned to a priest, the server will kiss the priest's hand and the biretta. Likewise, if a server is handling a mitre and/or crozier, zucchetto, etc., a kiss is usually placed at the hand of the bishop and upon the item exchanged between the bishop and server.
On reaching the Altar, be at the priest's right: receive the biretta if he is wearing it, kissing first his hand, then biretta (...).—Handbook for Altar Servers by the Archconfraternity of St. Stephen.
Sacristy Kisses

Clergy of the Ordinariate and Extraordinary Forms typically kiss their vestments before donning each vestment.

During Mass
  • Kissing the Altar
  • Kissing the Hand of the Celebrant (while passing cruets, Biretta, thurible)
  • Kissing the Book of the Gospels
  • Kissing the Paten

The most solemn part of the Mass is now near. The Preface leads to the Canon which may be translated as meaning “the rule.” It is used for this part of the Mass to show that the prayers said during it are never changed. All is still now. The Angels have come down from Heaven and are waiting to adore their God when He comes to earth at the words of the priest.

The priest prays in a low voice. We must now pray in our hearts with him. After the Preface is completed and just before the Canon, the Mass server rings the cymbal or the bell three times. You will observe that the priest begins the Canon by bowing low. He kisses the altar, to show that he is united to Christ, Who is about to offer Himself.

After the Consecration

Jesus Christ Himself is now with us on the altar. Let us tell Him what we want and ask Him to love and help us. Ask Him for the things you want yourself and for all whom you love. Jesus loves hearts that forget themselves for others. You will notice since the Consecration that the priest is careful with the fingers which have supported the Consecrated Host. In reverence to our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, his fingers and thumbs are kept together as indicated in the picture until the washing of the hands after Communion.

The Priest Kisses the Altar

At this time the priest again shows his reverence for the saints and for the Blessed Sacrament by kissing the altar and immediately after kissing the altar he makes the sign of the cross over the Consecrated species.

The Priest Kisses the Paten

After the priest has cleansed the Paten, he signs himself, kissing the Paten saying the words,
“Graciously grant peace in our days, through the help of Thy bountiful mercies.”
The Pax. The kiss of peace is passed from the celebrant to the deacon, who in turn then gives the kiss of peace to the subdeacon. The subdeacon extends the kiss of peace to clergy attending Mass in the choir. While the choir continues to sing the Agnus Dei, the priest says the prayers prescribed for the preparation for his communion.
Blessing. The celebrant places his joined hands on the altar and says in a low voice the prayer Placeat tibi, sancta Trinitas for himself and those for whom he has offered Mass. Then he kisses the altar and, turning towards the congregation, blesses them "in nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti", making over them the sign of the cross.
Ordinary Form

Typically, there are 3 kisses: upon the altar at beginning, upon the Book of the Gospels at the conclusion of the Gospel reading, and upon the altar at the end of Mass.


The Rubrics (GIRM)

Greeting of the Altar and of the People Gathered Together

49. When they reach the sanctuary, the priest, the deacon, and the ministers reverence the altar with a profound bow.

As an expression of veneration, moreover, the priest and deacon then kiss the altar itself; as the occasion suggests, the priest also incenses the cross and the altar.

D. The Concluding Rites

90. The concluding rites consist of

Brief announcements, if they are necessary;

The priest’s greeting and blessing, which on certain days and occasions is enriched and expressed in the prayer over the People or another more solemn formula;

The dismissal of the people by the deacon or the priest, so that each may go out to do good works, praising and blessing God;

The kissing of the altar by the priest and the deacon, followed by a profound bow to the altar by the priest, the deacon, and the other ministers.


Additional Expanded References (GIRM)

123. The priest goes up to the altar and venerates it with a kiss. Then, as the occasion suggests, he incenses the cross and the altar, walking around the latter.

134. At the ambo, the priest opens the book and, with hands joined, says, Dominus vobiscum (The Lord be with you), and the people respond, Et cum spiritu tuo (And with your spirit). Then he says, Lectio sancti Evangelii (A reading from the holy Gospel), making the sign of the cross with his thumb on the book and on his forehead, mouth, and breast, which everyone else does as well. The people say the acclamation, Gloria tibi, Domine (Glory to you, Lord). The priest incenses the book, if incense is used (cf. nos. 276-277). Then he proclaims the Gospel and at the end says the acclamation, Verbum Domini (The Gospel of the Lord), to which all respond, Laus tibi, Christe (Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ). The priest kisses the book, saying quietly, Per evangelica dicta (May the words of the Gospel).

169. Then, as a rule, the priest venerates the altar with a kiss and, after making a profound bow with the lay ministers, departs with them.

The Introductory Rites

172. Carrying the Book of the Gospels slightly elevated, the deacon precedes the priest as he approaches the altar or else walks at the priest’s side.

173. When he reaches the altar, if he is carrying the Book of the Gospels, he omits the sign of reverence and goes up to the altar. It is particularly appropriate that he should place the Book of the Gospels on the altar, after which, together with the priest, he venerates the altar with a kiss.

If, however, he is not carrying the Book of the Gospels, he makes a profound bow to the altar with the priest in the customary way and with him venerates the altar with a kiss.

The Concluding Rites

168. Immediately after the blessing, with hands joined, the priest adds, Ite, missa est (The Mass is ended, go in peace), and all answer, Deo gratias (Thanks be to God).

169. Then, as a rule, the priest venerates the altar with a kiss and, after making a profound bow with the lay ministers, departs with them.

The Introductory Rites

172. Carrying the Book of the Gospels slightly elevated, the deacon precedes the priest as he approaches the altar or else walks at the priest’s side.

173. When he reaches the altar, if he is carrying the Book of the Gospels, he omits the sign of reverence and goes up to the altar. It is particularly appropriate that he should place the Book of the Gospels on the altar, after which, together with the priest, he venerates the altar with a kiss.

If, however, he is not carrying the Book of the Gospels, he makes a profound bow to the altar with the priest in the customary way and with him venerates the altar with a kiss.

Lastly, if incense is used, he assists the priest in putting some into the thurible and in incensing the cross and the altar.

174. After the incensation of the altar, he goes to the chair together with the priest, takes his place there at the side of the priest and assists him as necessary.

The Liturgy of the Word

175. When the deacon is assisting the Bishop, he carries the book to him to be kissed, or else kisses it himself, saying quietly, Per evangelica dicta dicta (May the words of the Gospel). In more solemn celebrations, as the occasion suggests, a Bishop may impart a blessing to the people with the Book of the Gospels.


End Note

A closing word on the "Kiss of Peace". This is one instant where the Ordinary Form becomes a kissing fest. The Sign of Peace or Rite of Peace during which time people often share a kiss as a sign of Christ's peace among the congregation is, unfortunately, too often an occasion when people miss the significance of the Sign. Regrettably, the Rite of Peace in the Ordinary Form Mass is too often an occasion for people to engage in behaviour that makes others uncomfortable and that detracts from the focus of the Mass. By contrast, when the priest in the Ordinariate Mass, for example, turns to face the congregation and intones "The peace of the Lord be with you always...", he does so as he steps to the left ("stage right") side of the altar revealing the consecrated Host (the Body of Christ) on the paten and the chalice filled with the Precious Blood, making clear that the peace of Christ really does come from Jesus Christ Who is really present on the altar. Recall that the priest in the Ordinariate and EF Masses celebrates Mass ad orientem, i.e., facing the liturgical East in the same direction as the people. By turning toward the people and moving out of the way, so-to-speak, so that the people can see the Body and Blood of Christ, the understanding is much clearer than in the Ordinary Form that the peace we share originates not with us but with Christ.

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