Solita oscula:
how and when they are given

 

Louis J. Tofari

 

The Latin words, solita oscula (pronounced soh-lee-tah ohs-coo-lah), mean “with the customary kisses” and refer to some of the ceremonial kisses made during the Liturgy. There are actually several kinds of kisses used in the liturgical ceremonies, for example those given to the altar, the book of the Gospels, the paten and chalice, sacramentals and even the Pax (kiss of peace), but to keep this article brief, here we will cover those made by just the inferior ministers (i.e., servers).

 

Like the Roman custom of genuflecting, the solita oscula were derived from royal court etiquette, and rubrician L. O’Connell attests to the act as an “ancient sign of respect and reverence”[1] while Wapelhorst expounds that these kisses, given either to sacred things or the celebrant, signify respect to the person of Christ they represent[2] and the celebrant’s hands which are a symbol of power, protection, assistance and blessing.[3] Callewaert also comments saying these kisses exist to give solemnity and signify joy,[4] and we will discover later how this symbolism causes them to be occasionally omitted.

 

Before we cover what is kissed though, let us first examine how the solita oscula are made. First, they are given only to the celebrant and never to the other sacred ministers (e.g., the deacon or subdeacon), even if these positions are being exercised by a priest. When making the solita oscula these should be made inaudibly with closed lips, in another words, don’t smack your lips when making this reverential act! The order[5] of making the solita oscula is simple:

 

  • When giving an object: kiss the object first, then the celebrant’s hand.

  • When receiving an object: kiss the celebrant’s hand first, then the object.

 

There is however an exception to this rule: when receiving a sacramental (e.g., a blessed candle during Candlemas or palm on Palm Sunday), it is kissed first, then the celebrant’s hand. The reason for this is that the sacramentals take precedence over the celebrant.[6]

 

Now the items (and to what part of each) that the solita oscula are given to by the servers are the:

  • biretta: on one of its four sides

  • aspergilium: on the end of the handle

  • incense spoon: on the end of the handle

  • thurible: on the disk (where the chains are attached)

 

You may have noticed that I left out the cruets, and this is due to some special considerations. First the cruets are kissed alone and just during the Offertory action.[7] They should be kissed on their sides and never on their lips as this is unsanitary. Also, the cruets should be kissed between the bows made to the celebrant (i.e., bow, kiss, present, receive, kiss, bow). During the Lavabo and ablutions however, no kisses are made whatsoever to the cruets, as the servers are simply pouring the cruets and not presenting them.

 

There is one other thing to note regarding the solita oscula for these items. As mentioned before, these can signify joy, hence they are omitted for the funeral rites and Mass and on Good Friday. They are also omitted under the condition of coram Sanctissimo (as all reverence is given to Our Lord when He is exposed) and if the local Ordinary or a greater prelate is present (as a mark of hierarchical respect).[8] Nevertheless, you will notice that some type of kisses are still retained (e.g., the kissing of the paten and chalice) because these form “an intrinsic part of the Mass ceremonies”.[9] This covers the solita oscula made by the servers for now.

 

Footnotes

1 L. O’Connell, The Book of Ceremonies (1958), p 40.

 

2 It should be remembered that every sacramental represents Christ in some fashion, e.g., holy water as the regenerative water of baptism and blessed candles as the Light of Christ. This includes consecrated items used during the liturgy, e.g., the altar (or altar stone), the chalice and paten, as well as blessed items such as the vestments (which for servers, includes the surplice; so yes, you are supposed to kiss it before putting it on).

 

3 Wapelhorst, Compendium Sacrae Liturgicae (1931), p 414; this is a paraphrased rendering of the Latin text.

 

4 Callewaert, Caeremoniale in Missa, Privata et Solemni (1941), p 38; again, a paraphrased rendering of the Latin text.

 

5 This general principle is mentioned throughout the Caeremoniale Episcoporum (1886), specifically in Liber I, chap. XVIII, n. 16, and legislated by the SRC’s rescript 3139.

 

6 L. O’Connell (p 41, ff 25) gives this (“if the object is blessed”) as a general principle which makes sense. The two regular instances when it is enacted are for the aforementioned feasts, for which the Caeremoniale Episcoporum, Liber II, chap. XVI, n. 9, Martinucci, Manuale Sacrarum Caeremoniarum (1879), pp 146 and 166, Le Vavasseur, Haegy & Stercky, Manuel de Liturgie et Ceremonial (1936), p 127, Van der Stappen, Caeremoniale (1935), pp 355-356 & 366) and Stehle, Manual of Episcopal Ceremonies (1961), vol. II, pp 59 & 74, give this as a specific rubric, while others such as De Herdt in Sacrae Liturgiae Praxis (1894), p 26, and The Ceremonial for the use of the Catholic Churches in the USA (1926), pp 339 and 345, imply this rule.

 

7 This is a relic of an old direction, now defunct, that the inferior ministers were to kiss the item but not the celebrant’s hand when enacting the solita oscula. It is interesting to note that this was specific to the positions of the acolytes and MCs (rubricians list at least two during pontifical and even solemn ceremonies) who often had contact with the celebrant, the former which rubricians presumed would be enacted by clerics with that minor order, while the latter (during pontifical functions) would have the first MC position fulfilled by a priest and the second by a subdeacon. Callewaert (p 37) explains that this distinction demonstrated the hierarchy of the liturgical offices. This distinction was gradually diminished as High Masses (missa cantatas) without sacred ministers but with incense became more frequent (circa 1864 the SRC was already granting such an indult to various dioceses). Another contributing factor, was that during the 20th century a few rubricians (e.g., Fortescue, The Ceremonies of the Roman Described; 1917-1962 eds.) and even the Guild’s The Altar Servers' Handbook (1962) had the server (including non-clerics) render the solita osculas like the sacred ministers during Low and High Mass. However, SRC’s rescript 4193,2 and the Missale Romanum (1962), Ritus servandus, VII, 4) still prescribe the original practice for presenting the cruets during the Offertory.

 

8 Regarding the four reasons for omitting, this is briefly stated in the Caeremoniale Episcoporum, Liber I, chap. XVIII, n. 16, and all rubricians agree on these points.

 

9 This is more or less the exact wording that the majority of rubricians give for this reason.
 

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