Monday, April 06, 2020

“For I Will Not Give You a Kiss as Did Judas”: On Sacred and Profane Kissing

The Roman liturgy was once filled with chaste kisses and embraces — gestures of a love that clings to the Lord with purity and reverence. “It is good for me to cleave to my God” (Ps 72:28). As Michael Fiedrowicz writes in his book The Traditional Mass: History, Form, and Theology of the Classical Roman Rite (forthcoming from Angelico):
An exchange of greetings (Dominus vobiscum — Et cum spiritu tuo), followed by Oremus, introduces the conclusion to the prayers at the foot of the altar, which the priest speaks silently as he climbs the steps to the altar and kisses it. Here in the first prayer (Aufer a nobis) the priest prays once again to be allowed to approach the holy altar with a pure heart (ut ad Sancta sanctorum puris mereamur mentibus introire). Having reached the altar, the priest speaks a final prayer for forgiveness, while he lays his hands on the altar and invokes the intercession of the saints (Oramus te, Domine, per merita sanctorum tuorum ... ut indulgere digneris omnia peccata mea). The simultaneous kiss of the altar honors this place as a symbol of Christ, and assures the priest and also the community of the assistance of those saints especially whose relics are enshrined in the altar (quorum reliquiae hic sunt). During the course of the celebration of the Mass, the priest kisses the altar a total of eight times.
Eight times, an echo of the eight Beatitudes by which we mount up to heaven, the eight notes of the octave by which we ascend to unity, the eighth day of eternal glory.

In the book In Sinu Jesu: When Heart Speaks to Heart — The Journal of a Priest at Prayer, the Lord speaks these words, concerning the priest at Mass:
By kissing the altar, he makes himself vulnerable to My piercing love. By kissing the altar he opens himself unreservedly to all that I would give him and to all that I hold in the designs of My Heart for his life. The kiss to the altar signifies total abandonment to the priestly holiness that I desire and to the fulfilment of My desires in the soul of My priest. The holiness to which I call My priests, the holiness to which I am calling you, consists in a total configuration to Me as I stand before My Father in the heavenly sanctuary, beyond the veil. Every priest of Mine is to be with Me both priest and victim in the presence of My Father. Every priest is called to stand before the altar with pierced hands and feet, with his side wounded, and with his head crowned as My head was crowned in My passion. You need not fear this configuration to Me; it will bring you only peace of heart, joy in the presence of My Father, and that unique intimacy with Me that I have, from the night before I suffered, reserved for My priests, My chosen ones, the friends of My Heart.
In the hyperrationalistic liturgical reform, nearly all of these kisses were abolished. Only the kiss at the start and the kiss at the end were left in place.

In Henri de Lubac’s Vatican Council Notebooks, we read that Bishop Jenny of Cambrai, who had been a member of the preparatory liturgical commission and would later be an important member of the Consilium, gave a speech in the aula in which he advocated for shortening the prayers at the foot of the altar (too long; gotta getta move on, enough of this prepwork and penance and stuff), “fewer oscula altaris, signa crucis, etc.” [kisses of the altar, signs of the cross], the audible recitation of the secret and the Canon, the abbreviation of the formula for giving communion, the ending of the Mass with the dismissal (i.e., the abolition of the Last Gospel), and for an overall simplification of pontifical Mass. [1] Here was a bishop who evidently felt the wedding feast needed to be wrapped up promptly so that one could move on to more important things, like paying utility bills.

Bishop Zauner of Linz gave a speech at the Council in which he glosses Exodus 3:5, “remove your sandals,” to mean “cast off the fetters,” and then applies it to the customs and practices of the liturgy. [2] So that is how tradition looked to them... In another speech, a bishop from Vietnam said: “let us eliminate the maniple and the amice: useless.” [3] As I have shown in another article, there were many bishops who vigorously opposed such recommendations and offered powerful defenses of the tradition and of liturgical stability. But their voices were drowned out by the innovators, who had driven the preparatory commission and who ended up driving the Consilium’s work.

One cannot help being reminded of the remarks of Alice von Hildebrand, when asked how it could be that clergy who themselves offered the traditional Mass were the ones who threw it aside:
The problem that ushered in the present crisis was not the traditional Mass. The problem was that priests who offered it had already lost the sense of the supernatural and the transcendent. They rushed through the prayers, they mumbled and didn’t enunciate them. That is a sign that they had brought to the Mass their growing secularism. The ancient Mass does not abide irreverence, and that was why so many priests were just as happy to see it go.
Could we not translate this into the language of love? Only if such men no longer loved the Lord in His liturgical manifestation could they have allowed themselves to dismantle and reconstruct the rites by which we so intimately show our love and reverence for Him. They must have been going through the motions without a deep interior life nourished on the liturgy and lectio divina. The Lord’s own ultimatum shines forth: you cannot serve two masters. Choose the Mass or the world; choose an ever-deeper fidelity or the impossible project of aggiornamento. [4]

Like nature, supernature abhors a vacuum. If we remove sacred love, profane or perverted love will rush in to fill the void. In the minds of the reformers, the great room of the Church was swept clear of the “debris” of the centuries; into this empty room rushed seven demons worse than any evil that might have been there before (cf. Lk 11:26, Mt 12:45). The seven deadly sins took up residence: the pride of authorities wielding an absolute sway over tradition; the vanity of clergy who lord it over their Cranmer tables; the envying of the secular world and the effort to dress and talk like it; greed for worldly goods, and gluttony in their overindulgence; lust for acts of porneia, including those contrary to nature, crying out to God for vengeance; wrath for any believers who would dare question the forced march of Progress.

A disciple of Dom Marmion, Dom Pius de Hemptinne, wrote in his journal on February 23, 1902:
A pure kiss is the great mark of love. A kiss may be given from different motives, as there are many kinds of love — but it is always the sign of a perfect union, of mutual and entire complaisance.... A true, sincere and faithful kiss is a noble act; but a false kiss is an infidelity, and almost always a betrayal. This mark of affection should only be given between persons united by blood or marriage. Between friends it should have only the meaning of union of souls; sensual motives should have no part there. The kiss of friendship is so great and noble a sign that it is given around the Altar. Here it is the Christian kiss, and under these conditions remains pure and sublime as love itself. But who knows the worth of a kiss? On all sides, this sign — like love itself — is profaned. [5] 
There is no neutral ground in the Church: all in this world are either becoming sheep or becoming goats, turning out as wheat or turning out as tares, so that their final destiny may be realized. There is the kingdom of Christ, whom we kiss at the altar, and whom we greet in the stylized embrace of the Pax. And there is the kingdom of Judas who betrays with a kiss, mimicked by every subsequent Judas, whether papal, episcopal, clerical, religious, or lay.

I do not say, of course, that there were no immoral clergy before the liturgical reform; for otherwise St Peter Damian would never have written his treatise The Book of Gomorrah [6]; nor that holy and mortified clergy may not be found in the ranks of those who support and carry on the postconciliar liturgical project. But the acts by which Paul VI recklessly wasted the tradition of the Church, approved and enforced the removal of hundreds of gestures of faith, devotion, adoration, and chaste love from the liturgy — including three-quarters of the sacred kisses of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass — were and are bound to produce the rotten fruits on which we are choking. “By the multitude of thine iniquities, in the unrighteousness of thy traffic, thou hast profaned thy sanctuaries; therefore have I brought forth a fire from the midst of thee; it hath devoured thee, and I have turned thee to ashes upon the earth in the sight of all them that behold thee” (Ezek 28:18).

“I have turned thee to ashes upon the earth.” This week we remember the innocent Lamb who bore the multitude of our iniquities, the unrighteousness of our traffic, the profanations of our sanctuaries, upon His shoulders. He has kindled a fire in our midst that will either destroy us or destroy our sins, depending on whether we adhere to our evil or cast it aside in repentance. Which kiss will we offer — the eightfold kiss of the chaste friend, or the treacherous kiss of the vile merchant?


[1] Henri De Lubac, Vatican Council Notebooks, trans. Andrew Stefanelli and Anne Englund Nash (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2015), 1:236.

[2] Ibid., 242.

[3] Ibid., 277.

[4] It is impossible because, as Newman points out, there is no natural end to it, or any way of knowing whether one has gone in the right direction, or has gone too far. It is like
Attempts are making to get the Liturgy altered. My dear Brethren, I beseech you, consider with me, whether you ought not to resist the alteration of even one jot or tittle of it. … Once begin altering, and there will be no reason or justice in stopping, till the criticisms of all parties are satisfied. Thus, will not the Liturgy be in the evil case described in the well-known story, of the picture subjected by the artist to the observations of passers-by? … But this is not all. A taste for criticism grows upon the mind. When we begin to examine and take to pieces, our judgment becomes perplexed, and our feelings unsettled. … But as regards ourselves, the Clergy, what will be the effect of this temper of innovation in us? We have the power to bring about changes in the Liturgy; shall we not exert it? have we any security, if we once begin, that we shall ever end? Shall not we pass from non-essentials to essentials? And then, on looking back after the mischief is done, what excuse shall we be able to make for ourselves for having encouraged such proceedings at first?  (John Henry Newman on Worship, Reverence, and Ritual [Os Justi Press, 2019], 1–2)
[5] A Disciple of Dom Marmion, Dom Pius de Hemptinne: Letters and Spiritual Writings, trans. Benedictines of Teignmouth (London: Sands & Co., 1935), February 23, 1902, p. 140.

[6] See The Book of Gomorrah and St. Peter Damian's Struggle Against Ecclesiastical Corruption, trans. Matthew Hoffman (n.p.: Ite ad Thomam Books and Media, 2015).

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