Episcopal Etiquette

During my visit to three different countries with the bishop on his most recent trip, I made a couple observations which I had seen on other occasions in other countries which I felt would be now appropriate to share with my fellow laymen.

When Archbishop Lefebvre consecrated his bishops in 1988, they took on certain of his habits which he had come to use via his holding of various Church offices.  However, these practices are not actually appropriate for auxiliary bishops, which are the closest analogue for what the SSPX bishops are, as they have no ordinary jurisdiction, nor have they ever held any of the offices that Archbishop Lefebvre did, and as such are not entitled to many of those practices.  One of them is the left-knee genuflection followed by a ring kiss. I observed that this was done in every country we visited as an expected pro forma quasi-ceremony, and I feel it's important to share a corrective to this.

Firstly, it is not actually correct to genuflect to kiss the ring of a bishop who is not your ordinary.  The genuflection is a recognition of jurisdiction which you owe to your own particular bishop in your given locality (diocese, archdiocese, etc.).  Unfortunately, as with many things, the SSPX is more concerned with the externals than the reasons, and they have managed to erroneously give this out as a proper custom to the vast majority of traditional Catholic faithful.

Moreover, it is not appropriate to reach for the bishop's hand in order to do this.  If the bishop offers you his hand, then you may then kiss his ring, but you do not proffer your hand to the bishop as if to presume to take his.  It is his prerogative to offer you his hand, as he is the superior in that particular encounter.  If he does not offer you his hand, a smile and/or a forward nod of the head would be appropriate.  It is by no means a snub if you are not offered a hand.  A bishop might be under the weather, or simply have seen a lot of people that day.  Analogously, in the lay state, it is not appropriate for a man to offer his hand to a woman; he should wait to see if she offers her hand and then he may shake it, kiss it, or simply take it, as is the custom particular to the country and his upbringing.

As far as Confirmations go, I was surprised to see that only a few of the many confirmands gave the bishop a small token of appreciation for his conferral of a sacrament which is ordinarily necessary for one to be ordained or married!  One of the sweet young French confirmands, who barely whispered the Credo, Pater, and Ave, because she was kneeling in the first row right before the Bishop's watchful eyes and was perhaps afraid of messing up, had made a small card for the bishop with a date and her confirmation name.  Others noted to the bishop that they would be sending a small contribution to the seminary.  As with all things in the Church, you give according to your means and ability, but it is a tragedy of the shipwreck of our time that it does not even occur to our faithful to offer some small token of gratitude for the reception of such an important sacrament, indeed one that belongs to the special class that can ordinarily only be conferred by a bishop.

I share these reflections with you out of the spirit of Restoration.  We have to start somewhere, and I suspect that many were unfamiliar with the incorrectness of the malformed customs of the SSPX, as I once was.  Often our good sedevacantist bishops are too polite to on-the-spot correct those who are very obviously well-meaning, but I hope that some will feel compelled to share the correct customs with others so that they may avoid simulations of what they erroneously believe Catholic customs to be.

Bishop Sanborn prays in a chapel in Loches

Bishop Sanborn prays in a chapel in Loches

Stephen Heiner

Stephen lives in Paris, France. He founded True Restoration in 2006.

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