The Binding Cloth of the Priest’s anointed hands

by Rev.Fr. Louie R. Coronel, OP

The anatomical structure of the human hand with its 27 bones and 37 muscles is designed for dexterity and fine movements. It has a considerable number of sensory endings and intricate motor configuration that a person can convey various emotions through its gestures, warmth and tactility. Furthermore, it is a metaphor for love and service so as to underscore the profundity of the anointed hands of the priests.


The "form" of the Sacrament of Holy Orders is the consecratory prayer of the bishop who asks for and confers the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. The "matter" is the laying on of hands by the bishop and the anointing of the hands of the ordinandus. The hands of the bishop anoint while the hands of the candidate for priesthood are anointed. The origin of the anointing with oil can be traced in the Old Testament. It signifies that someone is being set apart for a sacred task or duty. The priest is solemnly dedicated to a sacred purpose. He is a man who does not belong to profanity but a man associated with the sacred. This is the meaning of the Latin word “consecratio”. A consecrated man has been offered to God and must live a life in God’s service and nothing else. The anointing of the hands is a meaningful sign of the preparation for the sacred duties of breaking the bread, blessing, anointing and administering the other sacraments among others.


The Rite of Ordination consecrates a priest as ministers of Christ. It is celebrated within the Holy Eucharist. After the calling of the candidate and his presentation to the assembly, the ordinandus is questioned. He promises to diligently perform the sacred duties and to respect and obey his ordinary (bishop or religious superior). Then, the candidate lies prostrate before the altar, while the faithful kneel and invoke the aid of all the saints by singing and responding to the 'Litany of the Saints'.

The ordaining bishop now lays his hands upon the candidate in silence (followed by all the priests present), before offering the long consecratory prayer, addressed to God the Father, invoking the power of the Holy Spirit upon the ordinandus.

Then, the newly ordained is vested with the stole and chasuble and the bishop anoints his hands with chrism before presenting him with the holy chalice and paten which he will use when presiding at the Eucharist. Following this, the gifts of bread and wine are brought forward by the people and given to the new priest; then all the priests present, concelebrate the Eucharist with the newly ordained taking the place of honor at the right of the bishop. 


The extraordinary form of the Roman Rite of Ordination of Priests requires an ancillary liturgical cloth for binding the anointed hands of a newly ordained. This was not mentioned in the so-called 'new rite' or ordinary form of the Roman Rite. It is important to note that the people cannot disassociate that nameless piece of white cloth with the sacrality of the anointing of the hand so much so that many would regard it to be as equally important as the corporal which directly touches itself to the Body and Blood of the Lord.

In order to clearly understand the anointing of the hands in both ordinary and extraordinary form, it is sufficient that we review the provisions in the rubrics or instructions of both forms and provide an objective analysis.

A. Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite (Tridentine)

After the first verse of the hymn, the bishop rises and sits on the faldstool[1] (wearing the miter). He removes his gloves but puts the episcopal ring back on his finger. The gremiale[2] is placed over his knees. The ordained come forward and one by one kneel before the bishop. He then takes the oil of catechumens and anoints both of their hands which they hold together palms upward. First he anoints the inside of the hands, tracing a cross from the thumb of the right hand to the index finger of the left, and from the thumb of the left hand to the index finger of the right. Next he anoints the entire palms. He says as he performs the anointings:

                                             May it please you, O Lord, 
                                   to consecrate and sanctify these hands 
                                    by this anointing and our X blessing.
                                   All: Amen.

And having made the sign of the cross over the hands of the ordained he continues:

                                That whatever they bless may be blessed, 
                          and whatever they consecrate may be consecrated 
                                   in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

To the above form each of the ordained adds:

Then the bishop closes or joins together the hands of the ordained. The latter, keeping his hands joined, goes to the side of the altar where one of the assistants of the bishop binds the consecrated hands together with a white cloth, leaving the fingers free. Each of the ordained goes back to his place. The bishop cleanses his fingers with a piece of bread.

The bishop now presents each of the ordained with a chalice containing wine and water and a paten upon it with a host. The ordained touches with the fore and middle fingers both the paten and the cur of the chalice. 

[After a prayers, the Mass is resumed with the singing of the last verse of the tract or sequence or alleluia verse.]

B. Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite (New Rite)

24.  Next the bishop receives a linen gremial and anoints with chrism the palms of the new priest as he kneels before him.  The bishop says: 

                      The Father anointed our Lord Jesus Christ through 
                     the power of the Holy Spirit.  May Jesus preserve you 
                 to sanctify the Christian people and to offer sacrifice to God.

25.  While the new priest is being vested in stole and chasuble, the hymn Veni, Creator Spiritus or the following antiphon may be sung with Psalm 110: Christ the Lord, a priest for ever in the line of Melchisedak, offered bread and wine.The antiphon is repeated after every two verses. Glory to the Father is not said.  The psalm is interrupted and the antiphon repeated when the hands of the priest have been anointed. Any other appropriate song may be sung. Then the bishop and the new priest wash their hands.

[The presentation of the chalice and paten follows.]

C. An Analysis of the Ordinary Form (OF) and Extraordinary Form (EO)

1. Veni Creator Spiritus (Come, Holy Spirit, Creator blest) 

The Veni, Creator Spiritus is a traditional Catholic song of invocation of the Holy Spirit, sung in Gregorian chant fashion at Vespers, Pentecost, Dedication of a Church, Confirmation, and Holy Orders and whenever the Holy Spirit is solemnly invoked. Its composition is attributed to Rabanus Maurus (776-856). The 'Enchiridion of Indulgences' (1968) stated that "partial indulgence is granted to the faithful who recite it " and "plenary indulgence is granted if it is recited on January 1st or on the feast of Pentecost".

The Veni Creator Spiritus, is mandated by the rubrics of the EF. In fact, it is the bishop who intones it. On the other hand, the OF merely suggests it: “the hymn Veni, Creator Spiritus or the following antiphon may be sung with Psalm 110.” It means that it is totally optional.

2. The Manner of Anointing the Hands

While the Veni Creator Spiritus is sung, the bishop anoints the hands of the ordinadus in the EO in a very symbolic way: The thumbs and the index fingers are anointed first with the chrism oil by tracing the sign of the cross before anointing the whole palm. The thumbs and the index fingers are what will hold the consecrated Host. 

In the OF, the palms of the hands are anointed in no significant order. There is no mention of specifically anointing the thumbs and the index fingers first.

3. The Prayer of Anointing the Hands

                                      May it please you, O Lord, 
                            to consecrate and sanctify these hands 
                             by this anointing and our X blessing

Then after the sign of the cross, the bishop continues:

                         That whatever they bless may be blessed, 
                  and whatever they consecrate may be consecrated 
                            in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

                      The Father anointed our Lord Jesus Christ 
                           through the power of the Holy Spirit.  
                            May Jesus preserve you to sanctify 
                  the Christian people and to offer sacrifice to God.

The prayer in the EO is very explicit in conferring the power to bless and consecrate while that of the OF seems vague and can be generally applied to the laity since every Christian is expected to sanctify others and to offer sacrifices to God as well. And since the anointing of the hands is most of the time, concealed from the view of the faithful, the faithful won’t even know that the bishop is already anointing the hands of the ordinandus.

Moreover, there is no specific mention of the Holy sacrifice of the mass which is implicitly covered by the words “to consecrate” in the former.

4. The Binding of the Anointed Hands with a White Cloth

This part is totally absent in the OF. The ordinandus, oftentimes, simply wipe the excess anointing oil in a provided cloth or towel.

In the Old Testament, the candidate was anointed with holy oil which, in the case of the high priest, was poured upon his head, but in the case of the other priests, it was merely put upon his forehead.

In the EF, the anointed hands of the ordinandus are closely joined and tied together with a linen cloth, so as to allow the oil to penetrate into his hands. He, then, becomes “a prisoner of Christ” (Eph. 3:1). It is an external manifestation that priests are bound to Christ, the eternal High Priest.

Because the anointed hands of the priest are bound, when the bishop presents the chalice containing wine and water, and a paten upon the chalice with a host in the next part, the ordinandus touches both the paten and the cup of the chalice with the index and middle fingers.


The letter accompanying the moto proprio Summorum Pontificum (2007) underscores that there are NO two existing versions of the Roman Missal as if they were “two Rites”. Rather, it is a “twofold use of one and the same rite”. Therefore, the term “New Rite” for the ordinary form (1969) is a misnomer since it is suggestive that there is another “Old Rite”.  Both forms enrich the Catholic tradition. Both forms are valid. Priests who were ordained in the extraordinary form is not superior than those who were ordained in the ordinary form. Ultimately, only God knows who is far superior through the sanctity of our life.

The binding cloth or Maniturgium is a symbol of the priest’s consecration in the Church.  Since it was used to bind the consecrated hands, and the holy anointing oil may have dripped on it; it is not difficult to understand why many promotes its auxilliary function to a major role. It is said that the newly ordained priest used to keep it not just a souvenir but as a reminder of his consecration. There was even a practice wherein the priest gives it to her mother who will continue to keep it unto her grave. So that, in the event that she is barred from entering Heaven, she may show it to prove that she has raised a son who is a priest. 

This custom may not have a theological basis; but is still believed to be noteworthy by many. I have been contemplating during my first year as a priest on this question: “How can one say that a family is fortunate to have a priest?” In my introspection, I realized, that it is not about popularity or prestige. A family is fortunate to have priest because they can readily benefit from the sacraments of our salvation. And the sacraments are the means for us to enter heaven.

The Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite of Ordination may not have the elaborate, detailed and explicit rituals as the extraordinary form; but the mystery it proclaims is not less profound. It is awesome to learn about the rite which has been in used since time immemorial. I, myself, would have even opted to be ordained in the extraordinary form given the chance. But come to think of it, the ordinary is channeling us to a new perspective. 

The bishop has anointed the priest’s hands and the faithful even line up to kiss those hands. But it is not only those hands that are consecrated but the entire person. So technically, we may kiss the newly-ordained in the other parts of his body or even hug him. But, of course, kissing the hand is a more reverential way. This custom stems from a recognition of the fundamental change that has occurred and of the particular importance of the sign of the hands in priestly ministry.

External gestures and symbolism are very important for us the absorb the meaning. However, the internal consecration of one’s heart in the service of God  is far more important. We may have a meaningful and symbolic ordination day, but that's only 'day one' of the priest's consecrated life. The faithfulness in the service of God and the sanctity of  life in the coming days, months, years and decades count the most. Our love and dedication bind us to Jesus Christ our Lord.

Rite of Ordination to the Priesthood (1962)
Rite of Ordination to the Priesthood (1968)
Summorum Pontificum (2007)
The Enchiridion of Indulgences (1968)

[1] A movable folding chair used in pontifical functions by the bishop outside of his cathedral, or within it if he is not at his throne or cathedra.
[2] a cloth spread upon the lap of a bishop when seated during Mass.


  1. Happy Feast Fr.The Lord bless you and your ministry.I was just passing by looking for an image to share with my priest friends and loved the image of the anointed hands.
    Thank for Being Christ and bringing Christ to us.
    Jesus bless

  2. Thank you for putting an effort to published this article. You've done a great job! Good bless!

  3. Can somebody clarify for me what's the real significance of anointing of hands in the roman rite as far as for the ordination of the presbyter is concern ? I'm asking this; because according to some questions I asked to a catholic priest of the Melkite rite; in the Eastern Catholic Churches different rites for ordination they don't use any unction of the hands; mainly because; the ordination of the new presbyter is done by the laying of his bishop hands upon his head [ that it makes sense to me ) . Another historical information he provided me; is the historical fact that the unction of hands in the roman rite was a ceremony that was added to the ordination rite ceremony around the XI century. Can somebody help me with this question.


God bless you!

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