History of the slap

In Paul Turner's Blog by Paul Turner

Q: When I attended a lecture by the late Fr. Anscar Chupungco, OSB many year ago, he said that the slap used to be a light touch to the cheek of a kid, as a sign of peace by the bishop. But later “the slap” was connected to “knighting” as the Latin Mass Society said in their website. Do you know where I can find the origin of Fr. Anscar saying?

Peace to you from Hong Kong. 


A: I treated this in my book Ages of Initiation. The slap came from the 13th-century Pontifical of William Durandus. Here’s my translation of his treatment of it in Explanation of the Divine Offices 6:84, 1.6.8.

The bishop then does two things. First, he anoints the forehead; second, he strikes the person on the face. The oil signifies the anointing of grace in regard to the bold acts of undertaking those things which concern the faith. The strike is done so that from now on one may not be embarrassed or fear to confess the name of Christ, as if the bishop should say to the one confirmed: “Be so strong that whoever strikes you like this or causes you confusion in some other way because you confess the faith of Christ, you may not be embarrassed by all these things. For those struck on the face are usually embarrassed.” In certain places for the same reasons it is done the same way to new knights. Confirmation may be done in a field, but it better takes place in a church, or in the courtyard of a church. In Burkhard and in the Council of Orange, it was decreed that the sacrament of confirmation be conferred by those fasting on youth of a mature age, considered to be twelve or fifteen years old, or on adults having been admonished to confess their sins first. Nevertheless today it may be done as quickly as possible, as already indicated.

The Pontifical of the Roman Curia from the same century included this description of the ritual for becoming a knight (my translation again from the same book):

[After the prayer] the aforesaid lord archpresbyter or prior of the canons gives a slap or a blow to the aforesaid candidate for knighthood. When this has been done, he says a prayer over him.

God, who have always bestowed victory from heaven on your faithful, grant we ask to this man, N., your servant, and to all those waging your wars to overcome the evil of invisible armies by the strength of your power, and to trample the impudence of visible armies, that when the pride of both has fled away, your church may flourish with the joy of unity and peace. Through Christ our Lord.

Roman Curia Pontifical “Appendix 4: Order of Becoming a Knight” 6f.