AFQB: Should lay people give blessings at Communion?

Here is a liturgical question that wound up in the ASK FATHER Question Box, which I moderate.

AFQB – The ASK FATHER Question Box: Liturgy, Music & The Seven Sacraments: Should they give blessings? By hermitmcdermit on Sunday, November 19, 2006 – 10:41 pm:

Father:

In our parish the Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion give “blessings” to children not old enough to recieve, and to people in the line who do not receive Communion but come up for a blessing. A new Associate Pastor corrected a EMoHC and the Pastor got angry with him and said that lay people should be “included” in these types of liturgical actions. What is the truth concerning this practice?

By Fr. J.T. Zuhlsdorf (father_z) on Friday, December 01, 2006 – 9:20 am:

Anything that confuses the roles of lay people and priests (or deacons) should be avoided. While it is true that any person can ask God to bless anyone else, and while it is true that parents should bless their children, lay people cannot bless in the manner of priests. Lay people ought not do anything which resembles blessing in the manner of the priest, such as making the sign of the Cross over people as a priest would do.

To suggest that lay people bless in the manner of a priest reveals a lack of understanding of their roles and dignity. Many people think that for lay people to have “dignity” or “equality” in the Church, they must do things that pertain to the priest. Is this anything other than saying that lay people have no dignity of their own unless they are made to imitate priests?

This isn’t “inclusion”, this is a subtle form of condescension.

Another thing. This is my personal opinion, and I know a lot of priests have a different approach, but I don’t think the moment of Holy Communion is the proper time to give blessings. There is nothing wrong with blessings. Blessings are good! However, in the sacred action of the Mass, there are times for things in proper order. Communion time is for Communion. The old adage is “ubi maior, minor cessat… where the greater things is, the lesser thing gives way.” At the end of Mass the priest imparts the blessing. That is the time for blessing people during Mass.

The bottom line is that anything confusing the roles of laity and priests should be avoided. This is confusing the roles. This should be avoided.

Fr. Z

I should add another note.  In a way this might be a sad result of two factors, the elimination of a longer Eucharistic fast and row by row Communion.

Once upon a time, when the fast was longer, if a person stayed in the pew and didn’t not go forward for Communion, the reason could have been that he ate breakfast, or something.  Now, the fast is so short (one hour before the time of Communion… not before the beginning of Mass), that there is barely any reason not to assume that the person is properly physically disposed.  So, if he stays in the pew he must have committed a sin!  Moreover, the row by row process of Communion puts head pressure on people.  Everyone in the pew is to get up and go at the same time.  While this is orderly, I think it “forces” people to go so as to not create an obstacle or to avoid embarassment.  While Communion here is Italy can be a little disorganized, people chose the if and when to go forward.  It is not obvious that you are refraining.

PS: I sure wish I could get a couple more solid priests who would help answering questions in the ASK FATHER Question Box!

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25 Responses to AFQB: Should lay people give blessings at Communion?

  1. Another thing. This is my personal opinion, and I know a lot of priests have a different approach, but I don’t think the moment of Holy Communion is the proper time to give blessings. There is nothing wrong with blessings. Blessings are good!
    I quite agree with you Father. I suppose one can hardly turn away someone who approaches for a blessing, but in situations where there are many non-Catholics present at a Mass, they should be asked to make some sort of ‘spiritual communion’ – i.e. to pray for the presence of Christ in their hearts, or however one best expresses the idea of spiritual communion to the non-Catholic mindset.
    I suppose that this would also be a suitable appproach for an EMHC who is approached for a ‘blessing’ – perhaps they could be trained that rather than imitate a priest and pretend to give a blessing, that they have a brief formula/prayer they could recite which would essentially be an encouragment to make a spiritual communion.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Does this apply to private blessings — e.g. should parents blessing their children at night refrain from making a sign of the cross on their forehead?

  3. Father: Good point about the row by row procession. I had not thought
    of that before.

    At my parish there is a EMHC that thinks its ok to administer blessings.
    Sometimes, when I am not properly disposed, I stay in my pew. Other times, I
    go up for a blessing. I always get in the Priest’s line. I really only go
    up for the blessing at the times when it seems the entire North End of St.Paul
    is going to have to climb over me. I’d prefer to stay put.

    I should bring up the matter of the EMHC administering blessings to Father, but
    I have a feeling its not going to be well received because they are close
    friends. How do you bring something like this up? Also, is it a strictly
    forbidden practice? If it was, I’d have something to point to.

  4. The time to receive Communion is just that, to receive Communion. I don’t have a problem with priests or deacons blessing young children who are not old enough to receive yet, but I do think it is a liturgical abuse to have people coming up for a blessing. One it just extends the time of Communion (isn’t that often why we have so many extra-ordinary Eucharistic ministers, to “get it over with?”).

    If everybody gets to “go up and get something” then they may not be quite as inclined to examine themselves and say to themselves, “what do I need to change in order to be in the proper state of receive Communion?”

    @Anonymous,
    I would say there is not a problem with that. Obviously this is not quite the same as a priest’s blessing, but a father of the household does have a responsibility to ask God for graces for his family. As I heard in a talk recently, a priest rather bluntly told a father of a family, “Satan wants to destroy your family, what are doing about it?” An interesting point to ponder.

  5. This reminds me of another instance of lay blessings that I have encountered. Last St. Blaise’s Day, our parish in Washington state had the traditional blessing of throats during daily Mass. Like most cities in that area of the country, we have a severe shortage of priests (two, serving two parishes in a city of >60,000 people) and deacons (one), and only one priest was at this particular Mass. To speed the blessings along, they had two or three lay people giving blessings with the crossed candles as well. When pressed after Mass, the priest did admit that he believes priestly blessings are different than lay blessings, but he did not deny the validity (efficacy?) of the blessings we received that day. He also seemed to think that his idea about priestly blessings was the “minority opinion” in the Church.

    What kind of blessings (if any) can lay people give? The theology that this priest cited in support of lay blessings sounded very much like something from my Lutheran days. While I know there is a long-standing practice of parents blessing children, religious superiors blessing their community, etc., I also know that the consecrated hands of a priest are different than mine. What are the practical implications of such a difference?

    Pray for the priests and their flocks out West. Even those who want to teach and practice orthodox Catholicism (like the one I mention here, actually) have to fight a constant, uphill battle.

  6. Ray from MN says:

    A few months ago I attended Mass at the Ascension
    Parish in North Minneapolis that has a large
    Spanish-speaking congregation and a Franciscan
    priest who can say the Mass for them. The Basilica
    of St Mary is now administering and helping to fund
    Ascension and Father Michael O’Connell is pulling
    double duty as pastor.

    In a way, I was pleased to see that the entire
    congregation did not receive Holy Communion. I
    guess it is only Anglos who are immaculately
    conceived.

  7. dcs says:

    Does this apply to private blessings—e.g. should parents blessing their children at night refrain from making a sign of the cross on their forehead?

    One might think of this in terms of authority. Children are under the authority of their parents, just as parishioners are under the authority of their parish priests (but not their EMHCs or whatever).

  8. b says:

    In the Archdiocese of Denver, Archbishop Chaput has asked priests to stop giving blessings in the communion line; instead the minister of communion has been asked to invite those not reciving communion to make a spiritual communion.

  9. dcs says:

    Deo gratias.

  10. Scott says:

    Fr. Z,

    I’ve wondered about private blessings for a while now.

    Please tell me if this line of thinking is correct: priests have a special character given to them by Christ which permits them to bless in an efficacious way, apart from (for example) their personal holiness. Lay people, on the other hand, can bless in the sense that they can pray for another and, to the extent that they are holy, their prayer may be efficacious.

    How does authority fit into this? What does it mean when I bless my kids (or when Abraham blessed his kids, and so on)?

    pax,
    Scott

  11. Priest says:

    Is it a rubric of the 1962 Missal or just a pious practice that the priest make the Sign of the Cross with the Sacred Host over the person kneeling to receive Holy Communion. Could not a priest do the same for someone (a child or adult unable to receive Holy Communion) in the Pauline Mass ? This would amount to a ‘little Benediction’. Children and persons in a state of mortal sin are allowed to receive Benediction. Certainly this would seem more appropriate than a priest putting down the Host in his fingers in order to make the sign of the cross with his right hand over the person. Just as it would be odd for a priest to impart a blessing when he can impart the Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, so it seems best that the priest give a ‘little benediction’ rather than his own blessing. And since a layperson does not offer Benediction, he should offer no blessing at Mass.

  12. Fr. Totton says:

    I have come into a very good assignment as pastor of a great parish (liturigically, and catechetically) One thing that I did inherit, however is the custom of the Communion time blessings. I share Fr. Z’s thoughts about time for Holy Communion being well, time for Holy Communion. Anybody coming forward for a blessing at Mass knows to come to the priests sied, and all the EMHC know that they do not give blessings. I guess I would ask among those priests reading this blog (and of any insightful lay folk) how should I go about changing the wide spread blessings in Communion line? I think the encouragement to Spiritual Communion is a good idea. I remember, however, when I first arrived, having neglected to bless one man’s children, I received a rather intense voicemail message to the effect that the Children had not received thier blessing! To complicates matters, we are in the same neighborhood as a small Ukrainian Byzantine parish and occassionally some of their parishioners will attend Mass at our parish – the children, no matter how young, if baptized, are to receive Holy Communion, but I have not figured a way to to have them indicate their status to me just yet. If anybody has any ideas, I would be mose happy to read them. Also, does anybody have a link to Abp. Chaput’s letter on this topic?

  13. Az says:

    Pardon my ignorance, but where does this practice of blessing non-communicants originate? I don’t see the point of it, and as someone said previously, everyone gets a blessing at the end of Mass anyway.

  14. Maureen says:

    I think St. Blaise’s Day is different, because the priest blesses the candles and the candles bless the throats. So the laypeople are just trained for using sacramentals in this view.

    But it’s a nasty surprise to trundle out for St. Blaise and only see laypeople running the service, I can tell you.

  15. Thank you for posting this, Father. We have this here and I won’t get in a layperson’s line. I’m nice about it but I won’t do it. I just sort of sidle over to the right line. Laypeople can’t do this.

  16. Mark says:

    A Catholic-leaning Anglican here, but I firmly agree, lay-people cannot do this. It is firmly the priest’s role (not prerogative, but something they do, as opposed to anyone else). Plus, if the reason people receive blessings is because they cannot receive the Eucharist, then surely that should be something special? The bottom line is, as far as I am aware, lay people have not been asked to do this role for the priest (that is what lay-ministers are doing, after all – helping out with a particular role, on licence from their Bishop).

  17. RC says:

    I think St. Blaise’s Day is different, because the priest blesses the candles and the candles bless the throats. So the laypeople are just trained for using sacramentals in this view.

    This could be consistent if we were to think of the faithful who approach as blessing themselves by devoutly using the blessed candles; but it’s not clear that this is what the Church intends.

    The authority to confer blessings on the faithful is associated with ordination to the diaconate (at least in the Latin Church).

  18. When I wrote above, I was talking about St. Blaise’s day. There is absolutely no reason for a layperson to get involved in giving this blessing. It is entirely optional. The priest has the time to do it after mass in almost all cases.

    I’d rather not receive the St. Blaise blessing than receive a counterfeit from a layperson playing games.

  19. Michigan:

    Whether or not one likes the idea of laity participating in this fashion on St. Blaise’ Day, I seem to recall it is specifically authorized by the ritual; the laypersons who participate are to refrain from making the sign of the cross, and simply extend the candles under the throat and read the words.

  20. fr richard says:

    Fr. Totton,

    I have the OPPOSITE problem: we have non-parishioner children who attend Liturgy from time to time and I have to figure out whether or not they expect to receive Communion because they are Byzantine rite, or whether they are Roman rite and are there “for a blessing.”

    Complicating matters, the whole “arms crossed over the chest” which is supposed to indicate a request for a blessing in the local Roman parishes, is the standard, traditional way our children hold their arms to receive Communion!

    Generally a parent is close by, so I ask the parent if their children are to receive or not.

    Also, I’m stuck with this “giving a blessing” thing with visiting Roman Catholics (generally children). Since we distribute the Eucharist by intinction (the Body of Christ is placed into the Blood of Christ in the chalice, and dropped into the mouth of the communicant from a spoon) when visitors come up expecting a blessing, I touch the bottom of the chalice to their foreheads.

    This is the time to receive Holy Communion, not to get some kind of blessing with the idea that everyone has to come up front for something. But if some kind of blessing is expected because it’s done elsewhere, rather than shocking the person, they can be blessed at this time with the Holy Eucharist, not with my hand (as was suggested by another priest up above in the comments.)

    I don’t get it. Set the Lord “aside” and bless with my hand at this point in the Liturgy? I think it’s a most misguided practice.

    And a final problem: when our very young children attend Mass at a Roman parish, they cross their arms in our traditonal way, expecting Communion (on the tongue) and they end up getting a blessing instead. Lord, have mercy.

  21. I really don’t care, Father Fox. No dice. There is no point to a St. Blaise blessing coming from a layperson. I can bless myself better than any other layperson can can bless me simply by making the sign of the cross.

  22. Fr. Ed says:

    As to Fr. Z’s comment on his original post, he states that it is his “personal opinion” about not givng a blessing in the Communion line. However, giving a blessing is a formal act, an act which the rubrics absolutely do not at any point call for in the Communion line. Therefore, the prohibition of giving a blessing falls under paragraph 22 of Sacrosanctum Concilium, which specifies that with regard to the Liturgy, no one, not even a priest may add anything. The rubrics of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass are quite clear as to when blessings are to be given in the Liturgy. To add one at ones’s own discretion seems to me to clearly violate the Constitution on the Liturgy’s prohibition of priests just adding their own thing.

  23. Séamas says:

    I notice the pope gives blessings in the communion line.

  24. Andrew says:

    Quote: “As to Fr. Z’s comment on his original post, he states that it is his “personal opinion” about not givng a blessing in the Communion line. However, giving a blessing is a formal act, an act which the rubrics absolutely do not at any point call for in the Communion line. Therefore, the prohibition of giving a blessing falls under paragraph 22 of Sacrosanctum Concilium, which specifies that with regard to the Liturgy, no one, not even a priest may add anything. The rubrics of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass are quite clear as to when blessings are to be given in the Liturgy. To add one at ones’s own discretion seems to me to clearly violate the Constitution on the Liturgy’s prohibition of priests just adding their own thing.”

    Clear, concise, splendid! If such clarity prevailed everywhere there would be no need to probe everything and to grope around in darkness.

  25. Greg Smisek says:

    Fr. Edward McNamara dealt with the question about blessings for non-communicants in his ZENIT columns on 10 May 2005 (www.zenit.org/english/visualizza.phtml?sid=70700) and 24 May 2005 (www.zenit.org/english/visualizza.phtml?sid=71485).

    He discusses many of the same issues (and includes an extensive quotation from Archbishop Chaput). His position is that the liceity of giving such blessings constitutes a legal dubium, although he personally shares Archbishop Chaput’s misgivings as their appropriateness.