QUAERITUR: Before Mass ended the congregation blessed the priest

From a reader:

On Priesthood Sunday just before Mass ended, the resident nun took to the ambo and asked the congregation to extend their hands to bless the priest. She then led a fairly lengthy blessing. My wife and I were uncomfortable with this, so we were the only ones who did not pretend to give the blessing. Were we right in not going along? What should we do next time? (This was not the first instance of congregational blessing.)

At best this is sentimentalism. At worst this indicates a confusion about the roles of the ordained and of the laity. It is interesting that it took place on “Priesthood Sunday”, which I presume has something to do with promotion of vocations.

No, this was not a good thing to do.

Please understand that it is good for people, everyone, to “invoke” God’s blessings for others. We do so, to use a mundane example, when other people sneeze.

However, this instance seems to seek to communicate that the lay people can do what priests do when they bless, which is quite a different thing.

Furthermore, this happened during Mass, not before or after. Therefore, it was also a serious liturgical abuse, since there is no point at which the congregation is supposed to “bless” the priest that manner. If this sort of thing is done regularly, you might send a note to the local bishop asking for an explanation of the action. You could also direct your request for an explanation to the Congregation for Divine Worship in Rome. They could perhaps give you a clearer and quicker answer were they to have a printed bulletin with the text of what the congregation was to do or perhaps even a little video from your mobile phone.

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18 Responses to QUAERITUR: Before Mass ended the congregation blessed the priest

  1. Titus says:

    Oh yes, the “please stand and extend your hand in a sign of blessing” routine. Fiddlesticks.

  2. Legisperitus says:

    Let’s not insult perfectly good fiddlesticks.

  3. jhayes says:

    Sounds as if it’s this blessing for use on World Priesthood Sunday, October 31,2011.

    http://wpd.wwme.org/blessing.html

    It includes directions that it is to be said following the Prayer After Communion and that the people should extend their hands. I’ve never run into it – just found it while searching out of curiosity after reading this first post.

  4. Long-Skirts says:

    “My wife and I were uncomfortable with this, so we were the only ones who did not pretend to give the blessing.”

    You were right!! God bless you and your Catholic informed conscience.

    THE
    TRUE
    FORT

    Such names they call us
    That’s not what we are
    We are true Roman Catholics
    At the front of the war.

    Some just go AWOL
    Others defect
    Copying our stance
    Then say we’re a sect.

    A lot like in England
    Saint John Fisher’s day
    When his brothers said, “yes”
    This Saint replied, “nay”

    All alone in the Fort
    St. John Fisher stood
    Preserving, defending
    For the whole all that’s good.

    Not just for himself
    Those attached to what’s old
    Or reformers, reforming
    Pretending they’re bold.

    We’re simply preserving
    Once again the True Fort
    While those with new orders
    Relinquish support.

    And with promises made
    To men hungry for power
    They mock stand and point
    From their all-approved tower.

    Hoping for all
    Catholic democracy –
    When in fact they’re a collegial
    Kleptocracy.

  5. nola catholic says:

    Father, thank you for addressing this. This exact same thing happened this past Sunday at the church I attended Mass at. The lector announced that because it was Priesthood Sunday, he was going to read a blessing for the priest and asked all the congregants to extend their hand towards the priest for the blessing. My girlfriend and I were the only ones I could see that did not extend our hands. It was sad to see that so many did, especially since it is a parish where not as many of the congregants hold hands during the Our Father as in other parishes. Afterwards, the lector lead the congregation in a round of applause for the priest’s service. I’m all for supporting a priest for his sacrifices, but don’t feel that applauding before Mass is over is the proper way. I can’t stand how so many parishes try to make the Mass about the priest instead of Christ.

  6. mjballou says:

    I find the congregation standing with arms outstretched for these “blessing events” disturbingly reminescent of the Hitler salute. Maybe that’s just me. There’s also a sort of “groupthink” that kicks in, with the result that non-participation is met with some glares from fellow congregants.

  7. heway says:

    I’m curious to know what the individual priests thought about this blessing. Remember, as a child, mother sprinkling us with holy water and blessing us before bed. I have never been uncomfortable giving or recieving such a blessing from anyone. Don’t judge others for their good actions.

  8. lucy says:

    Our parish does this for the RCIA students as well. I’ve always hated it and went along for many years, prior to knowing better. It happens all too often and shouldn’t happen at all.

    I’m so thankful that this same parish has our traditional Mass every Sunday. Thanks be to God!

  9. Titus says:

    Remember, as a child, mother sprinkling us with holy water and blessing us before bed.

    This is entirely different. Holy water is a sacramental that anyone may use. A mother, occupying as she does a spiritual position of authority over her children, has the power to bless them. Something actually happens when a parent pronounces a blessing over a child. Your mother was perfectly right to do so. (At least, I believe I’m correct that the power to impose a blessing on a child is possessed by a mother as well as by a father.)

    But a layman has no power to bless a priest (assuming the priest is not his son). Nor do a room full of laymen. Nothing happens when I waive my hand(or when 500 people waive their hands) in the air toward a priest, or any other person who has been asked to come to the front of the church to receive a “blessing” from the congregation.

    So this sort of thing isn’t a “good action”—it’s a simulation of a sacred function, an inefficacious hand waiving, and an exercise that involves misleading people about the nature of holy things. It’s horse feathers, and the Church is not a dealer in horse feathers.

    Sounds as if it’s this blessing for use on World Priesthood Sunday, October 31,2011.

    Surely none of that is actually in any missal.

  10. jhayes says:

    @Titus. A layperson can give blessings on many occasions – See the Book of Blessings. If it’s in church, it usually is slightly different from he blessing given by a priest or deacon. For instance, when an EMHC blesses throats on St. Blaise’s Day (where permitted by the Diocesan Norms) the EMHC presses the crossed candles to the person’s throat and says the same words of blessing a priest would say, but doesn’t make the sign of the cross over the person. The difference between the blessing used by the priest and the layperson is spelled out in the Book of Blessings.

    Along with saying “God bless you!” when someone sneezes, I don’t know of a reason why a layperson can’t say to a friend leaving on a trip “May God bless and protect you during your travels” even without using the form provided for a layperson in the Book of Blessings

  11. Peggy R says:

    Our family declines to do the Heil Hitler salute as well.

  12. Central Valley says:

    Here in the Diocese of fresno a Monsignor asks all at funerals to extend their had in blessing the body at the end of his funeral masses confusing the faithful as to their role in active participation. When I wrote and inquired with the late bishop there was no response.

  13. inara says:

    This has been a regular (sometimes every Sunday) practice in some form at nearly every parish I’ve been a member of (5 out of 6, in 3 different states) since I was received into the Church 12 years ago…”blessing” the little people as they go to Children’s Liturgy, the RCIA candidates as they leave to study, moms on Mothers’ Day, Dads on Fathers’ Day, the prayer quilts sewn by the Quilt Ministry that week, etc. etc.
    It has always made me uncomfortable (as did holding hands during the Our Father) & I’m very happy to understand now that it’s inappropriate.

  14. Tina in Ashburn says:

    Another demonstration of the continued confusion about the differences between the laity and the ordained.

    Why shouldn’t people think that there is nothing wrong with this? So many Catholics have been misled about the false ‘power’ of the laity – laymen are doing readings, distributing Communion, leading prayers, posing with the Orans position and mimicking the priest, walking around in the Sanctuary; during Mass the priest faces the people as if addressing the Sacrifice to them [not God the Father], in the “I confess” we confess to my ‘brothers and sisters’ [without mentioning the priest as in the old rite], on and on this has continued.

    To think we can bless a priest is a perfectly logical conclusion to all the emphasis on the laity, and ignoring of the priest, over the last 40 years.

    People now get indignant when it is even suggested that priests have authority over the laity, that there is a hierarchy of importance, that ordination confers a sacredness, power, and authority specific to the priesthood, which the laity does NOT HAVE.

  15. ContraMundum says:

    You know, it would not be hard to do properly what the nun was trying to do. She should have just asked those who wished to stay after Mass and recite the Rosary for the priest.

  16. Panterina says:

    Interesting. I can see a similarity with the congregation’s “Roman salute” when Father blesses an EMHC who is to deliver the Host to the homebound… the only difference being that the laypeople join can only join in the Priest’s blessing (the laypeople don’t do the blessing, Father does). In this case, Father was not doing the blessing, so the good Sister’s action, while good-intended, was seriously lacking.

  17. DeaconPaul says:

    World Priest Day appears to be an initiative of WorldWide Marriage Encounter and is intended to show support for and appreciation of the ministry of priests. It is sad that this well intentioned and positive affirmation of priestly ministry ended up causing confusion and division. Instead of trying to invent new liturgical forms and actions we should use what we are given by the church – in this case, for instance, special prayers of intercession could have been used.

  18. cdnpriest says:

    The major problem that I see with such a “blessing” is the following…

    Within Mass itself, the priest stands in persona Christi capitis (in the person of Christ the Head). The faithful are members of that Mystical Body. But members do not bless the Head, not any more than we can “bless” Christ (Note: I use the word “bless” here in the sense of “to impart a blessing or benediction to”). God blesses man — not the other way around, since man cannot give to God something that He does not already have. Christ the Head blesses the members of His Mystical Body, the faithful — not the other way around, because we cannot give to Christ something that He does not already possess. And because at Mass, the priest is sacramentally identifiable with Christ, it makes no sense for the lay faithful to attempt to “bless” him.

    Of course, praying for the priest, on the other hand, is not only possible but highly encouraged!

    I think that the confusion may lie in the fact that the whole notion of “blessing” nowadays is so poorly understood. We see this also in many of the prayers in the Book of Blessings (at least the Canadian one, since that is the one I am familiar with). Instead of blessing the object in question, the priest often says something to the effect of “Blessed are you, Lord God, for this object…” In the seminary, they tried to convince us that this is the true meaning of “blessing”: giving thanks to God for something good that He has given us. I think that that would more appropriately be called “thanksgiving” rather than “blessing”.

    Another reason for priests to use the Rituale Romanum when imparting blessings. ;)