QUAERITUR: Getting a blessing at Communion time. Fr. Z rants.

From a reader:

We hope to bring 2 children (extended family) to Mass on Christmas Eve. They have not been baptized.

QUAERITUR: Are unbaptized children allowed to go up to Communion with their arms crossed and receive a blessing? What about an adult who has been baptized but is not Catholic?

A priest can invoke God’s blessing on anyone, baptized or not.

However, Communion time is Communion time, not Blessing Time. There is a time for receiving a blessing during Mass, as it turns out.

This is a controversial topic and one about which I have written many times. You might check THIS entry, for example.

This practice has, alas, become widespread, much in the same way as church-wide hand-holding, or people saying the priest’s prayers, or having too many EMHCs have become wide-spread.  And when someone (read: Father) suggests that these things should be curtailed, people who are emotionally invested in these practices call Father “mean” and then stage a little nutty about their “rights”, as if just because they like doing x or y, they are empowered by baptism with “rights” to do as they please.

Are non-Communicants “allowed” to go forward at Communion time?  I guess so. An alarm won’t be triggered if they do.

But think about what is going on at different stages of Holy Mass.

Masses generally have three major orations or prayers: the Collect, the Super oblata over the gifts, the Post Communion.  In each case in the Roman Rite there is a procession and a greeting and then the prayer.

The procession before the Post Communion is actually the procession of those people who go forward to receive the Eucharist because they are a) baptized and b) in Communion with the Church c) admitted to Communion, and d) properly disposed physically by fasting, and e) properly disposed spiritually by being in the state of grace.  What happens in the parish church may not seem like a procession in all cases, but going forward is a liturgical act of the faithful, who, because of an interior disposition (baptismal character and a willed, knowing, active receptivity) manifest their disposition outwardly in movement to go forward to receive.

Our baptismal character and our ability to receive is the key to the movement forward.

In ancient times, the non-baptized catechumens were not even allowed to be inside the Church when the Eucharistic phase of Mass began, much less trot up and get a blessing, something entirely inappropriate for the moment.

Of course, practically speaking, mothers cannot leave unbaptized infants or children below the age of reason in the pew alone.  If Mom chooses to receive at Mass, Mom brings little Stupor or Stupores Mundi along.

But going forward at Communion time actually means something.  It isn’t a time for curiosity fulfillment, or novelty seeking, or entertaining young’uns.

Finally, that “arms crossed” thing.  To add to the confusion, some people cross their arms when they want to receive Communion on the tongue, instead of on the hand.

A plant that is in the wrong place is a weed.  A rose in the wrong place is a weed.  Roses are great, but they don’t belong everywhere.  Blessings are great, but they don’t belong everywhere.  I think we need to weed this practice out of our participation at Mass.


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About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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33 Responses to QUAERITUR: Getting a blessing at Communion time. Fr. Z rants.

  1. For what it is worth, in the late 1950s my sister and I would accompany our mother up to Communion and kneel at the rail on each side of her. We would always stick out our tongues in the hope of an early First Holy Communion. Alas, all we got was a blessing from the priest distributing Communion, but, at least it was something . . .

  2. APX says:

    @ Fr. Z
    Finally, that “arms crossed” thing. To add to the confusion, some people cross their arms when they want to receive Communion on the tongue, instead of on the hand.

    In the Byzantine Rite communicants approach communion with their arms crossed over their chest and receive that way. Some (as I witnessed during high school Masses) will do this when they receive during Latin Rite Masses.

    As someone who has received “blessings” from EMHC’s rather than Communion on the tongue because I had my hands together in that of prayer rather than outstretched, I wish this practice would stop and Rome would make an official ruling (or whatever it is they do to make things official) that there be no more blessings during Communion time. Do you realize how many “accidental communion reception, but I went up for a blessing” posts there are on Catholic Answer Forums? A lot.

    Also, especially at Christmas Eve Mass, where there’s so many communicants because everyone finally had the opportunity to make themselves properly disposed to receive (NOT), could we please just leave Communion time for Communion.

  3. Mike Morrow says:

    That is, in my opinion, the best summary and argument against this communion time blessing novelty that I’ve ever read.

    Sometimes something similar “seems” to happen even at an EF Mass, but that is very different. Usually it is only young children accompanying a guardian to the communion rail…the priest does not administer a blessing. But at OF services this “blessing” business is almost universal and canonical. At the last OF service I had to recently attend, the new pastor (old novus ordo priest) explicitly and insistently asked ALL who were not receiving communion to come though the communion line for a blessing. Few obliged, surprisingly.

  4. campello says:

    My wife and I have three little ones under four, and right now it is not an option for us to leave them behind. I always keep them out of the way to one side as I approach for communion, but no matter the priest they always stop for a blessing. Short of a physical intervention there is nothing I can do to prevent it. The kids seem to like it, and I don’t mind either. This is of coarse at the NO mass.

  5. jhayes says:

    I have been at Masses in different parishes of this diocese where the priest explained before Mass that we do not have open communion but invited non-Catholics and others to come forward with crossed arms to receive a blessing when Communion was distributed. In my experience, this explanation is more likely to be given at funerals, weddings or other occasions where it is likely that a significant number of non-Catholics will be present.

    My impression is that if a parent comes to communion carrying a small child or accompanied by children too young to receive Communion, the priest will give a blessing to the kids. I haven’t noticed what EMHC’s do but my expectation is that it is the same.

    This seems to be long-established custom in this diocese. I don’t know whether it is a diocesan-wide policy or is left to the disecretion of each pastor. If it is up to the pastor and he decided to stop the practice, I think he would need to do a careful catechesis starting several weeks before the change.

  6. Bill Russell says:

    I am somewhat conflicted on this, since the novel practice of coming up with arms crossed for a blessing at least helps those who are not able to receive Communion to refrain from doing so. But it also makes those who remain in their pews, seem the odd men out. Additionally, I have always understood that no blessing of any sort is to be given in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament exposed. This is why, for instance, incense is not blessed at Benediction. – This should also apply to non-communicants and infants.

  7. Supertradmum says:

    To me, the entire process equates a blessing with receiving the Body and Blood of Christ, which it is not. We have become so politically correct, that we cannot bear to see someone, adult or child, not receive something at Communion. The blessing at Communion should be abolished.

  8. campello says:

    If I have frustration, it’s the sign of peace just before communion time at the NO mass. That is a huge distraction from the matter at hand, like a loud water cooler break. Maybe someday that will be moved to a more suitable spot in the mass. (I know this is off topic)

  9. jbas says:

    Bill Russell,
    Yes, the subjects approach the Presence of the King, but are more interested in what the “prime minister” does. It’s very strange. If anything, parents should teach their non-communicating children to make the Sign of the Cross themselves as they are leaving the ciborium on their way back to the pews.

    Campello,
    The Sign of Peace is in the same place in the OF solemn Mass. The problem is not its ritual location, but its practical corruption from an exchange of Christ’s peace to an exchange a secular greetings.

  10. digdigby says:

    Those at my EF mass who pointedly do not come up to receive because they could not confess or feel they are not properly disposed or whatever their reasons (MYOB of course) are honoring the Blessed Sacrament and as God has said “I will honor those who honor me.” . Those who receive out of the vaguest of desires of not ‘wanting to seem conspicuous’ or whatever are committing a serious sin. I guess my point is, not receiving, in certain circumstances is a fine, fine thing to do and should be respected. Infants and small children are blessed at the rail sometimes and sometimes not. I didn’t realize this is a point of contention. My oratory is ICRSP.

  11. BobP says:

    I think it’s a result of the tremendous pressure people (by climbing over you, make you look alone, etc) who are around us put on us to get us to go up for communion. They are more offended if you don’t go than if you stay in your pew.

  12. BobP says:

    I meant they are more offended if you stay in your pew than receive just a blessing.

  13. liz says:

    The only way I’ve found to avoid the kids getting blessed is to leave them in the pew. I sit close to the front so that I’m close enough even when I go forward to cast that special “behave or else” look towards my little one. Fortunately she is not her usual outwardly exuberent self during mass (loves mass and gets so focused/quiet!)and this is an option. I think it is far from ideal given her young age to have to do this but I am very uncomfortable with the whole pc inclusiveness thing that happens with the blessings. I’m a convert and I call to mind the time during rcia when I would go to masses and either dismiss to do breaking open of word w/group or kneel patiently praying in the pew. It made perfect sense that unless I was in full communion I had no business going forward as if to receive Jesus and expecting some alternate (blessing) to make up for not receiving. I didn’t need a virtual pat on the head to feel included. Hello, I was only imperfectly part of the body anyhow at that point. Sort of a be what you are thing. If I felt I needed some personal blessing because of a difficult situation I could seek out a priest for that purpose-time and a place for everything.

  14. Marianna says:

    Well, I don’t go in for hand-holding, hugs’n'kisses and the rest of it, but I don’t object to blessings at Communion time at all. In fact, it’s rather moving to see a person who is not a Catholic, and has perhaps been somewhat suspicious of “papistry” (I write as a Brit), deciding to go forward to be blessed by a Catholic priest. And I have no objection to the children going forward either. “Suffer the little children to come unto me and forbid them not…”

  15. charo says:

    I agree with all the general viewpoints of all here on every matter, except this one. The priest where I attend is from the FSSP and is a good priest. The blessing he gives to my 7 year old (on the verge of receiving her first Holy Communion) does not disrupt in any way and is not even noticeable unless you are watching closely or happen to be right next to her. I assume he blesses other young ones, but I try to reflect as much as possible to avoid distraction before and after Communion. I am having trouble with the theological reason was this practice is so abhorrent.

  16. APX says:

    @charo
    The blessings during communion from the FSSP seems to be on a priest by priest basis. My priest doesn’t do it, and gave us an informative lecture on the do’s and don’t of receiving communion and the low down on blessings. He told us that they weren’t allowed in the EF, as the priest cannot add or take anything away from the Mass, and that the proper time for the blessing is at the end when everyone gets blessed.

    That being said, I’ve seen another FSSP priest do it in another parish and he’s also a good and holy priest, so I don’t know. I wish kids who could stay in the pews would stay there rather than take up space at the communion rail, especially since the priest has made it blatantly obvious he doesn’t do blessings during communion.

  17. amenamen says:

    When small children and adults who are not receiving Holy Communion get into the Communion line (the blessing line?), it creates and reinforces the impression that “everyone” is supposed to get in line: non-Catholic visitors, unbaptized visitors, those in invalid marriages, those in mortal sin, casual visitors, those who are not prepared, everybody in the whole pew, everybody in the whole church.

    But if even a few people simple stay in their pews, it is much more obvious that “not everyone” is supposed to receive Holy Communion. It is much easier to avoid the feeling that “I am the only one” who is staying in my pew, if, in fact, I am not the only one.

  18. Mrs. Bear says:

    During the summer we attended mass in the Pembroke Diocese. (Ontario, Canada) They made an announcment that Sunday that the bishop (Bishop Mulhall) had decided to abolish the blessing of those not receiving communion as there is a blessing imparted on by the priest after communion.
    Not sure how well received it was in other parishes – but this is the parish (St. Hedwig) where Our Lady Seat of Wisdom Catholic Academy is located (Barry’s Bay)- so the congregation for the most part would not object.
    Our parish had told all Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion that only a priest or deacon could provide a blessing on a person at communion – though I still see them laying on their hands and blessing people.
    But good news in Pembroke!

  19. Maybe if we brought back the Communion rail and kneeling for Communion, this practice would end, at least as far as non-Catholics getting in the Communion line goes. As far as little kids are concerned, I don’t see what harm there is in a little kid not getting to receive anything. Having something to look forward to that they get to do only when they are more grown-up (e.g., receive Holy Communion, or even come to Mass at all) might actually encourage them to be better behaved.

  20. paterscotus says:

    This is why I oppose the practice:
    1. It is not an authentic part of the liturgy. Vatican II said that: “Regulation of the sacred liturgy depends solely on the authority of the Church . . .Therefore no other person, even if he be a priest, may add, remove, or change anything in the liturgy on his own authority” (Sacrosanctum Concilium 22). The practice of going up for “blessings” in the Communion line, however well-intentioned, is an accretion.
    2.Furthermore, each of the four processions in the OF Mass has a purpose. The communion procession is for those who are intending to and are properly disposed to receive the Holy Eucharist.
    3. Despite the primary focus of most proponents on the little children who are receiving “blessings,” real pastoral quandaries flow from this well-intentioned practice. The unmarried, cohabitating couple, for instance, who come up in the communion procession, stand side by side, arms crossed. When I “bless” them as a priest of the Roman Church, what is that saying? Likewise, due to this widespread practice, and particularly at weddings and funerals and Christmas and Easter, virtually everyone gets into the communion line, Catholic or not, spirituality disposed or not. That, clearly, is not in line with the mind of the Church, can lead to sacrilege, and can be embarrassing at the time of communion as well.

  21. SWP says:

    Father-
    I appreciate what you are saying, but as someone who has tried to corral children during an all school weekday Mass, I have yet to see a more effective/efficient way to get everyone up, around, and back to the pews with a minimum of disorder/disarray/disrespect when those pews are full of pupils, only most of whom are Catholic (we have about 60-40 ratio at our school) and many of those have not yet received First Communion (the standardized second grade thing is a relic of the past in my experience). What do you expect teachers to do?
    Isolating/segregating children who are enrolled but not Catholic is not going to go over well with their parents (who persist in the attitude that they hold your purse-strings). Maybe a nun could get away with that in ages past, but lay teachers like keeping their jobs, generally. Plus, it flies in the face of The Inclusive Classroom Model that every teacher certified in the past decade has been inculcated to uphold in all contexts.
    You don’t want some children to think it’s ok to receive when it’s not, and the crossed arms helps as a reminder to the student without making them feel excluded. At our school, we ask the children not receiving to reverence the chalice as they walk by. It’s not like they aren’t being taught to adore/recognize the Real Presence.
    It just avoids headache/confusion that would result when you’d have some kids from the pew stepping aside for the others going up to receive, which would interrupt traffic patterns, encourage disorder (because as soon as children aren’t in a pew or a line, all manner of behaviors such as elbowing, jockeying, or poking come up for grabs), and diminish the quality of silence necessary for the other people present at the weekday Mass. Consider what would happen as children returned to the pew, stepping over their classmates, kneelers crashing up and down. It’s not a pretty picture, is it?

    You could explain etiquette to children till you’re blue in the face, but conformity works better at achieving results, and having everyone file up whether they are going to receive Our Lord or receive a blessing results in ordered conformity, vital for proper decorum. It avoids undue embarrassment for the non-Catholic students enrolled, it provides a teachable moment that might result in evangelization of a non-Catholic parent, and it builds anticipation for the non-communicants to want to become communicants.

    What’s so bad about that?

    So one of them shows up on a non-weekday Mass (aka Sunday) with their arms crossed– is it really going to break your back to give the kid a blessing? Is your principled opposition to making such a gesture worth alienating an entire family? As a principal who depends on enrollment to pay salaries, do you risk losing tuition when your pastor offends a non-Catholic parent?

    Can you put forward to me a practically realistic alternative that accounts for all the aforementioned issues (traffic flow, efficiency, decorum, and ecumenical respect)? Bear in mind that the children are taught outside of Mass why some are eligible to receive and others are not, and they are taught the meaning of transubstantiation. It’s not like these kids are walking around with no concept of reverence for the Blessed Sacrament or how to properly receive (i.e. making their palms into a throne).

    I agree with Miss Anita More, that bringing back altar rails would address this problem nicely, but I’m not holding my breath for that comeback. In the meanwhile, practical reality awaits a viable solution. Crossing arms is that solution.

  22. Supertradmum says:

    Re: the children in the pew. For very small ones, why cannot one parent just remain with them while the other parent goes, and take turns? Or sit towards the front, so that the children can see, but do not need to move. For centuries, children were left in pews, no cry-rooms, no kidnappings, no problems. I think some parents are merely sentimental about either having to receive together,
    or, about leaving the children in the pew. And, if children are ill, do not one of the parents stay at home and again, take turns going to Mass, one going on one’s own later, for example? I know this is difficult is there is only one TLM, but being a parent means sacrificing one’s own desires.

    Blessings are to be avoided. and we managed to do this. As to non-Catholics being embarrassed, I have not found this to be the case. If one has “students”, they should be learning the Teaching of the Catholic Church that only Catholics in good standing with the Church go to Communion. I have never had the problem of students feeling or expressing embarrassment at not being able to receive and merely staying in the pew, even at Notre Dame!

  23. Mrs. O says:

    I would like to see the pew by pew approach done away with. Sometimes the ushers make people get in line who would have stayed in the pew in any other circumstance. this puts pressure on the people not receiving. Just a thought. This will cut down on those accidental communions who were ushered in the line maybe against their will.

  24. albinus1 says:

    Maybe if we brought back the Communion rail and kneeling for Communion, this practice would end, at least as far as non-Catholics getting in the Communion line goes.

    No, it won’t, I’m afraid. At our parish’s EF Mass, small children and non-Catholic adults (or others not receiving Communion) who want a blessing come up and kneel at the Communion rail along with those receiving Communion, and get their blessing. Of course, the priests who celebrate our EF Mass are priests of our parish who learned the EF to accommodate us, but who are more accustomed to celebrating the NO. And at least at the EF Mass, they are receiving the blessing from the priest, since there are, of course, no EMHCs.

    I agree with Fr. Z that it would be better not to do this, but, alas, I wasn’t consulted. ;-)

  25. amenamen says:

    There must be a Secret Book of Rubrics somewhere. But it is not in the new translation of the Missal. Not only is the Arm Crossing Thing required now, but violations of this rubric result in “alienating” individuals and families. Furthermore, it could disrupt Traffic Patterns. Where does one find a copy of these Secret Rubrics? If a lay person gives a blessing while holding the Host, should he or she vest in a cope and humeral veil, as when giving Benediction?

  26. Supertradmum says:

    Would it be too, too naughty to sell a mug which states “Ushers not Extraordinary” or something more pithy?

  27. Mariana says:

    I didn’t even know this wasn’t kosher. In our parish people who haven’t yet been accepted into the Church present themselves for a blessing in the Communion queue.

    That silly queueing and shuffling is what shocked me most when I converted, I should so love a decent communion rail!

  28. Speravi says:

    I have a close relative who is Byzantine Catholic. He has told me that he has gone up with his arms crossed for the purpose of receiving Communion only to find someone trying to give him a blessing. How sensitive we are to pick the common posture of the East for receiving Communion as our posture for “I don’t want Communion.”

  29. benedictgal says:

    @marianne

    The problem with this whole “blessings in lieu of receiving Holy Communion” is that it is not anywhere in the rubrics of the Mass. When the priest prays “Ecce Agnus Dei” (Behold the Lamb of God), he is inviting those who are properly disposed to receive Holy Communion. They are to come forward to receive Someone, Jesus, in Holy Communion, not something, a blessing that will be imparted to everyone at the proper time, towards the end of the Mass.

    As far as “suffer the little children” is concerned, Jesus did not do this in the context of Ancient Israel’s cultic form of sacrificial worship. This incident, which is used by many of the proponents to justify this ilicit practice, happened outside of worship.

  30. SWP says:

    Our students DO learn that only Catholics in good standing get to receive, but does that preclude the children who have not received first communion from receiving a blessing?

    Until it has been defined as NOT acceptable, it remains undefined.

    Again- tell me what’s a better and more efficient way to get pewfuls of children up, around, and back with a minimun of disruptions to the reverent atmosphere of liturgy. I’m waiting for someone to supply a practical alternative, rather than simply condemning it because it’s not in the rubrics. How does one get a pew of children- some of whom have been through First Communion and some who have not, some who are Catholic and some who are not- up around and back? You guys have ready answers about everything- What say you?

  31. ocsousn says:

    This is a vexing issue and many good points have been made.
    As I see it the real culprit is that the virtual abolition of the Eucharistic Fast means that almost everyone goes to communion. This change coincided with the distribution of communion standing rather than at the communion rail. Previously people went to communion in a rather helter-skelter way with little or no direction from ushers. Climbing over non-communicants was normal at any crowded Sunday Mass. The later the Mass the fewer communicants there were. (When the fast was from midnight some would go late to an early Low Mass to receive Communion and then come back later to assist at Solemn Mass.) Suddenly the whole process was regimented and folks were expected to approach row by row.
    I first encountered this blessing in lieu of communion when I became a Navy Chaplain in 1991 and it has always left me uncomfortable. As someone commented above, priests do not bless when the Blessed Sacrament is outside the tabernacle. At first I tried making a small sign of the cross with the host but this only confused people. They expected to be touched or addressed directly. I have seen the present Holy Father make a small sign of the cross on the foreheads of infants in the arms of mothers going to communion. (But, is that really the same as blessing everyone who is not receiving?) My present solution is to simply put my hand on the head or shoulder of the non-communicant, saying nothing. This appears to satisfy people.
    Fr. Aidan Logan, ocso

  32. inara says:

    @SWP ~ there is no need to get “everyone up, around & back”… do what our family of 11 does (our parish has only the OF Mass & no communion rail): when those in the pew in front of us stand, we all put up our kneelers & sit, then the 6 of us (or fewer if some do not feel properly disposed to receive) who are going up for communion then can easily stand & walk past the 5 children who will remain seated until our return, after which we all return to kneeling.

    Anyone joining the communion line for any reason other than to receive Our Lord HAS “been defined as NOT acceptable”: “Therefore no other person, even if he be a priest, may add, remove, or change anything in the liturgy on his own authority” (though I have been literally grabbed by the arm on the way to communion, or lectured with various degrees of condescension after Mass, by those who apparently think that not “including” some of my children is a much graver offense than dishonoring Christ himself, who waits for me & “the many” to come to Him).

  33. AaronStreeting says:

    Father, I have mixed feelings about this.

    It would be nice if we didn’t have row-by-row communion in this country, and communicants would go only when they had fasted and were in a state of grace. It’s a shame that we’ve become “trained” to queue up for communion. In addition, we live in a very self-conscious culture. If Mr. Jones, a parishioner and regular communicant, this Sunday remains seated alone in his pew while everyone in his area has lined up in the aisle, even the most well-intentioned can’t help but notice or wonder. I agree that it’s what he should do if he’s not disposed, but given the usual custom, it takes a very large amount of humility to remain seated. In addition, how many sacrileges have occurred because a teenager or a spouse struggling with purity doesn’t want their family members to know that they’ve committed a grave sin?

    My very faithful and holy pastor counsels people to receive a blessing in these cases. Especially when people confess that they’ve received unworthily for these reasons. Getting the blessing is a lot less conspicuous than staying in the pew, and avoids profanation of the sacrament. My pastor would prefer a brief interruption in the communion rite than for someone in a state of sin to receive Our Lord unworthily out of embarrassment or fear. I tend to agree.