ASK FATHER: What can deacons bless?

From a reader…

QUAERITUR:

I recently witnessed our parish deacon blessing an image of St. Francis. Do deacons have the power of blessing images. And if not, does the image to be “re-blessed” by a priest?

Given that this is the season for ordinations, this is a timely question.

What can deacons do?

Deacons may preach, witness marriages, baptize, expose the Eucharist and give Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, lead the recitation of the Liturgy of the Hours.  They may give invocative blessings, and bless some few things, in accordance with liturgical books (can. 1169 §1). A deacon “can impart only those blessings which are expressly permitted to him by law” (can. 1169 §3). For example, a deacons can give blessings at all the rites at which they preside (Liturgy of the Hours, Communion outside Mass, etc.).

In the Extraordinary Form, the deacon is the extraordinary minister of baptism, but only with the expressed permission of the local bishop or pastor, and only for a just cause.  He must use salt that is already exorcised and blessed by a priest.

Otherwise, I think that deacons can bless some “irrational creatures”.

The truly dreadful Book of Blessings, De Benedictionibus, which should be abolished as soon as possible, lists 21 “blessings” that deacons may give.   Read the prayers.  Read the introduction.  The book is founded on the notion of eliminating constitutive blessings.  Thus, I don’t think they actually bless anything.  Instead, the prayers ask for God to bless those who look at something, etc.  This, to me, undermines radically our distinction of, sense of, the sacred and the profane.  I will not use De Benedictionibus.  I never have and I never will.  Moreover, if I hear that someone had something “blessed” with DB, I am happy to bless it.

But, back to the 21 things.  They include, medals, small crucifixes statues or pictures that will be displayed elsewhere than in a church or chapel, scapulars, rosaries, or other articles used in religious devotions. Deacons may bless rosaries.  Come to think of it, if I remember correctly, one of the alternate prayers for blessing a Rosary in De Benedictionibus is actually from the older Ritual, so that prayer would actually bless the Rosary.  Deacons may also bless holy water, with the Novus Ordo rite, but only outside the context of Holy Mass (obviously at Mass a priest is present). Deacons may bless private homes.

However, DB says deacons are prohibited from blessing large images of Christ, the Blessed Virgin, or those of the saints that are to be displayed in churches or chapels.

To be blunt, however, if you can get a priest to do it, or even better, a bishop, that’s the better option.

Moreover, if you can get the priest or bishop to use the older, traditional Rituale Romanum, that even better.

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18 Responses to ASK FATHER: What can deacons bless?

  1. iPadre says:

    For the blessing of water and other objects, I have always preferred the 62′ Ritual. It leaves no question of blessing. The so called “Book of Blessing” is a mistake and should be abolished as you write. The CDW once published a note that the priest is to add the sign of the cross over the object to be blest.

  2. msmsem says:

    Follow-up question, Fr.: so if a deacon were to use the Rituale, what can he actually bless?

  3. Imrahil says:

    On a related topic btw.,

    what if you go to a Papal Mass in St. Peter’s Square, and before the blessing – which is just an unaltered Mass blessing – the master of ceremonies announces that “with this blessing, the Holy Father will also bless all objects of devotion which you brought with you”? How does that precisely work? Since when does this custom exist?

  4. I actually recently asked a transitional deacon to baptize our first child in the older form who will be born in July. I exposed him to the EF years ago and will probably end up helping him learn how to offer it and sing the texts. Is this a “just” enough reason, Father (and anyone else who wants to answer) for me to ask my friend to do the baptism?

  5. Boniface says:

    To answer a few questions:

    Deacons may not use the older Rituale to bless articles of devotion, holy water, etc., since the instructions specify a priest or bishop.

    The best blessing prayer in the Book of Blessings is the one loosely based on the “blessing for anything” (i.e. anything that doesn’t have its own specific blessing) in the older Rituale. It is one of only (as I recall) two prayers that reflect the same theological outlook as the Rituale: “May this ____ and the one who uses it be blessed in the name of the Father + and the Son and the Holy Spirit” (the other is the short-form rosary blessing, which is the same as this, except for spelling out “this rosary” instead of the blank).

    The Rituale contains beautiful, powerful prayers. The Book of Blessings is quite confusing.

    I also noticed that the Novus Ordo missal usually contains two options for the days on which the Church liturgically blesses objects: Palm Sunday and Candlemas. The first specifies blessing, but option B is always the more vague: “… may those who carry these palms be mindful…” as opposed to “may these palms be blessed…” That kind of thing.

  6. Louis says:

    Any advice on how to explain a blessing from a priest to a southern baptist wife? I have never been successful. So maybe i do not know enough. Help?

  7. Boniface says:

    Imrahil:

    The pope blesses all religious articles people bring to the Weds audiences for that purpose (and perhaps at the Sunday Angelus, etc., too, though it is not announced specifically) at the same time he blesses the people with his Apostolic Benediction. He uses the triple sign of the cross reserved to bishops.This has been done for a long time. Even a hundred years ago liturgical publications made it clear that the pope uniquely dispenses all blessings of articles (even the old ones once reserved to religious orders) simply by making a sign of the cross over them – i.e. his simple sign of the cross would accomplish the St. Benedict medal blessing even without the elaborate prayers usually required. Back before 1968 indulgences were specifically attached to religious articles, by the way – as in, the power of the object to obtain you the indulgence for using it devoutly had to be individually “authorized” for a particular owner by the priest as part of the blessing. If you gave your own, say, rosary away.after a Dominican priest had blessed and indulgenced” it with the ritual reserved to the Dominicans, it would have to be done over again for the new owner. In my opinion, Ven. Paul VI’s revision/simplification of the older “Raccolta” (code of indulgences) is a bright spot among 60s reforms.

    Regarding papal audience blessings of objects, though – no cause for concern. After all, as pope he holds the power of the keys.

  8. Boniface says:

    Louis: one beautiful and simple explanation I once heard is that a blessed thing is “touched by Christ.” I love the way older priests often gently bring their hand down upon an object as soon as they finish the sign of the cross/prayer.

    More technical definitions don’t really help much: “reserved for sacred use,” etc.

  9. spock says:

    It was said to me by a Catholic priest in the Byzantine tradition that their deacons do not bless anything. He went on to say that western deacons can give blessings ( This particular priest was bi-ritual, East/West; but was ordained for the East ) The difference between East/West is interesting to me. At what point in time ( if any ) were they the same ?

    This is off topic but some of the Eastern Orthodox Churches allow for deaconesses. Perhaps this is an ecclesial possibility for them since since the definition of deacon appears to be different since the western deacons can bless and the eastern deacons ( apparently ) can’t ?

  10. Imrahil says:

    Dear Boniface, good points! Thank you!

  11. As Fr Finelli indicated, we are to add a sign of the cross when using the newer “Book of Blessings”. Text of the decree from the CDW on my blog: http://fatherjerabek.com/2014/04/30/sign-of-cross-in-blessings/

    Not that adding in a sign of the cross automatically changes it to a constitutive blessing — the words are still invocative. For this reason I also prefer to use the 1962 book.

  12. Chon says:

    Can a deacon bless a grave site? The “busy” priest sent his deacon to finish off my sister’s funeral.

    Spock: I’d be very interested to know which Eastern Orthodox churches have deaconesses. As far as I know, none of them do. It’s one thing some of the women are working hard to bring back. Thanks.

  13. “It was said to me by a Catholic priest in the Byzantine tradition that their deacons do not bless anything. He went on to say that western deacons can give blessings ( This particular priest was bi-ritual, East/West; but was ordained for the East ) The difference between East/West is interesting to me. At what point in time ( if any ) were they the same ?

    This is off topic but some of the Eastern Orthodox Churches allow for deaconesses. Perhaps this is an ecclesial possibility for them since since the definition of deacon appears to be different since the western deacons can bless and the eastern deacons ( apparently ) can’t ?”

    Spock: The episcopate, the presbyterate, and the diaconate are always and everywhere the same. If an ordination is valid, it’s the same Order, whether Latin or Eastern, schismatic or Catholic. Speaking as a Byzantine Catholic, our deacons do not bless because long ago our tradition saw fit to restrict blessings as most befitting the priesthood. That’s not to say our deacons *can’t* bless; they can, because they can speak in the name of the Church. Any deacon has the potential capacity to bless, but only if canon law permits it. Our canons do not, and our tradition does not, and therefore, our deacons don’t bless.

    Deaconesses are a complicated story. Suffice it to say that there are ample reasons to believe they are not sacramentally equivalent to the sacred Order of the diaconate. Opinions in Eastern Orthodoxy on deaconesses are varied, but the Catholic position is pretty clear.

  14. jbas says:

    If only someone would republish the old ritual with appropriate bits in English.

  15. KevinSymonds says:

    @jbas: Preserving Christian Publications has done this:

    http://www.amazon.com/Ritual-Weller-Rituale-Romanum-Volumes/dp/B000Z1UL5S/ref=pd_sim_sbs_b_2?ie=UTF8&refRID=0DPBVNSBGM5R8NVY7SNM

    Their web site is acting up on my computer, so I am forced to give the Amazon link.

  16. Magash says:

    I’ve heard there is a move afoot to revise De Benedictionibus, Is this just wishful thinking on the part of my sources? Has anyone else heard this?

  17. Mrs. Amen says:

    When the new Blessing of an Unborn Child ws approved, I was expecting and a Deacon at our Parish wanted to do the blessing for our baby. I was able to postpone him by saying I would like m husband to know about and be present for any such blessing. We didn’t encounter the Deacon aagin (together) until after our daughter was born. Thankfully. I am hesitant to “correct” our Deacons as I am such a “new” Catholic. Like at the baptism class when I was pregnant, another Deacon went into a long story about how limbo was abolished from Church teaching and that I can be assured that my unborn baby would go to heaven because of my desire for baptism for the baby (some sort of baptism by desire by proxy arrangement apparently).

  18. cl00bie says:

    So a bishop has more “juice” than a priest who has more “juice” than a deacon. I guess if you can get the pope to bless it that is the bestest!!!