ASK FATHER: Dealing with “blessings” from Extraordinary Ministers of Communion

From a reader…

QUAERITUR:

At Mass yesterday, I saw an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion dispensing “blessings” for those in line who have not yet received their First Communion or were choosing simply to come up for a blessing. As my wife and I expect our first child, I’m concerned that other well-intentioned EMHCs will try to “bless” our child (especially later in the future, when our children walk up with us to bow before the Lord). Short of a Heisman Trophy stance or going to an “ordinary” minister, do you have suggestions, especially later when children are more independent and walking up there on their own?

In my opinion, when it is feasible, the best course of action for those who are not going to receive Holy Communion is for them to not come forward for Holy Communion.

Ideally, one parent can sit with the kids while the other goes forward, and when that parent returns, the other goes forward. As the children get older, they can be trusted to stay in the pew and behave themselves when Mom and Dad go forward to receive.

What makes this tough is the widespread practice of row-by-row Communion, almost enforced by draconian ushers… err, excuse me, hospitality ministers.   We should end that practice.  While it is orderly, it creates more problems (especially psychological pressure to go forward with everyone else – when you shouldn’t) than it solves.

The ever more widespread practice of “blessings” at the time for Holy Communion can seem like an unstoppable juggernaut. Fathers!  Just stop!  Add to this the flawed theology of blessings that we have thanks in no small part to the dreadful Book of ‘Blessings’ and we have some major confusion.

A hand on the child’s forehead might discourage a would-be blesser.

As you rightly note, these blessings are usually given by well-intentioned persons. Nothing evil is imparted by someone giving such a blessing. I don’t children need to be protected from them.

A simple bit of catechesis afterwards can help, too, “Now Doris, that man who traced a cross on your forehead is not a priest or deacon, so he didn’t actually bless you, but he meant well. He is confused.  Do you want to pray for him?”

Side note… I had this from another reader:

From their youngest age we taught our children to form a cross with their fingers and hiss (as if warding off a vampire) if an EMHC tries to “bless” them. We’ve found that this gets the point across (excuse the pun), while causing only limited disruption in the Communion line.

I hope they don’t use the vampire-warding hiss when a layperson says, “God bless you,” after a sneeze.  Seriously, I know the fellow who sent this and he was being jocular.

Please share!

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35 Responses to ASK FATHER: Dealing with “blessings” from Extraordinary Ministers of Communion

  1. Nicholas says:

    I was taught that, because of Baptism, anyone can give a blessing. Would that not apply to EMHC?

    Or was I simply taught incorrectly in my admittedly liberal Confirmation class, where I have been scolded for encouraging Confession?

  2. Michael_Thoma says:

    Nicholas,

    You’ve been taught incomplete. You can ‘ask’ for the Lord’s blessing – to your children, to your meal, to your endeavor, etc. You cannot ‘give’ a blessing since that requires the priestly office. Lately, some of this has trickled down to Deacons in the Latin Rite, so Latin Rite Deacons can now give some blessings they couldn’t before. A secondary issue is this gesture that some people create or mimic, that of the priest, in that blessing. While I suppose it wouldn’t matter so much at home, or privately – although odd – it is out of place at public celebrations where priests are present, as it blurs the distinction between clergy and laity.

    My practice (I’m Syriac Catholic) is to pray over my meal when at home with no gesture; ask the Lord’s blessing during our prayers in the morning or evening for my kids by having them kiss the icon/cross/Bible and/or drawing the cross over their foreheads or usually lightly touching their forehead with the back of my hand. When at Church or in the priest’s presence, Father will bless all of us. If our Bishop is present, he will bless, not our priest. If our (MajorArchbishop) Catholicos is present, he will bless not our Eparch. There is beauty in the ecclesial order.

  3. Clemens Romanus says:

    I just told our Worship Commission this.

    Book of Blessings:
    “no. 28. Because some blessings have a special relationship to the sacraments, they may sometimes be joined with the celebration of Mass. This book specifies what such blessings are and the part or rite with which they are to be joined; it also provides ritual norms that may not be disregarded. No blessings except those so specified may be joined with the eucharistic celebration.

  4. Nicholas, you need authority to confer a blessing. Thus, parents can (and should!) bless their children, but a child cannot bless his parents, because the authority does not flow in that direction. On the other hand, a priest can bless his own parents, because as a priest, he has the necessary authority.

  5. P.S. Book of Blessings delenda est!

  6. Patti Day says:

    Our priest frequently invites non-Catholics to come forward for a blessing. When I was EMHCing I would not give these blessings. I merely smiled at the person until they moved off. I did not think I had any authority to bless someone in this way. I looked over at the head EMHC one Sunday and saw her bending over a teenage girl while cupping her hand over her head and speaking words over her. That was the last time I distributed the precious wine. I would never do so again unless there were a true emergency, which in our small parish is highly unlikely.

  7. RAve says:

    It _can_ be harmless. But be careful: we had a Gaia worship feminazi who pretended to be Catholic (I knew her and she did not believe any Catholic doctrine) and was an EMHC, and after I caught her blessing my children “in the name of the father-mother, Jesus and the spirit” I asked the priest to intervene and correct the problem, but he refused. I would simply divert my children to the priest line when she was assigned to our line, and it did cause a bit of momentary confusion but it was not my problem because the priest refused to do the right thing. Be careful.

  8. Clemens Romanus says:

    Yes, I much prefer the Rituale Romanum, which actually blesses things, to the Book of Blessings.

  9. SimonDodd says:

    I hadn’t encountered the “pushy usher” problem until a few weeks ago at a parish that I was visiting. While I agree that ushers are unnecessary, I don’t think it’s impolite or inappropriate that, if ushers exist, they tap someone in prayer on the shoulder. They mean well. But having been acknowledged, it seems like the thing to do is move on. Not tap the person on the shoulder again.

  10. DavidJ says:

    The priests and deacons at our parish give the blessings, so I will let my little ones come with me in the line if there is a priest or deacon dispensing. If it’s only a EMHC on our side of the church, we’ll keep them in the pews and then I’ll personally bless them after receiving the Eucharist. At least I know _that_ blessing is efficacious.

  11. colospgs says:

    I’m a little confused about how communion would be if not row by row. I can’t picture in my mind how it would look any other way. Can someone describe this to me please?

  12. Geoffrey says:

    As a newly instituted acolyte (and therefore extraordinary minister of holy communion), I do not attempt to “give blessings” when people come up to me with their arms crossed. But until our pastors are faithful to the directives of Rome, I have to do something; I can’t just ignore people as they approach. So, I decided a while back to say the traditional Christian greeting: “Praised be Jesus Christ”. I always get a smile and people seem to walk away satisfied.

  13. mpolo says:

    I’m generally substituting for another priest in a parish, so can’t really change things (it’s even more difficult, since that group of four parishes has had no priest for the last year, and the administrator, who has four parishes of his own, tends toward the “progressive” direction.

    As a result, I usually give a blessing (May Almighty God bless you…) when children come up, while making a cross with my hand as a priest does, rather than drawing a cross on their foreheads like a parent might do. And I know that it is reprobated and is not the proper place for a blessing, but I don’t see any real way out of it, either.

  14. jacobi says:

    Only those in a state of grace and otherwise properly disposed should go forward to receive Holy Communion. Other should stay in their seats.

    A state of grace is clear, freedom from serious, that is mortal, sin.

    Proper disposition is that it is not to be from routine, or to show off, or to earn the respect or notice of others.

    This is all set out in Quam Singulari, 1905, which advises frequent Communion although the Church still requires us to receive only once a year.

    There is no need to go forward for a blessing. The blessing at the end of the Mass covers that.

  15. cwillia1 says:

    coloscgs, When I was in a little Mexican village, the evangelicals sat in the back of the church and the Catholics sat in the front. It seemed like the whole town went to mass. In Ireland at the church in Traymore, people went up to receive individually when they were ready, no ushers and no orderly lines.

    Geoffrey, as a Byzantine Catholic I always cross my arms as I approach the chalice. So far I have not had a problem in a Latin Rite church with someone trying to bless me when I approach to receive. I hope EMHCs understand that not everyone with his arms crossed wants a blessing.

  16. Volanges says:

    colospgs, when Communion was received kneeling at the rail, people surged forward in no particular order. People went forward when they’d done their personal preparation and felt ready to receive. You could be standing two rows deep across the front of the church waiting for your turn to kneel at the rail. That surging forward didn’t die down immediately when we went to receiving standing.

    In my home parish the layout didn’t lend itself to row by row, with pews arranged as they were in three sections: short side pews, aisle, long center pews, aisle, short side pews. You still had to come around the pews and gather in front of that center section of pews to finally reach Father standing a step above you where the gate to the sanctuary had once been.

    It was a few years into the practice of Communion standing that row by row developed there and as I recall that didn’t occur until they rearranged the pew layout to form a center aisle and then used ushers to direct traffic at the next Midnight Mass. It took at least two years of ushers at that Mass for people to slowly start ‘ushering’ themselves at all Masses.

    In Europe in 2013, I attended Mass at Notre Dame and San Marco.There was no orderly row by row exiting of the pews there. People came forward as they felt ready to do so. It was no more chaotic than anywhere else.

  17. JBS says:

    If the presence of those ineligible to communicate must be publicly acknowledged with a blessing right in the very middle of the Communion Rite, then the episcopal conference should, by a 2/3 vote, request the inclusion of such a blessing in the Roman Missal. Perhaps there could also be a formal description of what such souls can expect to gain from this “Blessing During the Rite of Holy Communion”.

    If baptized infants are to receive a blessing at this time, then perhaps this should be administered with the Sacred Host, as the (reformed) Roman Ritual directs clergy to impart to the sick who are physically, but not spiritually, unable to receive.

  18. L. says:

    My mother used to observe, with disgust, that the hand that was laid on greasy hair to impart a blessing was the hand that gave her communion.

  19. Missionary Greg says:

    I would like someone to address this. I think we are missing the boat. Something often avoided is the positive side of these arguments. Holy Priests I wish men like you would form laity but I think to much is focused on what laity should not be doing (which is important) but a good balance would be to form the laity for the work proper ot them in the Church. As set forth by the Magisterium as it is now not what some think it should be. After all it is your job as Shepherds to do so and people are hungry for orthodox formation and leadership. 1669 Sacramentals derive from the baptismal priesthood: every baptized person is called to be a “blessing,” and to bless.174 Hence lay people may preside at certain blessings; the more a blessing concerns ecclesial and sacramental life, the more is its administration reserved to the ordained ministry (bishops, priests, or deacons).17

  20. ChrisRawlings says:

    Yeah, my daughter simply stays in her seat. The idea that that somehow make her feel invalid is absurd. What she should feel, at least as she grows older, is that Holy Communion is an enormous gift that should be approached with great reverence and preparation.

  21. JBS says:

    Missionary Greg,

    Yes, pastors of souls should teach the laity to exercise their particular lay vocation in the home and in civil society.

  22. JohnE says:

    I’m also curious about how distribution of Holy Communion would work if not row by row. We usually kneel after receiving, but if someone decides to wait a bit before going up, then people would have to sit back to let him through — and this could possibly happen a few times. Seems like it would be difficult to just shut your eyes and focus on our Lord. But the way it is done now does lend itself towards people being very self-conscious if they stay behind in the pew. “I probably shouldn’t go up for Communion this week, but people are going to wonder what I did.” And others are more conscious of them too. “Wonder why he’s staying behind this week? Hmm, and his girlfriend is too. I hope it’s not why I think it is.”

    [This isn’t string theory. We just work it out with commonsense. Another thing that would help is to length the Eucharistic fast.]

  23. votefassino24 says:

    For those wondering about specifically why lay people do not have the competency to bless during the Mass, this article from a canonist in the Diocese of Madison is a great one-stop shop: http://www.madisoncatholicherald.org/guestcolumn/2517-matenaer.html

  24. Stephen D says:

    Why does anyone accept the Body and Blood of Christ from anyone but a priest? I don’t and know others who don’t. Just get in the priest’s line no matter what. These people shouldn’t be distributing except in emergencies, and I have never seen an emergency requiring their presence in decades of Mass going.

  25. andia says:

    What about seminarians, are they supposed to be giving blessings?

    Is there a way to indicate you don’t wish a blessing ,if said seminarian comes to you?

  26. One factoid not mentioned is that one doesn’t give blessings in the presence of the Eucharist – the Eucharist trumps everything. I say this clumsily but does anybody know what I mean?
    This is related to why the priest covers his hands with the stole as he holds up the Monstrance to bless the Faithful at Exposition/Adoration: this illustrates how the priest is not blessing us, God in the Eucharist is blessing us.
    So who in the world came up with the idea of dissing the presence of the Eucharist, while distributing communion, by stopping to give a personal blessing? God is right there.

    How effective is a blessing on those who are not in a state of grace?
    As others have already commented, the hierarchy of authority has to be in play for a real blessing.
    What’s with touching the heads of those blessed with the same hand that touches the Eucharist? Not only is it not very clean, what about the teensy particles of the Host being scattered and desecrated?

  27. Fr. Hamilton says:

    What we have here with this practice of blessing non-communicants in the line for Holy Communion is a novelty introduced into the Holy Mass and having no authority. It has resulted in introducing several other problems: now there is confusion of the purpose for the line for Holy Communion; now non-communicants are approaching and, in the ensuing confusion, are more likely to take Holy Communion; now a new liturgical gesture (which isn’t consistently done or done clearly) is fabricated with arms crossed over the chest; now the blessing has eclipsed actual reception of Holy Communion; now there is decreased incentive to change mortal sin in a person’s life and so some people just go on decade after decade coming up for a blessing instead of Holy Communion; now lay ministers mimic the priest and seem to think they impart blessings; now it is the priest’s duty to discern every manner of sloppy presence in the line to know who is there for Holy Communion and who is there for a blessing; now it is the priest’s fault if he misreads cues and doesn’t give everybody what he wants. All foolishness. All unnecessary. All a distraction from what is full participation in the Mass and what the Lord desires for us: He doesn’t want us settling for a blessing; He wants us to remove all obstacles so that we can receive his Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity worthily.

    Seeing all these comments makes me ever more confident in the decision I made as Pastor to discontinue this novelty a few years back. We must stop the endless train of novelty introduced into the Sacred Liturgy! Why does this novelty arise? Because we have traded our birthright for a fabricated liturgy, inorganically foisted upon us. Nature abhors a vacuum. So, lacking what we should have in the Mass we now seek to fill the void with made-up Hallmark gestures.

    Enough already. I tell my parish that I am always happy to bless non-communicants. However the place for that is NOT the line for Holy Communion. Instead I ask non-communicating adults and children to see me after Mass in the narthex where I happily (and appropriately) bless anyone and anything. If you want to read the remarks (not exhaustive) I made to my parish announcing the discontinuing of blessings in the Communion line they can be found here: http://www.stmonica-edmond.org/_blog/Homilies_and_Remarks/tag/remarks/

  28. kimberley jean says:

    A priest at my parish once told the story of how surprised he was when he went to Mass in Italy for the first time. The parishioners didn’t get up row by row, they all just sort rushed to the front and muscled their way in line. He thinks Americans are too touchy for that to work here.

  29. I’ve also been to Masses where the people in the pews are asked to raise their arms and confer a blessing—usually, blessing the EMHCs, who are going to visit the homebound.

    More dubious: a blessing of the people on the priests for World Priest Day.

    Weird.

  30. +JMJ+ says:

    I looked, but can’t find the specific reference. However as I recall, several years ago, the CDW wrote an informal letter indicating that this practice was improper and should be discouraged. I certainly wish that they’d formalize this.

    I’m an EMHC in our Parish (let’s not open that can of worms here – suffice it to say that our Parish will use entirely too many EMHCs at every Mass whether I’m one or not, but at least I know that I’m doing it correctly, as opposed to some things I see). Our pastor has not only mandated that we do this when people present themselves for a blessing, but has also prescribed the form. Also, as faithful as our Bishop is, I’ve been at Mass at the Cathedral with the Bishop where people have been invited forward for a blessing at Communion as well. Aargh!

  31. benedictgal says:

    From a 2008 letter issued by the CDW:

    1. The liturgical blessing of the Holy Mass is properly given to each and to all at the conclusion of the Mass, just a few moments subsequent to the distribution of Holy Communion.

    2. Lay people, within the context of Holy Mass, are unable to confer blessings. These blessings, rather, are the competence of the priest (cf. Ecclesia de Mysterio, Notitiae 34 (15 Aug. 1997), art. 6, § 2; Canon 1169, § 2; and Roman Ritual De Benedictionibus (1985), n. 18).

    3. Furthermore, the laying on of a hand or hands — which has its own sacramental significance, inappropriate here — by those distributing Holy Communion, in substitution for its reception, is to be explicitly discouraged.

    4. The Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio n. 84, “forbids any pastor, for whatever reason to pretext even of a pastoral nature, to perform ceremonies of any kind for divorced people who remarry”. To be feared is that any form of blessing in substitution for communion would give the impression that the divorced and remarried have been returned, in some sense, to the status of Catholics in good standing.

    5. In a similar way, for others who are not to be admitted to Holy Communion in accord with the norm of law, the Church’s discipline has already made clear that they should not approach Holy Communion nor receive a blessing. This would include non-Catholics and those envisaged in can. 915 (i.e., those under the penalty of excommunication or interdict, and others who obstinately persist in manifest grave sin).

    JMJ, your pastor has NO AUTHORITY to prescribe his own form. Just because he and your bishop are doing their own thing, that does not mean that it should be done. Sacrosanctum Concilium and Redemptionis Sacramentum are VERY CLEAR about this prohibition.

  32. benedictgal says:
  33. The Masked Chicken says:

    “[This isn’t string theory. We just work it out with commonsense…]”

    I wish it were string theory, then the line would have an extra 8 dimensions to work with. Those not wishing to or unable to go to Communion can stay in the bottom 3 or 4 dimensions :)

    The Chicken

  34. Stephen Matthew says:

    As much as I dislike the “make everyone rigidly adhere to the same posture” approach, I think something could be said for the idea of people either standing or sitting during the period people will be entering/exiting the pews for communion, and then all can kneel once that is complete. Ideally perhaps we could all stand and sing the Communion Proper together as people go to communion and return, each at the moment she feels most comfortable (or he decides not to receive at that moment). Then all could kneel for a period of silence while the priest returns the Blessed Sacrament to the Tabernacle and the deacon purifies the sacred vessels. We should want to extend that moment just after receiving the Eucharist, and while the communion procession is going is a very distracting time to try to pray individually (there is the procession itself, people coming and going to the bathroom, the chant is being sung, it is a very busy and fussy period until the procession ends), doubly so if you are in the last row and the celebrant moves directly to the post-communion prayer with no pause. Better to set aside a period of silence after all have finished receiving so everyone may pray and receive more fully those interior spiritual graces of the sacrament.

  35. +JMJ+ says:

    @benedictgal –

    JMJ, your pastor has NO AUTHORITY to prescribe his own form. Just because he and your bishop are doing their own thing, that does not mean that it should be done. Sacrosanctum Concilium and Redemptionis Sacramentum are VERY CLEAR about this prohibition.

    Thank you for the reference. The article, which I initially found this in, suggested substituting the admonishment “Receive Christ into your heart” for an actual blessing. Unfortunately, so many people have been conditioned to this that they won’t move until you do something. With kids, you can just give communion to the next person in line over their heads and usually their parents will shoo them out of the way, but when it’s an adult, you usually can’t get around them…

    Is this something that just happens in the US, or does it happen elsewhere as well? And does it happen everywhere in the US?

    If this shouldn’t happen, I wish the CDW would come out with something stronger and say that this practice must be discontinued (along with the hand-grabs during the Our Father, while they’re at it). Or if it’s to be permitted, then I wish they’d say it and prescribe a form. But it bugs the heck out of me every time I see it.