ASK FATHER: Lay people using the Rituale Romanum to bless things

UPDATE:

People don’t always read carefully before they react.

Let me be clear.  It is okay – it is good – for parents to bless their children by tracing the sign of the Cross on their foreheads.

Stop sending me questions about that. Read what is posted, below.

It is NOT okay for lay people to attempt to exorcise things.  It is NOT okay for lay people to attempt to bless in the manner of a priest, that is by making the sign of the Cross over someone in the usual way that priests do.

___ Original Published on: Aug 3, 2017

From a reader…

QUAERITUR:

In a fairly popular book about celebrating the liturgical year at home, The Year and Our Children, the author recommends purchasing “the Ritual, that slim black book the priest carries about when he gives the blessings.” She goes on to explain how her family “blessed” their own herbs. Can you tell me if laypersons can bless objects and if so, under what conditions? Thank you!

I don’t know that book.  You haven’t quoted any of the book, so – since your planet’s yellow star doesn’t give my the psychic power I would need to know what it says – I don’t know what it says.  However, my first reaction is…

NO!

Lay people should not do anything like that, especially involving making the sign of the Cross over anything, as if they were ordained priests.

NO! I say, and again I say NO!

Take things to the priest to bless.

Ask Father to come to bless things.

This is not DIY, people.

If you are not a priest, don’t do these things.  Don’t use the Rituale for anything, especially if there is something to do with exorcisms.   You do NOT want to get into it with the Enemy when you don’t have the grace of ordained priesthood and the authority and power that comes with it.

There is no reason why lay people can’t ask God to bless things.  However, it should not be done with accompanying gestures of blessing, etc.

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35 Responses to ASK FATHER: Lay people using the Rituale Romanum to bless things

  1. frthomashoisington says:

    The Year and Our Children is published by Sophia Institute Press, which is usually a solid source for information and counsel. It’s surprising that any author published by SIP would encourage a layperson to act as if he or she were ordained. I wonder if the author of the question to Fr. Z could provide a screenshot from the book showing what the book suggests that laypersons do in this regard.

  2. YoungLatinMassGuy says:

    From the moment a young man signs on the line, to the moment the first bullet flies by his head in combat can be anywhere from 6 months to 2+ years.

    In that time, he is training FOR bootcamp. In bootcamp/recruit training, he is training more. Learning the ins and outs out the branch of the military he’s chosen.

    After that, he’s going to Advanced Individual Training, where he will be pushed even more.

    Before they deploy to a combat zone, there will be even more training…

    They basically go through hell-on-Earth and back again through that time period.

    And even with all that behind them… A lot of them will freak out when placed into actual combat…

    We don’t have untrained, out of shape civilians put on a heavy combat load, and walk down a street in Fallujah surrounded by people who want to behead them on al-Jazeera.

    Likewise, we shouldn’t have laymen dealing with the demonic.

  3. Charles E Flynn says:

    A search inside the contents of the book on Amazon.com (ISBN 1933184272) shows no hits for “ritual”, “rituale”, or “blessing”. As they say at Wikipedia, citation needed.

  4. The Year and Our Children was written by the late Mary Reed Newland and originally published in the mid-1950’s. It is reprinted by Sophia. I have read it, used to own a copy. Can’t remember if it had an imprimatur.

  5. JABV says:

    I was taught to say the following prayer “over” my children: May the blessings of Almighty God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, descend upon you and protect you from all evil.
    1) This is licit due to the use of “may,” correct?
    2) Would it be improper to trace the Sign of the Cross on the child’s forehead while saying this prayer?
    3) I heard this referred to as “a father blessing his children.” Is this terminology incorrect?

  6. Credoh says:

    Does this also apply to a father blessing his family, say at bedtime prayers or when commanding a suspected disruptive spirit away from one of his children? Although a father has spiritual authority over his family, should he still use the deprecative form?

  7. amulack says:

    exactly what I was thinking, Credoh. Several parents I know bless their children with the accompanying gesture of using their thumb to trace the Sign of the Cross on the forehead (with and without holy water).

  8. I second the question about fathers blessing their families. The original question talks about blessing inanimate objects, but clarification about blessing persons and about lines of authority is good. I always thought parents may bless their children because of their authority over them (whereas children who are not priests do not have the authority to bless their parents).

    I feel fairly certain that extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion have no authority to “bless” those who come up to them in the Communion line with hands crossed over their breasts, and that they are way, way out of line “blessing” people with the Host. Ditto for invitations to the congregation to raise their hands and “bless” people at Mass. (I always expect the choir to break out in the Horst Wessel Lied at that point.)

  9. ThankyouB16 says:

    Very much wish Father would answer Credoh, but add: what about commanding evil, and evil spirits to leave yourself…or should we stick with deprecative, always?

  10. I recently came to believe that a father can bless his children using the sign of the cross – but not using any prayer from the rituale.

  11. Andrew_81 says:

    Perhaps it advises using the prayers of the Rituale without advising the signs?

    That seems justifiable for piety sake and for some minor invocative blessings. In fact, it’s basically what we do when we say “grace”. We use a shortened formula of the ,Benedictio Mensæ — even laymen.

    In the case where the blessing just asks God to bless someone or something (deprecative), it seems benign for a layman to recite the prayer to ask God for a blessing … if it doesn’t prevent people from going to the priest for real blessings.

    And yes, stay away from the exorcism stuff, even the “St. Michael Exorcism” which the ritual advises to be used by bishops and priests, not by laity.

    Still, Father, I’d agree : Priests need to be ready to promptly bless whatever is reasonably requested.

    As long as it’s not junky kitsch, is fit for blessing and the request is reasonable, this priest will happily bless whatever is put in front of him — and even will get some joy in tracking down the more unique blessings — and he’ll even do it all in Latin using that nice Nova et Vetera edition!

  12. I suspect that the author is referring to the _Shorter Book of Blessings (Roman Ritual)_: https://www.amazon.com/Shorter-Book-Blessings-Roman-Ritual/dp/0899425666

    As many of the blessings in that book have no sign of the cross and are in the deprecative form, I am not sure why their use would be limited to priests (and deacons).

    But then I am not a liturgist . . .

    P.S. to Credoh and Fr. Z: it was my understanding that parents could bless their children by using the thumb to trace a cross on the child’s forehead, the way those present (incl. parents, etc.) “claim the child for Christ” during the modern rite of Baptism. Am I mistaken?

  13. Iustinius Defensor says:

    There is a distinction to be made between imparting a blessing and asking for God’s blessing. If the person performing the sign of the Cross understands this, it is a great help to them. I once read that the blessings of lay people are efficacious according to their level of holiness, whereas the blessings of priests are always efficacious due to their ordination. That being said, St. Benedict made the sign of the Cross over his food and he was most likely not a priest, at least according to a number of Benedictines in Rome. I, as a layman, make the sign of the Cross over my food, but that is the extent of it. The other items, especially of a religious nature, I would take to a priest. I also make the sign of the Cross on my godchildren.

  14. JustaSinner says:

    Priest need to do Priest-things, and lay people need to do lay-people things. So simple. But…….what is proper response of lay-person when their request for blessing objects is scorned by said Priests?

  15. Chris Garton-Zavesky says:

    My son recently purchased a car, which I had to pick up for him because ….. [that’s too complicated, and off topic]. Before delivering the car to him, I made sure to have it blessed by our pastor, using the old book. I did the same thing when we purchased a replacement for a car we lost in a crash. I guess the simple question I want someone to ask is this: if we keep taking priestly duties and pretending that anyone can do these things….. why on earth would we wonder about the collapse of vocations?

  16. Mike_in_Kenner says:

    I have the book mentioned in the question. Perhaps I can provide some information from it.

    The Year and Our Children: Catholic Family Celebrations for Every Season, by Mary Reed Newland, was originally published by The Firefly Press in San Diego in 1956. It had a nihil obstat from Rev. Andrew A. Martin and an imprimatur from Most Rev. Christopher J. Weldon, Bishop of Springfield, Massachusetts, granted March 7, 1956. The book was republished by Sophia Institute Press in 2007.

    It explains various traditional Catholic customs, and provides prayers and blessing ceremonies from the Romal Ritual, using the translation by Rev. Philip I. Weller (mentioned on p. 37 of the Sophia Institute Press edition), and also provides prayers and ceremonies from other sources–some of the blessings mentioned are not in the Roman Ritual. Some of the suggested prayers are just the collect of the particular feast day.

    The passage that the questioner alluded to is on p. 280 of the Sophia edition. The author describes her family preparing and conducting a blessing of herbs associated with the Feast of the Assumption. The description of the various items prepared for the event includes this text: “The next item was the Ritual, that slim black book the priest carries about when he gives the blessings, and a valuable addition to family life.”

    The book does contain something of a caveat about laity reading prayers from the Ritual. On pp. 77-78 of the Sophia edition it says: “There is a difference between blessings given by a priest and the same blessings read by the father or some older member of the family when it is not possible to have the priest present. But it is a mistake to consider them without efficacy when the layman reads them. By our Baptism we have a share in Christ’s Priesthood. If we are part of Christ in His Mystical Body, and He is High Priest, we share this with Him. Ours is not the same as the power of the consecrated priest, but it is our right and privilege to ask God’s blessing on the things we use in daily life, and we should exercise this privilege often.”

    The texts of blessings given in the book, using the Weller translation, include the leader saying, “The Lord be with you,” and the others responding, “And with your spirit.” It would seem that such phrasing is not appropriate for use by anyone not at least ordained to the diaconate, considering how that phrase is modified in the Divine Office when someone not at least a deacon presides. However, I think that rubric in the Divine Office was a change in the 1960/1961 rubrics, so maybe that was not clear when the book was originally published in 1956. The suggested blessings also end with sprinkling the objects with holy water, in the same way that a priest would.

    In browsing through the book I have not seen anything that suggests using any prayers of exorcism.

  17. Giuseppe says:

    Anyone can ask God to bless someone. When we say “Bless you” when someone sneezes, we don’t bless that person — we are asking God to bless them. Is it short for for “(May God) bless you”?

    I was taught by a fantastic nun that we never impart a blessing, but rather that we ask for God’s blessing on things or people or ourselves, and we make our own sign of the cross. She cautioned us never to simulate the role of a priest (save for emergency Baptism.) If one does feel that imparting a blessing on someone or something, one should know that it has no more power than making the sign of the cross on yourself, and (in an era of loose boundaries) it runs the risk of appearing to simulate the role of a priest. Why risk it?

    What could be more beautiful than a father and mother asking God to bless their children and them all making the sign of the cross? Why would a father have to simulate the role of a priest to bless his children? I admit, my culture never included paternal blessings and I was born slightly after Vatican II, so I might not fully appreciate the history of paternal blessings for children, but it seems really bizarre that a father would simulate the role of a priest or deacon.)

  18. Ylonila del Mar says:

    I visited a Dominican (habited!) nun friend of mine last year. She stretched out her hand for me to bless (see, we here in the Philippines have this tradition of taking the back of our elders’ and priests’ hands and putting our foreheads on them like the “kiss the ring” thing with the bishops and Popes). When we bid each other goodbye, she “blessed” me with the sign of the Cross and I found it quite odd since I thought that was only for clergy. I was reminded of my parish priest who’s hated by a number of nuns in my place because of his insistence that they’re laypeople only in a religious congregation.

    Now at another incident, some seminarians from a religious order native here visited one of my folks on her birthday. They made this weird “singing” while one of them started strumming his guitar frenzied. Then one of the seminarians started putting his hands over her to “bless” her. I striked me as rather cultish, and I also wondered if that too was appropriate since they’re unordained seminarians after all. Oh, and their formation master, a priest, was not present at that time so I wonder too if he’d be cool with that if he was present.

  19. Geoffrey says:

    According to Fr Z’s favourite tome, “The Roman Ritual: Book of Blessings”:

    “An acolyte or reader [lector] who by formal institution has this special office in the Church is rightly preferred over another layperson as the minister designated at the discretion of the local Ordinary to impart certain blessings. Other laymen and laywomen, in virtue of the universal priesthood, a dignity they possess because of their baptism and confirmation, may celebrate certain blessings, as indicated in the respective orders of blessings, by use of the rites and formularies designated for a lay minister. Such laypersons exercise this ministry in virtue of their office (for example, parents on behalf of their children) or by reason of some special liturgical ministry or in fulfillment of a particular charge in the Church… But whenever a priest or a deacon is present, the office of presiding should be left to him” (General Introduction, no. 18, d).

    In the various “orders of blessings”, lay ministers are directed to not say “The Lord be with you”, etc., and when an ordained minister makes the sign of the cross, instituted ministers (and “lay” ministers) are to make the sign of the cross over himself.

    As an instituted acolyte, I have made use of the “Book of Blessings” rarely, and then only among family, i.e. for birthday blessings, a new home, etc. If I were not an instituted minister, I wouldn’t bother. I do wish instituted ministers were the only laymen who could do these “lay blessings”, but oh well…

  20. Luke_H says:

    I bless my children at the end of the day, but I do not make the Sign of the Cross nor do I name the Holy Trinity, believing that to be proper to ordained ministers. I simply lay my hand on their heads and say ‘May The Lord bless you, keep you from all evil, and bring you to ever lasting life; may He grant you a quiet night and a perfect end’. That is sufficient and appropriate.

  21. Unwilling says:

    My ignorant clericalism seems to have led my practice aright. But this article and comments suggest that we would welcome a general post from you, Fr. Z., on the juridical and sacramental aspects of “the ordained priest’s … authority and power” to bless. Please.

  22. SundaySilence says:

    On one particulary bad drive (nasty traffic, several near misses) I did pull over, put the car in park, liberally sprinkle holy water throughout the vehicle, while yelling “Get out of here!”. The rest of my drive was soooo peaceful.

    Never underestimate the power of Holy Water! We need to bring back the custom of Holy Water fonts in each room…and use them daily.

    [For the admonition about Holy Water.]

    Fr. Z's Gold Star Award

  23. mharden says:

    What about a permanent deacon? Are they permitted to use the Rituale Romanum blessings? [In general, no.]

  24. Allan S. says:

    Fr. Chad Ripperger has opined extensively on this subject, and goes further than the general, default admonition against lay persons imparting blessings or using imprecatory exorcisms. Father explains what he calls the “divine economy of authority” wherein parents have a special divine authority over their children, a man over his wife etc. In these relationships only may lay persons impart a blessing to one over whom he/she has authority.

    That said, I do not recall Father ever saying this extends to either 1) using Rituale prayers, or 2) blessing objects – only specific souls/persons. In a related explanation, he explains that certain binding prayers (exorcisms) may be used on one’s own self (again, we have authority over ourselves) and those over whom we have authority. [I find that notion questionable. I don’t lay people should fool around with anything involving an exorcism.]

    Such lay blessings in these narrow cases are not, however, the same as priestly blessings. They may have similar effects, but they are different. Likewise, a priest cannot impart a parental blessing (except over his own children – Anglicanorum coetibus, etc.).

  25. Titus says:

    Some of the prayers in Volume III of the Rituale Romanum are easily adaptable to invocative forms. [If one knows what one is doing.] Andrew_81 mentions the prayer at mealtimes, which is the one with which everyone is most familiar. (The Rituale, though, has splendid antiphons to tack onto the standard prayer before meals on special feasts.) When a priest says the prayer, he blesses the food and makes the sign of the cross over it. When I, as a layman, say it, I simply sign myself at the beginning and end of the prayer. This is, I think, more or less what every Catholic does, almost intuitively.

    The Epiphany house blessing is another example. We try to get a priest to the house for that, but some years it just doesn’t work. Pull out your already-blessed chalk from last year, move a few words, don’t make the sign of the cross over anything, and you can muddle through, asking God’s blessing in the coming year.

    Now, interesting tangent: I had always understood that a father had the power to confer a constitutive blessing on his own children. True or false? [False. Not a “constitutive” blessing.]

  26. Jana Parma says:

    I have the book The Year and Our Children by author May Reed Newland but I can’t find the reference mentioned. The book does have a Nihil obstat and Imprimatur.

  27. Dan says:

    I had read that the parent has the right of blessing his children given their responsibility and dominiin over them. So a Extraordinary(abnormal) minister of Holy Communion cannot bless a strangers child but can bless their own. [Not in my opinion. They have no authority.]

    A quick google search yields this
    http://www.traditioninaction.org/Questions/F055_Blessing.html

    I don’t know how reliable it is but a section reads
    “The dominative power, says Suarez, does not pertain to the power of the keys and, therefore, does not come from Christ through a special gift given to the Church… The dominative power is the power of the head of the family over his children, the master over his servants. It is clearly distinct from the power of the keys and, consequently, the power of jurisdiction, properly speaking. (Dictionnaire de Droit Canonique, R. Naz, entry, Abbesses) ”

    which falls in line with what I recall reading in other sources I can’t immediately recall.

  28. Susan G says:

    I’m a little confused about your “never make the Sign of the Cross over anything”, Father. When I use Holy Water, or Blessed and Exorcised Salt, I usually sprinkle it in the form of a cross. For example, sprinkling it on my finger and then tracing a cross on my pillow asking God to protect me through the night. Or I add exorcised salt to baked goods while sprinkling it three times over the unbaked goods, asking for the protection of the Holy Trinity. I have never assumed I could bless things, I was instead using a blessed object. Am I wrong to use these in that way?

    [I wrote: “making the sign of the Cross over anything, as if they were ordained priests.” To be clear: don’t make the sign of the Cross in the manner of the priest, blessing. I don’t see anything wrong with your use of exorcised and blessed salt. Again and again when I have written about this topic I have written not to do things in the manner of ordained priests and to avoid attempting anything that involves an exorcism.]

  29. Gus Barbarigo says:

    Would anyone happen to have handy, please, a properly formed blessing that a father/Godfather could say over children/Godchildren?

  30. Worm-120 says:

    My mother traces the sign of the cross on us and says ” God bless my boy/girl/whichever kid” it’s a very private thing she only does to her own children, is it fine because it’s just a request and not the same thing a priest does? Requesting a blessing as apposed to giving a blessing?

    [For about the umpeenth time, it is okay for parents to bless their children in that way… but not in the manner that a priest would.]

  31. Yes, use holy water and blessed salt, blessed [by a PRIEST] in accordance with the Rituale. I use them, in part to drive away devils, but also in the hope that their use will help strengthen me against temptation.

  32. Allan S. says:

    JustaSinner asked: “what is proper response of lay-person when their request for blessing objects is scorned by said Priests?

    When this happens to me, I usually go with something like “I am very sorry I must be denied the graces which would have flowed from your blessing, but I defer to your authority. I will pray for you Father.” They REALLY don’t like that – especially the deference to “authority” (but I do pray for them).

    Excepting emergencies and other extraordinary contexts that could excuse such behaviour, it must be a terrible thing to receive one’s particular judgement as a priest who deliberately withheld God’s graces from personal pique or distaste for the Church’s traditional blessings. In the diocese of my former residence, I often was refused blessings requested from the Rituale, especially for Holy Water. Those priests clearly did not believe in the devil or in their powers and authorities re: exorcism, but would refuse to explicitly state so (at least to me). I recall wanting to have a pair of Rosaries blessed for my son and I, and I ended up having to mail them to an FSSP parish in another City with postage-paid return boxes, to get them traditionally blessed.

    Incredible. Why did they bother to become priests if they don’t want to do the things for which one is ordained? Why bother?

    [Very sad.]

  33. Katy_H says:

    Mike_in_Kenner – Thank you for including all the details! I was the person who submitted this question. I only recently opened this book and of course given the timing of the liturgical year, I skipped to this occasion of celebrating the Assumption… so I appreciate you pointing out the “caveat” on pg. 77.

    I am curious, as you surmised, if the book’s recommendation that a “leader” recite, “The Lord be with you” (with others responding, “And with your spirit”), as you said… “is not appropriate for use by anyone not at least ordained to the diaconate.” Fr. Z – your thoughts? [That exchange of greetings, “The Lord be with you… and with your spirit” is to be between the ordained and others. “And with your spirit refers to the ordained, ontologically changed character of the “leader”.]

    Here is an example that is specifically included in the book – pg. 281-282:
    “After the Gloria, the blessing continues, the leader reading the versicles, the others responding:
    Leader: The Lord will be gracious.
    All: And our land bring forth its fruit.
    Leader: Thou waterest the mountains from the clouds.
    All: The earth is replenished from Thy rains.
    Leader: Giving grass for cattle.
    All: And plants for the service of man.
    Leader: Thou bringest forth wheat from the earth.
    All: And wine to cheer man’s heart.
    Leader: He sends His command and heals their suffering.
    All: And snatches them from distressing want.
    Leader: O Lord, hear my prayer.
    All: And let my cry come unto Thee.
    Leader: The Lord be with you.
    All: And with thy spirit.

    Then follow three prayers of blessing, the first of which reads:

    Let us pray. Almighty, everlasting God, by Thy word alone Thous hast made Heaven, earth, sea, all things visible and invisible, and hast adorned the earth with plants and trees for the use of men and animals. Thou appointest each species to bring fruit in its kind, not only to serve as food for living creatures, but also as medicine to sick bodies. With mind and word, we earnestly appeal to Thine ineffable goodness to bless these various herbs and fruits, and add to their natural powers the grace of Thy new blessing. May they ward off disease and adversity from men and beasts who use them in Thy name. Through our Lord, Jesus Christ, Thy Son, who liveth and reigneth with Thee in unity of the Holy Spirit, God, forever and ever. Amen.”

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  35. Titus says:

    Katy_H: (In the event anyone comes back to this thread)

    Mike_in_Kenner gives the right answer here. If a layman is leading a prayer that includes a “Dominus vobiscum/et cum spirito tuo,” you substitute (or just omit it if next part is included anyways) “Domine, exaudi orationem meum/Et clamor meus ad te veniat” (“Oh Lord, hear my prayer/and let my cry come unto Thee.”). Mike is also correct that the book in question doesn’t contain the correct instruction on this because it wasn’t made explicit in the liturgical books until 1961: it apparently just wasn’t something people had thought carefully about before (or at least carefully enough to make it explicit in the rubrics, such that a non-expert would pick up on it).

    Father Z.: Thank you for the answer to my prior comment’s question. I had been led to believe that there was this one exception to the generally applicable rule. I will revise my practice accordingly.