Why a priest won’t give “Communion blessings”

From a reader:

The following was in our Parish Bulletin this week and is on our parish website… http://www.stanthonyofpadua-buffalo.org. Our parish has an EF Mass every Sunday and on Holy Days. Fr Secondo Casarotto is a great Pastor and we are lucky to have him. I am glad we do not have this type of "liturgical nuance" in our parish.

I thought I would share as you see these "Communion Blessings" more and more, and I thought you may find his commentary worthwhile or worthy of posting.

Interesting.  I am not in favor of the practice of blessings at Communion, but I do not refuse to give them if it is obvious that the person is going to kneel there until he gets one.  There is a time for blessings during Mass: the end.  Communion time is for Communion, right?

Let’s see what this priest has to say.

Traditionally Speaking by S. Casarotto 8/9/09


A growing phenomenon in the “liturgical renewal” is giving a blessing to the faithful who have joined the Communion procession at Mass with no intention of receiving the Eucharist. They ask for a blessing as they fold their arms across their chest to receive it. I do not give this blessing and for many reasons:

1) There is already a blessing to the whole congregation at the end of the mass and I am always available to give a special blessing to those who request it for some special reasons (before going to the hospital, for an anniversary, before taking a long trip, etc.);

2) A blessing at Communion time creates confusion and is a countersign about the purpose of the Communion procession;

3) It is disrespectful to turn the attention from the Eucharist to a person to be blessed. This innovation is nowhere to be found in the instructions for the celebration of the mass. In fact, the Holy See has said many times, “Enough with experimentation” and “Nothing is to be added or taken away from the liturgy” which is “the prayer of Christ and of the Church.” I suspect that this custom started when, as a reaction to a Jansenistic understanding of spiritual worthiness for the Sacraments, well intentioned priests and liturgical committee began to urge the faithful to receive the Eucharist. Everyone, Catholic and non-Catholic, whether in a state of grace or not, came to believe they must join the Communion line. This thinking has been introduced by the false interpretation of “active participation”. As John XXII pointed out, we must ask ourselves why the number of Communions (and auxiliary ministers) skyrocketed while the number of Confessions almost disappeared.

Fr Z, keep up the great work! Thanks for your priestly ministry to our great Church!

I think other factors that contributed to this psychological pressure to go forward even if you shouldn’t are a) row by row Communion processions and b) the reduction of the Eucharistic fast to only one hour before Communion.

I hope Father doesn’t get too much flack for this.  He probably will… but I hope not.

No doubt this will stir people up to say how meaningful these blessings are to them and they will express how they make them feel.

I can sympathize with those feelings.  However… I think the other points, made by Father, above, are to be followed.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Central Valley says:

    Thanks be to GOD!! If only we had more holy priest liek this in the diocese of Fresno California. Fr.’s letter brings up a good point. Where in the rubrics is this nonsense allowed? Like communion in the hand it was started as an abust and went on so long various bishops would tell Rome it was now part of local custom…nonsense. This rubish must be removed from the liturgy and soon.

    Last week at the Knights of Columbus annual meeting, A Canadian cardinal lambasted bishops and clergy for not supporting the Holy Father. These bishops and priest need to step up an but a stop to this abuse and others.

  2. Jack Hughes says:

    I can remember when I was in RCIA and my friend kept edging me on to go up and recieve a blessing, really annoying. This Priest sounds like a good rock.

  3. THREEHEARTS says:

    Back 40 years ago in the Diocese of Vancouver BC. A great Archbishop on called Carney waxed indignant at this illicit demand for a blessing and said forthrightly the Blessing at the end of mass is enough. Not one priest in the Diocese took any notice. Of course we all know that holding hands at the OUR Father is a no no as per Rpme. Most do it because of congregational pressure. Another I believe private revelation on unity. What nonsense? Go further and see 20 people at the morning mass and an extra to the ordinary minister handing out Holy Communion. Another no no but who cares. How many Novus Ordo’s today are in union with the Papl liturgy in Rome. Dashed few I say and I am not wrong. Is it really valid as a liturgy when it is not in union with the Papal Offering. Be very careful how you answer, remember in the second century we became Katolicos

  4. thereseb says:

    The only use for it that I can see is to allow parents of 6 or 7 year olds who have not yet made their First Communion to accompany them to the altar without confusion. Of course, Communion kneeling would solve that problem as well.

  5. biberin says:

    It is the custom in my parish to give these blessings. That said, too many people don’t seem to realize that only a priest or deacon can give a blessing anyway! It really shocked me as an EMHC to have little kids standing there waiting for *me* to bless them. I can’t do it and I don’t know why they would want me to.

    Before I was confirmed, I did receive the blessings and appreciated them. Since then, I’ve learned better, and also found that it is much more helpful to go find the priest or deacon after Mass and request a blessing that is truly personal and tailored for my particular circumstances.

  6. jfk03 says:

    I am an Eastern (Ukranian) Catholic. It is our tradition to cross our arms over our chest when receiving communion. I like to do this when I am receiving communion in a Roman parish. Priests and eucharistic ministers accustomed to giving blessings at communion time mistake the crossing of my arms as a desire NOT to receive communion. I then have to tell the priest I DO wish to receive. I find this awkward and, as a result, I have started not crossing my arms, although I consider it an appropriate bodily gesture when receiving the Holy Mysteries.

    I think the practice of giving communion blessings (while motivated by the best of intentions) is inappropriate and unauthorized.

  7. DavidJ says:

    Those extra blessings was one of several reasons I stopped being an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion.

  8. Bernard Leitrim says:

    This (getting a blessing in communion line) is the sort of thing that drives me nuts. Either it is acceptable or it is not – if it is not then why do priest allow this? If it is acceptable show me were doctrine (if that is the right word) allows it. Why the confusion?

  9. Original Blend says:

    I totally support Fr. Casarotto. He makes a very good and pointed argument. I will pray for him.

  10. Clara says:

    Like so many things, not going with the flow is awkward the first few times, and then becomes normal. I was lucky; as a convert I’d already been not receiving at Mass for years by the time I actually was allowed to come forward (I never did the blessing thing… it just seemed like the non-Catholic consolation prize, which struck me as silly and slightly pathetic) so I got very used to letting people out of their pews and back in again. Now it doesn’t even occur to me to worry what other people are thinking when, for whatever reason, I decide not to come forward at Communion time.

    Would it help if children, prior to their first Communion, were left to sit in the pews when their parents went forward? Obviously they shouldn’t be left when they’re tiny and likely to cry or wander off, but there are a few years prior to first Communion when they should be old enough to sit still and quiet for ninety seconds or so without direct supervision. And also, of course, adults need to stop being afraid to stay behind when appropriate. It’s just like lines at confessionals; if nobody goes to Confession in your parish, anybody who is seen to go will set people wondering what terrible thing they did. Once lines start forming and the practice becomes routine, suddenly nobody wonders or even cares what you’re confessing. Similarly here.

    Of course, I wouldn’t suggest that people should stop receiving Communion just to “set a good example.” But I don’t know… I know there are different views on this, but it seems to me like probably most of us should stay behind at one time or another. Of course I never worry about any particular other person’s choices in this regard; I don’t take notes, and anyway there are surely a lot of people who are holier than me and much more prepared to receive. But even apart from the obvious case of an unconfessed mortal sin on your conscience, I find that there are certain days when it just doesn’t feel appropriate to come forward to receive the Body of Christ. If I overslept, got to Mass late, and had to chide myself a dozen times for letting my attention wander to the dinner menu, last night’s movie, or that awful thing that so-and-so said last week… well, you get the idea. Coming forward to receive should feel like an incredible privilege and blessing, not just an assumed part of the weekly routine, and while I can well believe that other people are more regularly prepared for it than me, it still seems like we should all ask ourselves each week, “Am I ready (of course we never really are, but as ready as I can make myself) to receive my Lord today?” Sometimes acknowledging that I really haven’t even tried this week to prepare myself, and staying behind, inspires appropriate regret and contrition, and spurs me to try harder the next week.

  11. PAUL says:

    Great points father regarding this illicit innovation. Just like holding hands at the Our Father or the orans position- who started this and why?? This really needs to start at the top, the Vatican and the usccb need to be involved.

  12. Mike Morrow says:

    It was common before Vatican II for many in the congregation to *not* receive communion. Perhaps that was a result of the fast from midnight (later from three hours) that was in effect. Or perhaps an individual felt that communion required a special condition of grace. Today, in both EF and OF masses, one who doesn’t receive communion stands out from those in the almost always universal trek to the communion rail.

  13. lavatea says:

    Not that I’m interested in participating, but why is hand-holding at the Our Father not supposed to occur?

  14. TJM says:

    Iavatea, start with “it’s goofy.” It was introduced by “progressives” to make the Mass a celebration of the congregation, feel-goodism, etc. It’s total and utter nonsense. Even Archbiship Weakland (hardly a conservative) thought so. Tom

  15. THREEHEARTS says:

    if you go to Zenit and check Fr McNamara’s answers (Liturgy and the Sacraments and what is the position he holds and you will find his references and quotes of the Vatican Documents on postures in the Liturgy. I found it there a couple of weeks ago and why holding hands did not represent unity in the Church. It is done through congregational pressure. Just another of the private revelations that gives good feelings and is quite meaningless. Personally I take to heart Pio Nono or his successor St Pius Ten who wrote about the contagion of sin. Since many do not go to confession I do not wish to touch many in church. Am I wrong well start thinking of the importance of the state of grace not habitual grace but the grace that follows probably a good confession. Think then of a holy communion with Christ and through Him the Blessed and most Holy Trinity. Please I pray, do not call me a Jansenist or unduly aesthetic as has happened before.
    I refer you all to these letters http://www.zenit.org/article-25463?1=english and 24585?1=english

  16. Marq says:

    As an EMHC, I’ve always felt uncomfortable with this practice as well. Not that I mind expressing the wish that someone be blessed (by making a cross with my thumb on someone’s forehead – no a blessing, but the expression of a wish), but I can only do that with the same hand I use to hold the Body of Christ. Whatever tiny crumbs and particles stick to my fingers can get transferred to the forehead of someone who stands before me with their arms crossed.

    And it creates confusion, too. There must be a fair number of people (although not all) in my parish who no longer distinguish between my wish that they be blessed and a priest’s actual blessing.

    Anyway, I’m off to seminary soon, but I intend to see what the practice is there. It comes with a parish attached :P

  17. MikeM says:

    I dunno… I’ve convinced more than one person to go through the RCIA process and to join the Church. It always started with the Communion blessing. I firmly believe that without such blessings, these people would not have been open to learning more about Catholicism, and would not have ultimately become Catholic and would never have found the greater blessing of real Communion.

    I’ve never gone up for a blessing myself. I’ve always received the Eucharist, except one occasion where I refrained because I needed to go to Confession, and a few times when for some reason I’ve ended up at more than one Mass for the same celebration (usually when I’ve gone and then brought someone to a later Mass). In any case when I didn’t receive the Eucharist, I felt it was much better to stay back and pray. But, for non-Catholics drawn to the Mass, I think offering them that Blessing makes them feel more welcomed at Mass, which is important for bringing in new Catholics.

  18. Bogna says:

    My middle daughter, who is 4 years old comes with us to communion to receive blessing. She knows it is Jesus Christ and she tells us she is longing for Him. I think it would be cruel to tell her to go away without blessing. She does love Jesus.

  19. Jack007 says:


    The blessing by the priest of infants and pre communion age children is a beautiful and laudable practice.
    As far as the good Father feeling that it is somehow “disrespectful” to our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, RUBBISH! I doubt if Jesus feels “disrespected” by His sacred minister imparting a blessing to a child. I am of course referring ONLY to such blessings given to those KNEELING at the communion rail.

    I can’t speak for the Ordinary Form as I haven’t attended one since 1978. Complaints by EMHC only underscore the many reasons why I never attend. I have watched the EWTN version and don’t see EMHC, hand holding, and other related circus acts. I don’t get why people would regularly attend something and complain about it. If you don’t like it, do something about it. If you can’t, then shut up or stay home.

    I have made one behavioral observation about those priests who pass over children awaiting a blessing. They ALL (and I have studied a few) share an obvious attitude of self importance, pride and aloofness. The kind of priest you know you have no desire to approach for confession, or even to have a word with outside of Mass. In other words, a general lack of HUMILITY.
    One such priest confirmed this in a sermon, where he chastised those who did not bow their heads whenever a priest entered a room or passed them on the street. Beautiful practices to be sure, but the issue is the priest ASKING for them.

    Sorry, but linking the LIMITED practice of communion time blessings (under the conditions I cited above) to liturgical abuses is just a convenient way for priests who don’t like it to rationalize.
    If you don’t like it, just DON’T DO IT!

    Jack in KC

  20. rwprof says:

    “I am an Eastern (Ukranian) Catholic. It is our tradition to cross our arms over our chest when receiving communion.”

    Ours as well. We do not have the equivalent, except for when the priest denies the Mysteries to someone, by immediately offering the foot of the Chalice for the person to kiss. And yes, this does happen.

  21. When I was a little kid, and my mother was at church alone and thus had to take us up with her, I don’t remember feeling insulted that I couldn’t receive Communion. This was long before blessings were offered by anybody. The only feature was that, as I got closer to the age for First Communion, I started to think about how it would be great when I could receive the Lord.
    But if you weren’t a toddler, nobody thought twice about a five or six year old sitting in the pew alone. Heck, once you reached the age of reason, there were a few times when weird schedules meant I got dropped off for Mass alone.

    As for kids feeling insulted by priests that don’t bless — I really doubt that any Catholic kid today expects to find the same thing happening from one priest or parish to another. There were always considerable variances in practices of allowable customs, and nowadays there’s considerable variance in everything else. So the kid is only going to be really upset if the kid senses that his parents are upset. If the parents explain that it’s perfectly normal not to be blessed and that they were never blessed in the Communion line as kids, the kid isn’t going to be upset. (I don’t know if I’d go into the fact that all the previous blessings were actually Not Supposed to Happen. Eventually kids have to learn that adults break liturgical laws, but there’s no point darkening a little kid’s faith with that unless positively necessary.)

    However, it’s true that since blessings have now been offered for a long time, it will be difficult to get rid of them. My dad who’s not Catholic has greatly been comforted by receiving blessings at the small parish my parents attend. The custom seems to be almost more widely known by non-Catholics than by Catholics. And honestly, the hunger for a blessing from a really truly ordained man would be quite understandable for them, especially since so many Christians don’t have a lot of the Sacraments validly, either.

    I suppose you might deputize the deacon to give blessings before church or something. Part of his ancient door-guard activities. :) The problem is that this would seem to devalue crossing yourself with holy water.

  22. It occurs to me that if you taught kids more about holy water, and if you did more parental blessings, that might help with them. It might help with non-Catholics too, although I suppose opinions there vary on whether objects can be blessed. The groups that go in for oil don’t seem to go in for holy water yet.

    Of course, if blessings were known to be offered customarily after church and after the priest does the reception line thing, that might be something to encourage people to linger after church and pray.

  23. Allan S. says:

    News to me. As an RCIA candidate I was told I could line up (at the priest, not an EM), cross my arms and receive a blessing. I quite liked it – dare I say, it was like I could participate in the Mass before being received.

    I am not quite sure I see the harm in it….

  24. This issue highlights the difference between the feel-goodists and the true development of the Liturgy as guided by God through the rubrics of the Mass. When one does not do what feel-goodists feel is good or nice, then they are considered rigorists or unaccommodating or cold or some other such judgment (which will be applied to one’s self – Matt 7:2). The emphasis is on feelings. The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is to be followed as per the rubrics precisely because of Lex Orandi Lex Credendi. Even Vatican II stated that no priest may modify the rubrics to his own liking. From a human perspective, making “nice” exceptions to the rubrics just opens the door to yet more “nice” unapproved modifications. After all, who is to say where “nice” modifications stop if the rubrics need not really be followed anyway? But that is common today – people refuse obedience, in this case obedience to the rubrics. So meditate on this question – who knows better, you or the Church?

  25. vikingjr says:

    I wouldn’t be surprised if this custom, as well as many of the customs, originated with the Book of Common Prayer in the Anglican Church. As a staff member of one of these churches, every week I see the priestess invite “all who are baptized to God’s altar, but if you’re not baptized, you’re still welcome to God’s altar, just cross your arms so that we will know to give you a blessing.” It makes me think of a quote by one of the architects of the new Mass: “We must strip from our Catholic prayers and from the Catholic liturgy everything which can be the shadow of a stumbling block for our separated brethren that is for the Protestants.”

    It seems like another innovation to make Mass more inviting to the heretics of today’s time, rather than correcting them in fraternal love.

  26. Dr. Eric says:

    Allan S.

    Back in the really old days, you’d be escorted out of the Mass after the Homily/Sermon and only be allowed into the full participation of the Liturgy on Holy Saturday when you would be baptized and confirmed.
    From Wiki:

    “Catechumens were limited as to their attendance in formal services. As unbaptized, they could not actively take part in any service, for that was reserved for those baptized. One practice permitted them to remain in the first part of the mass, but even in the earliest centuries dismissed them before the Eucharist. Others had them entering through a side door, or observing from the side, from a gallery, or near the font; while it was not unknown to bar them from all services until baptized.”


    This practice invites the EMHC to give “blessings” to people-which they are not supposed to do, nor can they really. My kids process up with me and I turn them and put them next to the front pew while I go up to receive Communion.

  27. ruben says:

    A couple of weeks ago I heard a priest say that he has had children come up and try to confuse him on purpose to see if they could get him to give them communion. One of my fellow catechists was told by 2 of her students that they were given communion when they went up for a blessing, even though they had not yet made their first communion. This sort of thing is awful. I instruct my catechism students to not go up for a blessing. I try to break it down to them to help them understand how this practice is plainly and simply “matter in the wrong place” and a defective case of “monkey see, monkey do.”

    I have only once heard a priest try to issue a corrective. At one mass at my mother’s parish a visiting priest made it a point to instruct the faithful that communion time is for communion and that it has never been in the tradition of the church to use that time for anything otherwise. To his credit he went on to tell us that if we were not disposed to receive communion, then that meant that we needed to have a special “talk” with a priest so that we could dispose ourselves for communion. I wish more priests would speak up on this matter.

  28. ssoldie says:

    Inovations and silliness, will they never end in the N.O.M.? Is this really full and active participation? Go to the ‘Gregorian Rite Mass’ and read, watch, listen, gesture., then tell me which is full and active particapation,not memorization and entertainment.

  29. I’ve seen these blessings given to small children or babies kneeling at the altar rail at EF Masses (by 1962 only priests) and it’s really quite beautiful. Is it really a violation for a priest to pause his distribution for a moment and give a blessing? Do the 1962 rubrics say that once a priest has started to distribute he must not stop or pause for any reason?

    I agree that it is sometimes out of hand at OF Masses. But it seems to me that priests (and deacons) who momentarily pause to bless (without touching) are not really doing anything worse than say, including the 2nd confiteor. I think of it as an organic development when done right.

    Does anyone know if such a thing was ever done before 1969? Perhaps in Europe or in the US?

  30. THREEHEARTS says:

    Thank you Fr Marie Paul

    I find it is business as usual with so many after reading these blogs again. It it feels good then it is the Spirit moving you and therefore is acceptable. Be careful of what spirit gives you these private revelations in your mind. Remember it is quite likely if you have not been to confession for a while not to be a prompt from the Divine Intellect no matter what you may claim that is why the Church exists to guide us. By the way in the early Church the catechumens left the communal meal so they could not betray the priest to the roman soldiers. There is really no need for it today and it is or was so foolish to re instate this leaving the Church. I find it sorely amusing that so many support both actions blessing babies and small kids yet sending the Children out of the sanctuary can any of you see the foolishness too.

  31. dcs says:

    Back in the really old days, you’d be escorted out of the Mass after the Homily/Sermon and only be allowed into the full participation of the Liturgy on Holy Saturday when you would be baptized and confirmed.

    In the Roman Rite the Gospel was part of the Arcanum so catechumens would be let out before the Gospel was read.

  32. MikeM says:

    Fr. Marie-Paul,

    I don’t consider myself a “feel-goodist.” I do, however, think that we have to consider that Jesus gave the Church the mission to spread His Word to everyone. I think we should consider the effects of our actions on that mission. From what I’ve seen, offering a blessing to non-Catholics makes them more disposed to hearing the Church’s message.

    I’m also suspicious of people’s attempts to blame everything they don’t like for the problems we face in the Church today. I don’t feel any less reverence for the Eucharist because the priest decided to say a blessing for my friend. The Eucharist is often disrespected, but I don’t see blessings as disrespectful at all.

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