QUAERITUR: EMCHs and people who want blessings

From a reader:

In our large parish, I serve as an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion. Yes, I know, there are preferred ways of approaching the distribution of the Eucharist, and this is not ideal. However, I feel as long as our parish is going to have them, I can do the service of treating the role as respectfully and reverently as possible. As you know, in many parishes it is not unusual for someone to approach with their arms folded, apparently seeking a blessing. I clearly do not feel it is my lay role to administer a blessing in this situation, and after prayer and consultation with informed experts, decided the best I could do would be to quietly say, "May the Lord bless us, protect us from evil, and bring us to everlasting life." This is the same prayer I close with when praying the Liturgy of the Hours, and it is satisfying while not crossing the line of me offering a blessing. I do not touch them, I do not extend a hand over them, I do not make the sign of the cross over them. I view the blessing and those actions as the role of the priest. Well this weekend, a woman approached with her arms folded and the most hopeful, expectant look one could imagine seeing. I proceeded as I normally do and still she stood in front of me, with this expectant look on her face. Staring back, my hand suddenly went out to her shoulder, and once I removed it she went on her way. I didn’t say anything else or even pray anything else at that time; in fact, it almost felt involuntary. So the question is, what should I have done? By no means do I think I need to go to the confessional with this, and yet I feel somehow…perhaps as if I betrayed her. As if she thinks I offered her something I did not offer. If we are to serve as Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion, how do you suggest we deal with the case of the arm-folded un-communicant? And how do we respond to the persistent ones like I faced?

It sounds as if you handled this well. You clearly recognize your role in the distribution of Holy Communion as an extraordinary lay minister.

What can you do? Ask your priests to preach about blessings, the differences between ordained ministry, and who EMCHs are.

This could be a good opportunity to do some catechesis. If the priest won’t do it, be prepared to talk about it with others when the topics come up.

I am sure this comes up in parishes. This gets into the question of blessings at Communion time, of course. I think that practice ought to be phased out through instruction.



Someone posted in a comment below that there is a letter from the CDW which deals with the issue of hands.  This might not be an official response of the Congregation, but it is a guideline:


[Protocol 930/08/L] 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.


I added this because the questioner mentions putting a hand on someone’s shoulder.  Note: shoulder, not head.


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  1. Oneros says:

    “I feel as long as our parish is going to have them, I can do the service of treating the role as respectfully and reverently as possible.”

    I hear this a lot from certain Catholics, [“certain Catholics”?] and too me it just sounds like those who say they are “personally against” abortion but want it to be legal so that “if it’s going to be done, at least it will be done safely”.

    There is also a certain self-righteousness, like “I can trust MYSELF to be a reverent EMHC. I’ll know Jesus is safer in my hands.”

    It’s not about the personal reverence of the minister! I’d prefer communion from a sloppy priest to an extremely reverent EMHC, because it isnt about the subjective “quality” like that!!

  2. ghp95134 says:


    I’m glad she asked Father Z and not you.


  3. moon1234 says:

    Lay people should not, under any circumstances, give blessings in church. This is especially true if a lay person is distributing communion. It gives the impression that there is no difference between the priest and the layman. People need to refuse to be EMHC. Only then will priests realize they need to fulfill the duty they were called to in their vocation.

    How about asking that we bring back the minor orders so that we can have more clerics with the proper disposition to distribute Holy Communion. How many EMHC have ablutions after distribtuing communion? I have never seen it.

    This would border on being Sacrilege. It consists in profaning or treating unworthily the sacraments and other liturgical actions, as well as persons, things or places consecrated to God.

  4. moon1234 says:

    If we are to serve as Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion, how do you suggest we deal with the case of the arm-folded un-communicant? And how do we respond to the persistent ones like I faced?

    Simply respond, I am not a priest, if you would like a blessing please join Father’s line.

  5. Allan S. says:

    I personally like the idea of having a blessing available in lieu of communion. It seems – dare I say it? – very pastoral.

    As for EMs and blessings, a fellow at our cathedral, upon seeing a crossed-arm sort in the line, makes eye contact and points at Father. They get the message and switch lines :)

  6. Oneros says:

    “People need to refuse to be EMHC. Only then will priests realize they need to fulfill the duty they were called to in their vocation.”

    Exactly. Just Say No.

  7. Jono says:

    I believe that a few years ago, Archbishop Chaput recommended that EMHC’s (as well as priests, even), not give a blessing, as this would be an innovation and inappropriate to the context of Communion. However, owing to the sincerity of the person, it appeared the appropriate time to catechize on Spiritual Communion. Thus, he felt the proper approach would be to say to the person with arms crossed “Receive the Lord Jesus in your heart.”

    I do not see how this would not be seen as a suitable response. One could even place the one’s hand on the shoulder while saying so.

  8. Choirmaster says:

    I seem to remember this topic going around these parts before, but just in case, there is a letter [Protocol 930/08/L] from the CDW that should clarify the issue (in an official sense). The following are excerpts:

    …2. Lay people, within the context of Holy Mass, are unable to confer blessings. These blessings, rather, are the competence of the priest…

    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.

    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…

    Aw, Snap!

  9. Comparing being “Personally opposed to” abortion with laity as Extraordinary ministers giving Holy Communion is just outrageous!
    I’m sorry. But this is not even close to an analogy.
    The universal law of the Church(canon law) and liturgical law allows this. How this is done, and within what parameters, is justifiably arguable.
    And, as for blessings during Communion, Choirmaster has shown the documentation.
    I agree that blessings during Holy Communion are not appropriate (nor are they to be done).

  10. frival says:

    Choirmaster, do you have a link to the full text of that document? This question came up recently in a discussion but as I was unable to put my hands on the document my position didn’t gain much traction.

  11. Oneros says:

    You miss the analogy then, nazareth priest.

    The point is not that EMHC’s are “objectively” wrong…but that there is a huge cognitive dissonance when Catholics claim to feel personally uncomfortable with the practice..and then volunteer to participate in it FOR THAT VERY REASON.

    As if their personal worthiness or reverence somehow makes the practice “better” than anyone else doing it (ie, “as long as our parish is going to have them, I can do the service of treating the role as respectfully and reverently as possible.”)

    The “as long as” makes it sound like this person would consider it ideal if the parish got rid of them entirely. But then perpetuates the practice by being complicit in it.

    The only way it is going to end is if people just refuse to participate. Don’t be an EMHC and always switch lines to approach the Priest only. If a whole parish full of people did that while the EMHC’s just stood there awkwardly…I would guarantee that would be the last time that parish used EMHC’s. What are they going to do, call in Riot Police to prevent people from line-switching??

  12. Choirmaster says:

    I agree with nazareth_priest that any analogy to abortion is a bit severe, but if I may be so bold to offer that…

    …EMHC’s should be safe, legal, and rare.

    And don’t forget Fr. Z’s famous opinion that…

    …concelebration should be safe, legal, and rare.

    There is poignancy in drawing equivalencies between lame excuses, even with such gravity of subject as with abortion! The Blessed Sacrament, and, by extension, those who handle it, is a very grave matter as well!

    And, personally, I believe that EMHC’s, concelebration, AND abortion are not safe (suspend your disbelief), are legal (alas!), and are not rare (alas!).

    @frival: I cannot find a hard-link to the protocol or an image of it. This is something I researched when instructing a priest that was celebrating a Nuptial Mass for my sister. You can find it in an article on Adoramus Bulletin that has more of the text and some context.

  13. Choirmaster says:

    Maybe “instructing a priest” was a bit much; let’s say “requesting certain options of a priest” instead.

    The priest, by the way, ended up being a very orthodox and intelligent man, but was wholly unaware of that protocol, and a little discouraged as he lamented that giving blessings at that time generates “a lot of good will.”

    I didn’t argue but thanked him profusely for agreeing to all of our traddy requests.

  14. Oneros: I’m sorry, but using being “personally opposed” to abortion to those who offer to give Holy Communion with good faith (although they don’t think it is right) in situations that are needed is not appropriate.
    Use another analogy, please.
    I understand your point; but that is a bit inflammatory and “over the top”.
    Killing unborn children is not the same as giving Holy Communion by laity. No way. No how.
    And Choirmaster, I agree about the “safe, legal, and rare” business re: concelebration. The whole EMHC thing, though, is another matter; it has been abused, believe me, I know. But I have seen situations where a single priest or priest and deacon need to have one or two assist them. You can argue about that, but when the Church allows it (and that is NOT the same as legal abortion!), the judgment of the pastor (be that as it may) is on HIS soul.

  15. JosephMary says:

    In the year when I was “Eucharistic Minister” as we were called then (I no longer serve in this capacity), we were instructed to give ‘Blessings”. Also through those years we were told to try to touch each recipient. My sons hated that! They knew of the EMHC who would try to stroke their hands and avoided them like the plague. We also had instructions to call people by name if we could and to that end for a while there were name tags to be filled out and worn at Mass.

    So those who try to serve are most likely following instructions. Most of these dear souls are very sincere. It is for the priest to instuct all the lay people in whatever capacity they attend Holy Mass.

    Now some will be aghast but our Legion of Mary takes Holy Communion to the sick in the rest homes, nursing homes, at home, or in the hospital. I see 11 people a week. Among us we visit over 200 people a week. Our priests would not be able to do this and if these folks are to receive Holy Communion weekly, it is going to be at the hands of a lay person most likely. Certainly if I were homebound I would wish someone to bring Jesus to me. And a couple of times a year, I ask Father to come to hear confessions and to anoint these dear ones who cannot attend Holy Mass.

  16. Oneros says:

    nazareth priest,

    Once again, the analogy isnt being made between abortion and the laity distributing communion…but between the JUSTIFICATIONS given by some people for doing something they are “personally opposed” to.

    If the questioner doesnt believe EMHC’s are ideal, why volunteer to be one? Apparently out of some notion that his personal reverence somehow makes the situation better. As if the reason EMHC’s are not ideal is simply a question of subjective disposition of the minister, not an absolute liturgical principle in favor of the priest.

    The mental dissonance is the same between those who are “personally opposed” to anything in an absolute way, but then still do it so that “at least it will be done right”. Regardless of what those acts are.

  17. Louis says:

    Being from a mixed marriage, the blessing by a priest or deacon is a good thing for my spouse. To participate and at times, to indicate that she can’t receive the Eucharist.

  18. Mr. Oneros,

    Please retract the abortion analogy. It’s totally inappropriate.

    If people were to refuse to act as EMHC’s, then who would distribute Holy Communion? Just the priest you say? Well, that would work in a small parish, but what of large or even medium sized parishes? I attend a parish that frequently has over 1,000 people at one Mass. And we have 1 priest. Now, if one priest distributes very quickly, say perhaps using a Communion Rail, the distribution would still take around 1:30. Now all of the sudden Mass takes 2:45 to 3:00 – half of which is the distribution of Holy Communion!

    If we had enough priests it would be great, but we don’t. Until such time, I am glad that we have good people volunteering to perform this perfectly licit and needed role.

  19. Would it be out of line to offer your sufferings of the next day for those who did happen to come to you for a blessing as an EMHC?

  20. JuliB says:

    Oneros – Wrong, sorry. Your analogy (which I recognize as one) is simply incorrect. In this case, you are comparing motives in a relationship between something immoral, but legal (abortion) to something that is moral, and legal (using EHMCs). The very motive: relationship pairings are crucial to the analogy! IMO, it’s not the inflammatory nature of the subject matter – but rather I’d agree with you if you were right.

    I have mentioned before that I say that which you find abhorrent, but whether you like it or not, the Church has approved the usage. Obedience to the priest and bishop is important especially when something is a judgment call. While I personally don’t agree with their decisions in such a matter, I won’t do such things as have been suggested but instead ‘offer it up’.

    People WILL continue to take part in it, and we can have people who will push for more heterodox practices, esp as priests come and go, and then insist ‘we have always done it that way’, or you can have people who will always advocate for the more orthodox way. Volunteers are considered representative of the community at large.

  21. ghp95134 says:

    Allan S. says, …I personally like the idea of having a blessing available in lieu of communion. It seems – dare I say it? – very pastoral.

    How many times during Holy Mass do we already receive blessings from the celebrant Priest?


  22. Central Valley says:

    Here is another hands question. At a parish near me, the Pastor at the final blessing of the deceased at a funeral Mass, will invite all present to extend their hands towards the deceased to confer a blessing on the body. Is this proper?

  23. Oneros says:

    Patrick, somehow they did it pre-Vatican-II, and not always because there were necessarily more priests.

    That the phrase is now merely “Corpus Christi” instead of the longer formula…would make communion on the tongue in a line down the Rail…go even faster.

    Of course, you could always have more permanent deacons, I suppose, lower the entrance requirements for that.

    Juli, the analogy to abortion IS apt, because, again, the morality or not of the act is not the subject of analogy. It’s the bizarre combination of a person’s alleged “personal distaste” for it combined with the person’s personal participation in it. If you don’t like something, don’t get involved in it! That it is “going to happen anyway”…is not an excuse.

    By “certain Catholics” I mean so-called “neoconservatives”. They’re the one’s I always get the “I don’t like the idea of EMHC’s personally, but better me than some unworthy person” justification from.

  24. Direct abortion is ALWAYS immoral. (Natural and Divine Law).
    Distribution of Holy Communion by a lay person is a Church discipline (Correct me if I am wrong).
    I understand, believe me, the spiritual and liturgical implications of this; the priest is in “persona Christi”; he confects the Sacrament; his hands are anointed. In a world where there were enough priests (or deacons or acolytes) to distribute Holy Communion within Mass and outside of Mass, this is the norm. I do not disagree, at all.
    As to the “interior” dispositions that motivate people to offer to be EMHC, I cannot see the analogy, at all, between being “personally opposed” to something that is always wrong and those that do this out of reverence for our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament so that others, who may not believe or are incorrect in their understanding of the Blessed Sacrament do not.

  25. Oneros says:

    Again, the morality isnt the point. The point is the disconnect between personally opposing something, and then doing it nonetheless so that “at least it will be done right”.

    “do this out of reverence for our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament so that others, who may not believe or are incorrect in their understanding of the Blessed Sacrament do not.”

    And there is the other aspect, the self-righteousness. The personal dispositions of the minister DONT matter. I’d rather receive from the hands of an unbelieving priest than even the most devout of EMHCs. This idea that “it’s better that I do it rather than some unworthy person” is prideful and a sort of crypto-Donatism.

    If you dont like something, why get involved in it? Because you feel that you are somehow more worthy and your participation will make it “better” somehow? That’s twisted logic.

  26. JuliB says:

    Oneros – Subject as in subject-object? Or subject – as the point you are trying to make. Sorry – I love and live analogies and people who miss the point are one of my pet peeves. But try as I may, I can’t stretch your wording or reasoning to be something that can stand as one.

    Really – if that’s the best argument you have, it’s a poor one.

    Hmmhh – personal distaste, but I do it anyway…. I travel a lot for work and a bit for personal vacations. I frequent a lot of different churches. I find holding hands during the Lord’s Prayer to be personally distasteful (and even something that shouldn’t occur). But, if the parish holds hands, and I am close to a hand-holder, I will hold hands with a wan smile. I then offer it up. (And I also apologize to God for having a flash of temper in His house.)

    This is similar to the volunteering to be an EHMC – not the abortion analogy. The subject-object combinations match, as well as the personal motive.

  27. Bthompson says:

    I will say that I too am frustrated by this practice when I am acting as an EMHC. I am a seminarian, and thus am very aware and careful to not impersonate a priest or do anything I cannot do lest I lead others astray and/or get in deep trouble for doing things that are illicit for me. I have tired to explain to people I cannot bless them, but all I have ever gotten was talked to after mass by the priest. That is understandable as perhaps my pastoral tone which which I explain that fact needs some work, but I still don’t want to be doing other than what I am allowed to do. It robs me of the awesome novelty that will come when I actually can bless people, and worse, it deceives people of good will into thinking they received something they did not receive.

  28. Doc Angelicus says:

    There is something inconsistent with the attitude of “I disagree with the practice, but I will do it so that I know it will be done right.” For one thing, doing something one believes is wrong, even if permitted by Church discipline, means going against one’s conscience. For instance, if one believes the Church discipline of 1 hour fast prior to receiving Communion is too lenient (say, because for most people, that means they can eat right up until getting in the car before heading to Mass), then one would be acting against one’s conscience regarding though according to licit discipline if one ate an hour before receiving. Now, if one has no problem with EMHC or eating 61 minutes prior to recieving Holy Communion and takes solace in Church discpline, then one would not be acting against one’s conscience by doing either.

    I personally believe that EMHCs are wrong. I would not be an EMHC. They are permitted, however. If I have no choice, I will receive from one with a clear conscience, because there is nothing I can do and it is permitted by the Church. I prefer the priest’s line whenever possible. I make allowances for large congregations and few priests. But I would not be one.

    The person asking the question, though, does not appear to be in the same moral place as I am. Therefore, I do not think he is acting against his conscience in being an EMHC.

    There is something else, though. There is a kind of attitude that somehow because it is “I”, it is better. It is “I” who saves our Lord from desecration, because if “I” were not there, someone less reverent would be. Personally, the less “I” there is in things spiritual, the more the Lord is at work (as St. John the Baptist noted, “I must decrease, He must increase”). The “I” present in the NO is part of the problem: “I” read the readings with more drama and reverence, “I” get the congregation comfortable with the jokes, Mass is better because of “me” and “my” personality being part of it. The fact is, Mass doesn’t need “me” except to be present, and then it still doesn’t need “me” per se. It needs a priest as priest, not “Fr. Happy” as Fr. Happy. “I” become more important by letting “HIM” act through me, because then it is GOD who acts primarily (though not without me as St. Augustine would say).

  29. Oneros says:

    I consider your hand-holding when you personally think it is something that shouldn’t occur…to be inauthentic behavior, sorry. If you don’t like it, you are free to say no, and should. Dont be tempermental about it, just politely refuse.

    If you are “personally opposed” to something, then this attitude people in our society have that you might still go out of your way to do it…well, it’s mental Compartmentalization plain and simple. Whether it involves abortion, EMHCs, or taring down city hall.

    Let’s say there is a historic building in town. A demolition guy doesnt want to see it torn down, but decides that “since it’s going to happen anyway” he’ll do it so that “at least it will be done right”. I’m sorry, but besides the incredible presumptuousness underlying the assumption that only you can do it “right”…it also defeats any possibility of your own refusal possibly stopping the action (I mean, if you’re the only one who can do it right…maybe they won’t do it at all without you).

    Doing something because you have to or feel under some sort of light duress..is different than going out of your way to positively volunteer for something you personally dislike. No one is holding a gun to the original questioner’s head making him be an EMHC. He signed up out of some notion that it would be better for him to do it than someone else (apparently because he trusts himself to be reverent, but not other people?) How is it better except under a presumption of personal worthiness compared to others?

  30. Oneros: “Twisted” logic as it may be, that is the reality of the situation.
    Would you like the faithful to be deprived of the Holy Sacrament because they cannot receive?
    I’m thinking of all those home bound and ill people who receive our Lord by the hands of laity.
    As to within Mass, I have to tell you that I have experienced elderly and ill priests (myself, included, although I am not elderly, but have, at times, been unable to stand upright to distribute Holy Communion, due to some physical illness) who depend upon the laity to distribute Holy Communion at Mass. Why is this such a problem, if it is not an abuse?

  31. James Locke says:

    I think that I will forward this to the priest here at my University, asking him to preach about blessings.

  32. The Egyptian says:

    Oneros,The horse died several posts ago, stop beating it.

    I was recruited by a former pastor, who upon coming to the parish started appointing people willy nilly, if you refused he singled you out in the sermon and bullied you afterwords, I took the job (30 years ago) not knowing what I know now. He actually tried to start a liturgical dance program for those who did not want another job. Complaints to the Diocese were answered, ” be glad you have a Priest”

  33. jfk03 says:

    In the Byzantine liturgy it is customary for communicants to approach the priest with hands crossed over the breast. The priest then administers the sacred elements on a spoon directly into the communicant’s mouth.

    I am an Eastern Catholic. I visit Latin parishes from time to time. On several occasions the priest or minister has started to give me a blessing instead of communion. I have had to ask for communion because the priest took my crossed hands as a signal that I wanted a blessing instead of communion.

    The administration of blessings in lieu of communion is a very recent practice. I think it should be discouraged because of the confusion it causes, and because it detracts from the liturgical action of partaking in the Holy Mysteries.

  34. JuliB says:

    Oneros, I think you are missing an important point about obedience. I will follow my conscience if something is a grave matter, or perhaps if I feel VERY strongly about something. If the Church says it’s ok, and my priest requests it, I will go along with it. But just because I have a disagreement? No.

    Church history is filled with instances of obedience even in gray areas. Many people have shown examples of their saintliness through obedience. Not that I am claiming that I am anywhere near approaching sainthood (LOL – far from it), but I think obedience is something that is completely overlooked in our time. I read Archbishop Sheen’s autobiography where he expressed dismay at being sent to a small parish instead of going to Rome to study (IIRC). He said that after a year or two, he was sent to Rome. When he asked his bishop about it, the bishop said ‘I know you’re smart – I wanted to see if you were obedient.’

    Perhaps thinking about it in terms of obedience instead may give you a different perspective.

  35. Not be to “beating the horse” furthermore:<)!, I have been reading “Come Be My Light”, the letters of Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta.
    No one can ever call her “disobedient” or “irreverent” towards our Blessed Lord Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. She adored him for hours each day and thirsted to receive Him in Holy Communion, as well as wanted the Holy Sacrifice in her convents every single day. In fact, she made this a stipulation when a new house was to be founded.
    And yet, she, herself, gave Holy Communion, at times, to her own Sisters and the sick, infirm and dying. She, herself.
    This, in my own mind, is the way to go. She wanted priests to be there; when they were not, she, by the legitimate authority of the Holy Church, acquiesced to the “law of the Church”.
    ‘Nuff said.

  36. Girgadis says:

    A little over three years ago, my former pastor asked me to be an EMHC at our parish, which encompasses two churches with only one full-time priest. I reluctantly agreed because I knew one priest could not possibly make home visits each month to all the sick and shut-ins of the parish. I was never, ever comfortable distributing Holy Communion at Mass, to the point where I was getting severe migraines every time I was assigned to do so. The previous pastor would not allow EM’s to participate in home calls without taking at least one Mass assignment a month, so I decided to revisit the topic with the pastor who succeeded him. I simply told him if I could not be excused from distributing Holy Communione at Mass, that I would have to resign. He was very understanding and agreed that making home visits only would be fine. I have never once seen an EM at our parish do anything but distribute the Host. If anyone had ever approached me with the expectation of receiving a “blessing”, I probably would have stared blankly at them. Some priests will bless children who come forward with their parents, but not our pastor. I think it would be helpful to remind the parish every so often that EVERYONE receives a blessing at the conclusion of Mass and it is not appropriate for Father to lay his hand, to which particles of the Sacred Host may have adhered, upon anyone, infants included. Funny how this stuff never seems to happen at the TLM.

  37. JuliB says:

    Also Oneros, I think your charges of presumption are a bit ‘off’ as well. There are two readers in my parish that read at the Mass I attend. One is an older gentleman who is very reverent and a very good reader. The other one is in his 30’s or 40’s, and had made a joke/comment or two about the children going out to hear a Children’s Gospel. This happened on more than one occasion. He’s a very pleasant fellow, but his actions were inappropriate.

    Both of these men are EHMCs.

    Their actions as EHMCs follow the same path. The younger one has interrupted Father before Communion, and has said and done some foolish things. The older one is very reverent and traditional.

    While their hearts are probably both filled with the Spirit, I always prefer to see the older gentleman up there. And you know what – he (the older gentleman) probably feels the same way. Is that presumptuous?

    I checked the Catholic definition of the sin of presumption and couldn’t really tie it in to what you are saying. Secular definitions don’t fit either – boldness, lacking social reserve, going beyond what is proper. So perhaps you mean pride? Arrogance? But if one is humble, cannot one recognize a personal quality with out someone calling it out as presumption?

  38. eulogos says:

    I wrote a comment on this post in a comment box. When I hit submit, I got a notice “You must be logged in to comment.” And my post was gone. Usually I am always logged in on my computer and am not sure how became logged out…and if I was logged out, why was there a comment box? Is there any way that such a post can be saved while the person logs in? I just can’t face writing it over again. I suppose this means my wisdom on this subject can quite easily be done without!
    Susan Peterson

  39. Lee says:

    “When a church is not involved in evangelization, the members start picking the fleas out of one another’s hair”- the saying of a Pentecostal preacher many years ago. How often this comes to mind when reading the comments section of various Catholic blogs!

  40. Gwen says:

    I’m in RCIA. I’ve had several well-meaning people tell me “you can get in the line and go get a blessing.” They are trying to be “inclusive” and “caring,” I think. My first instinct was that it felt very very wrong, and I won’t do it. The communion line has one purpose: to receive the Lord. I made Him wait for many, many years; I can wait a few more months. I pray about this in my pew while the rest of the congregation receives Him. This also helps me think about humility and patience, two traits I sorely lack :) Plus, I get a preistly blessing at the end of Mass. If I’m feeling in real need of more blessing, I can go ask the priest one-on-one after Mass, I guess!

    The EHMCs at my parish bless kids, adults, anyone. They make a cross on the person’s forehead with their thumbs and say something (I’ve never been close enough to hear exactly what). The whole thing makes me very uncomfortable.

  41. yatzer says:

    I’m not necessarily for blessings at Communion time. But it does make things easier if one is not in a state to receive at the time instead of sitting there practically announcing one has a need of Confession because you usually do receive communion.

  42. I have to make one more comment.
    I do not like these “blessings” in the Communion line. Not at all.
    I think it promotes the idea that people should always and everywhere get up and go to Holy Communion (which, in the present moment with Confession lines being so short, is a problem for me).
    That being said, call me a “wimp”, a “compromiser”, whatever.
    If the parish where I am helping out has the blessing of non-communicants, I bless them.
    I would not do this ordinarily. In our EF Masses at our Oratory, parents have requested a blessing for their children at the Communion railing, and I do this. I am probably wrong. But what harm can this do for children unable to receive Holy Communion?
    I can understand if adults who are not properly disposed (for whatever reason) come forward, that is not right; they should remain in their places.
    But this practice, which seems to have become universal, needs to be addressed in something other than a letter from the “CDW”…it needs to be made very clear. Pope John Paul II did this and started the whole matter. Not to blame him, but something more authoritative needs to be made very clear. That’s just my humble opinion.

  43. Gwen says:

    yatzer, I’m new at this. Explain to me, please, what is wrong with recognizing that you are in need of confession before receiving communion?

    Also, aren’t there many other reasons to not receive? For example, being a non-Catholic? having eaten too recently? having already received twice that day? just being not mentally and spiritually ready? Seems pretty uncharitable for people to assume that you are in a state of mortal sin because you stay in the pew. And those same uncharitable types would also note that you’re getting a blessing–if people really are watching you that closely?

  44. Paul Rimmer says:

    I remember the very first mass I ever attended. It was at an indult community in Colorado, and I attended a midnight Latin Mass on Christmas. It was one of the most beautiful events I had ever witnessed, with all the grandeur and awesome magnificence of the created world, and all of it pointing to the invisible and the uncreated.

    Before this Mass I was very-much on the fence about converting; the RCIA class I was part of (not associated with this community) was lacking in depth and even strayed now and again into serious error. Worse still, I was full of pride, convinced I understood more about the Church than anyone in the class, even the priest. I was hanging on by a few threads: a very orthodox and loving priest that often attended the RCIA meetings, a religious who encouraged me to come to adoration with her, and the man who took me to that midnight mass.

    During lay communion, I approached and knelt at the altar rail, cast my eyes to the marble floor, and crossed my arms. When that priest (I still remember his name) placed his hand on my the crown of my head, I sensed the wisdom of ages; what I was learning in RCIA became shadows of a greater reality, and I experienced the genuine humility that comes with the realization both of how small and dull I was, compared to God’s greatness and the brilliance of the angels, and also how significant I was because He loved me regardless.

    That blessing, probably more than any other single moment in my preparation, convinced me of the Truth of the Catholic Faith.

    I am very much in favor of keeping the blessing during communion. I am also very much in favor of getting rid of the extraordinary ministers.

  45. muckemdanno says:

    Patrick Thornton, one of the reasons there are not enough priests is because of the laity taking over so many of the roles of the priest…such as the distribution of communion. So this practice saves modern Catholics 10 minutes per Sunday but destroys the Church in the long run.

    Personally, I am in favor of longer lines for Communion…it allows me to make a better preparation and a more proper thanksgiving.

  46. muckemdanno: I’m afraid the shortage of priests is a lot more complicated than a longer wait for Communion. Really. I’m not being facetious.
    The problem here is not the laity being EMHCs. It’s because there is an abuse of this “indult”…a privilege given by the Holy See and liturgical law.
    The real problem is in families, parishes, and the example of priests; forgive me, but there are the problems. Whether or not the laity are able to distribute Holy Communion within or outside of Mass is not the issue; it’s the problems within our own ecclesial life. I say this with sadness; how many parents do NOT want their sons to become priests? How many bad examples of priests cause young men to think otherwise? How many young men want to become priests but think that they will be left “hanging”?
    That covers the real problem. In my estimation.

  47. frjim4321 says:

    In my part of the country (mid-West) two unfortunate ideas have taken hold. First is the idea that a blessing is “Communion Lite,” whereby those who cannot receive communion are encouraged to come up and receive a blessing. This obviously undermines the whole idea of the communion procession, in fact the whole idea of communion itself. Second is the idea that a person should cross their arms over their chest to signify that they want a blessing. Who came up with that horrible idea? They must not have known that that is the posture for receiving communion in the Eastern churches. Talk about being an ugly westerner!

    Anyway, just this past Sunday a visiting family was at church. They seemed very fervent, two young parents and about four children from infancy to age five. After giving communion one of the children (about three years old) just stood there looking at me. I did not know what to do. That father said (very kindly, I must add) “he’s waiting for his blessing.” So I touched him lighly on the shoulder and said “God bless you,” so as not to be rude. But I do not like the practice. I don’t think it teaches the true nature of the communion procession.

    Further, the practice of putting a hand on the head of a child is to be strictly discouraged not only because it subverts a gesture used in other ways (ordination, anointing of the sick) but also because in some cultures it is considered an insult to lay a hand on a child’s head, because the person doing so is putting him/herself between the child and God.

    Fr. Jim

  48. John F. Kennedy says:

    Paul Rimmer;

    “I am very much in favor of keeping the blessing during communion.”

    We don’t have that now. People who do so, whether Priest or laity, do so illicitly.

    For the priest or deacon, blessing are not part of the Mass during the distribution of Communion. They should not add or subtract to the Mass on their “own” authority. It’s not licit.

    Regarding the laity giving blessings during Mass I have these items;

    Canon 1169
    1. Persons who possess the episcopal character as well as presbyters to whom it is permitted by law or by legitimate concession can validly perform consecrations and dedications.
    2. Any presbyter can impart blessings, except those which are reserved to the Roman Pontiff or to bishops.
    3. A deacon can impart only those blessings which are expressly permitted to him by law.

    A blessing is a good conferred by a higher personage on a lower personage. All true blessings ultimately come from God, though they come through those whom He has placed over others. In the family parents bless their children, as God has given them natural authority over their children. In the Church spiritual blessings are conferred in God’s Name by those to whom He has given spiritual authority over His People. As is evident by the above, blessings are given by priests (who have the power of the keys), though some are reserved to bishops (high priests). Deacons may also bless, but only where the ritual books, and thus the Church, provide the authority by law. Since the laity do not possess spiritual authority in the Church they cannot confer blessings. The laity can impose some sacramentals (ashes, St. Blaise blessing), but using objects previously blessed by the ordained.

    So, the blessing of anyone by an EME at Communion time is a vain gesture, which does nothing for the recipient. Furthermore, by a gesture which suggests priestly authority in a sacramental setting, it confuses the role of the laity and the ordained minister, something prohibited by the Instruction on Certain Questions Regarding the Collaboration of the Non-Ordained Faithful in the Sacred Ministry of Priests.
    Answered by Colin B. Donovan, STL


    A 1997 Vatican instruction (“On Certain Questions Regarding the Collaboration of the Non-Ordained Faithful in the Sacred Ministry of the Priest”):
    “Article 6 — Liturgical Celebrations
    “§ 1. Liturgical actions must always clearly manifest the unity of the People of God as a structured communion. Thus there exists a close link between the ordered exercise of liturgical action and the reflection in the liturgy of the Church’s structured nature. This happens when all participants, with faith and devotion, discharge those roles proper to them.
    “§ 2. To promote the proper identity (of various roles) in this area, those abuses which are contrary to the provisions of canon 907 are to be eradicated. In eucharistic celebrations deacons and non-ordained members of the faithful may not pronounce prayers — e.g., especially the eucharistic prayer, with its concluding doxology — or any other parts of the liturgy reserved to the celebrant priest. Neither may deacons or non-ordained members of the faithful use gestures or actions which are proper to the same priest celebrant.”



    This Congregation for Divine Worship and the Disciple of the Sacraments acknowledges receipt of your kind letter of 13 August, 2008 and would like to thank you for your interest and suggestions. This matter is presently under the attentive study of the Congregation.

    For the present, therefore, this Dicastery wishes to limit itself to the following observations:
    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; can. 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).

  49. Father G says:

    “I’m not necessarily for blessings at Communion time. But it does make things easier if one is not in a state to receive at the time instead of sitting there practically announcing one has a need of Confession because you usually do receive communion.”


    Walking up for a blessing during the time of Holy Communion can also be interpreted as announcing that he/she is in need of confession as well.

  50. Gwen: You hit upon something that is very important.
    Before the changes in the Roman Rite, people could “respectably” abstain from Holy Communion, for whatever reason. It need not be because of mortal sin. Nobody took any notice.
    Today, however, if someone does not receive Holy Communion, they are VERY noticeable.
    And in the Rules of most Religious Communities, nobody is supposed to notice who goes to Communion at the daily Mass; this is a matter of conscience; it’s nobody elses’ business.
    Abstaining from Holy Communion is not a mortal sin; although we are exhorted to receive at the Mass we attend, there are valid reasons not to receive. That is between the soul, his/her confessor and God. And I wish it would return to this understanding. I think it is linked with the lack of regular Confession and the false understanding that “I’m alright with God” if I commit venial sin or even, God help us, mortal sin…that’s the state of affairs right now, I’m afraid. God willing, it will reverse in time.

  51. TravelerWithChrist says:

    Another way of expressing the belief that only priests should be distributing communion- Our family tries to sit on the side the priest will be distributing from, and if not, we swap lines.

    At times it is apparent, the priest’s line is much longer.

    One parish we attend on weekdays uses EMHCs for about 50 people (and sometimes 2 priests) – seems not so extraordinary.

    I was a EMHC during my high school and college years – looking back it was so wrong – I am not worthy (and especially not then) to touch or distribute the body and blood of Jesus. It takes years of training to comprehend the sacredness and sincerety of it all – which is part of why so many years are required to study for the priesthood – that can’t be covered in a 2-hr ‘training’.

  52. Gwen says:

    nazareth priest: beginner’s luck I am sure :)

    Isn’t receiving Holy Communion while in a state of mortal sin…well, a super mortal sin? Kind of like compounded interest, only worse?

  53. Gwen: Yep, it’s a “double-whammy”…
    That’s why regular Confession is so important…so many do not realize that they must confess mortal sins before going to Holy Communion. I try to make that clear in confession to those who do confess ‘mortal sin’; I tell them to go to confession as soon as possible before receiving Holy Communion.
    But this “present darkness” we are under has taught them otherwise.
    We just keep trying to do what we can. God knows.

  54. ssoldie says:

    Silly, inovations since Vatican II just to make one feel good. Who do you think you are fooling. I believe ‘yatzer’ hit the nail on the head. I have no problem when not in the ‘state of sancttifying grace’ to remain in the pew and pray for my immortal soul. I am a sinner, I fall then get up, fall again, and get up again. If I recieve my Lord not in the ‘state of sanctifying grace’ I am guilty of the body and blood of Christ.

  55. Mark of the Vine says:

    Once in Fatima, while walking around the sanctuary grounds with a friar of the FFI, a woman came up to us and asked the friar to bless some statue she had bought. He politely told her, in his best portuguese (he was Irish), that he was unable to bless objects as he was not a priest. Even so the woman insisted saying “It doesn’t matter. Please bless these things.” Again he repeated that even if he said words of blessing, they wouldn’t amount to anything considering he was just a simple friar. Her facial expression seemed to convey that he was either ill-willed or that she was upset for not getting what she wanted. And so she walked away. The friar was a bit disheartened at the lack of good catechesis he had been coming to see in Fatima…

  56. Joan M says:

    One of the problems, I think, that has led to people joining the Communion line for a blessing instead of simply remaining in the pew, is the comparatively recent innovation of “being orderly” and ensuring that people go up pew by pew.

    This makes it so obvious when someone remains in their pew. They stand out like a sore thumb, and those who look around when in the line, instead of concentrating on Who they are going to receive, are likely to notice and, perhaps, speculate.

    Before this practice started, people got up and joined the line whenever it suited them, even if they had to excuse themselves and pass by others who had already been or those who were not ready to go yet. In those days, no one ever noticed that some did not leave the pew at all, and so there was absolutely no speculation as to why X had not received. Of course, it is none of our business whether or why someone does not receive.

    In the 3 or so years that I was an EMHC (in the late 80’s, early 90’s) no one ever looked for a blessing. I stopped being an EMHC when, after a change of pastor’s, an overly enthusiastic EMHC introduced changes, telling the new pastor that these changes were already established. The changes were – we would wear a garment she had designed (it resembled a cream colored, undecorated chasuble to wear over our own clothing) and we would sit in seats in the Sanctuary during Mass instead of coming up from the congregation at the appropriate time. This was thrust on me the first Sunday morning that she had introduced it, so I wore the garment and sat in the Sanctuary that morning rather than cause a disruption, but that was the last time I was an EMHC.

  57. Tom A. says:

    Oh this whole issue, like many other problems with the liturgy, was never a problem when folks kneeled at the communion rail and received on the tongue. I can’t stand the chow line, everyone queque up mentality that takes place every Sunday. Something wonderful has been lost with the Novus Ordo. The postures, the rubrics, the prayers, they are so…. well, ordinary.

  58. thereseb says:

    For 30 years, no-one has been catechised sufficiently to understand the blessings of making a spiritual communion, on one’s knees in the pew.

    I do this frequently, if, for some reason I have not fasted sufficiently, or not been able to make it to confession just prior to Mass.

    I can honestly say, I have felt the graces that it endows – it is not a poor substitute. I read the prayers in my 1954 Missal – which are put there for that purpose.

    EMHCs are worthy people who give up their time and help stretched or elderly priests – many are holy, and in good standing – but I also know some who are most emphatically not – and they effectively “self select” around here. Certain priests actually beg for volunteers and turn no-one away. There are grave scandals taking place.

  59. SimonDodd says:

    If I’m recalling correctly, the handout for the Christmas Masses in my parish explicitly encouraged people to approach any of the eucharistic ministers—including EMHCs—for a blessing.

    That really jumped off the page for me, because I’ve been wrestling with roughly the opposite problem of Fr. Z’s correspondent for a few weeks. My parish substitutes a communion service for Mass if a priest isn’t available. Since I can’t receive as a precatachumen, I generally seek a blessing instead. But working through the 1983 code during Advent, I read canon 1169 to implicitly restrict who can give a blessing to priests and deacons. (If you’re going to read sections two and three through the lens of expressio unius est exclusio alterius, however, what about bishops? Or do we construe sections two and three strictly as exclusive, yet section one liberally as including blessings under “consecrations and dedications”?) At any rate, this ex negativo sense seemed to be expressly confirmed by the CDF letter quoted in Fr. Z’s update and in http://www.ewtn.com/expert/answers/blessings.htm, but neither of those sources have the authority to answer definitively. (I don’t mean that the CDF doesn’t have such authority, only that the particular letter doesn’t seem to exercise the congregation’s authority.)

    On Sundays, I join the priest’s line. I wouldn’t approach an EMHC except for a communion service, and then with reservations. Even without a definitive answer from the Holy See, I think I’d feel very uncomfortable serving as an EMHC and being asked for a blessing.

  60. SimonDodd says:

    I should add that when I first started attending, I wasn’t sure if Deacons, let alone EMHCs, could offer blessings, so I stayed in my pew. When the RCIA class next did Q&A, I asked about it and was told that anyone could bless anyone or anything. That didn’t seem right to me, and reading the materials mentioned above, my skepticism has grown. Nevertheless, it’s too much to ask of a precatechumen that they look a group of cradle Catholics in the eye and, without being armed with something definitive from the Vatican, tell them they’re wrong.

  61. Perhaps another thing we should eliminate is row by row Communion?

  62. jesusthroughmary says:

    Maybe it’s because I’m 30, but how else would the Communion line work if not row by row? As long as we have pews, it seems to be the only way to avoid climbing all over each other at Communion time.

  63. Frank H says:

    jesusthroughmary – I certainly agree. There is enough commotion at a typical OF Mass. We certainly don’t need more.

  64. Martial Artist says:

    I am in a somewhat similar situation to SimonDodd, except that my wife and I are candidates awaiting adjudication by the diocesan Marriage Tribunal. I am reasonably certain that we who are not yet Catholic, but desire a blessing, have been explicitly invited to come forward at the distribution of the Eucharist with arms folded to receive a blessing. It was never indicated that we should only present ourselves to the priest, and, because I know I have heard the invitation, I am somewhat confused by the citations above.

    Receiving a blessing is an admittedly poor substitute for the Eucharist, but until such time as the matter of my prior marriage is resolved, it is a much needed aid in conforming myself to Christ and His desire for my life. What would be the appropriate alternative?

    Pax et bonum,
    Keith Töpfer

  65. jesusthroughmary says:

    Martial Artist (I typed “Marital Artist”, ironically) –

    The appropriate alternative is the traditional practice of making a spiritual communion. The ritual of the Mass prescribes that the priest administer certain blessings during the course of the Mass and proscribes any additional action on his part or anyone else’s. You should get a good hand missal or Google “spiritual communion” to find a formula that suits you, and pray it at Communion time. Or simply spend the time in silent prayer. If you wish, by all means, approach the priest after Mass for a blessing.

  66. jesusthroughmary says:

    On a side note, have you considered the possibility that your prior marriage will not be “resolved”, i.e. that it is valid?

  67. Life would be so much easier if we just used the Communion Rail, and limited EMHC’s to outside of Mass to sick calls. (and extaordinary circumstances, say if a priest is sick or unable to distribute for some reason)

    There is a blessing that’s given at the end of Mass. Communion isn’t time to give blesings. To get a blessing in one way is saying, it’s okay to be in mortal sin to approach the Holy of Holies in my opinion.

    Catechesis is key on this issue. I refuse to be an EMHC for the reasons above.

  68. jesusthroughmary says:

    Joe –

    As discussed above, and as I’m sure you’re aware, there are many other reasons that one would refrain from Communion, so assuming that because a person isn’t receiving, he is in a state of mortal sin, is not fair. It is sufficient to say that there is a blessing given at the end of Mass, and leave it at that.

  69. John F. Kennedy says:

    Martial Artist;

    I would encourage to to read item 4, that I cited above, that seem VERY relevant to your situation.

    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.

    The Church ALWAYS recognizes non-Catholic weddings as valid until determined otherwise by a Marriage Tribunal. It seems that you, more or less, are in that situation.

    My prayers are with you.

  70. kat says:

    The Roman Catholic Church encourages the faithful to make frequent, if not daily, communion. Today, the normal opportunity to receive the Eucharist comes at daily Mass. (In the past, many parishes, especially in cities, distributed the Eucharist before and after Mass for those who weren’t able to attend the whole Mass.)

    When we cannot make it to daily Mass, however, we can still make a spiritual communion, in which we express our faith in Christ and in His Presence in the Eucharist, and we ask Him to unite Himself with us. The following text is a popular form of spiritual communion; you can memorize it or use it as a guide to offering your own act of spiritual communion in your own words.

    An Act of Spiritual Communion

    My Jesus, I believe that You are present in the Most Holy Sacrament.

    I love You above all things, and I desire to receive You into my soul.

    Since I cannot at this moment receive You sacramentally, come at least spiritually into my heart. I embrace You as if You were already there and unite myself wholly to You. Never permit me to be separated from You. Amen.


  71. Paul Rimmer says:


    Thank you for the resources you have provided.

    As I am not an expert in canon law, I will refrain from commenting on such. I will simply provide a response based on my subjective aesthetic sense, the force of custom, and logic.

    If blessings during communion are licit, then I am in favor of their continuation.
    If blessings during communion are illicit, then I am in favor of them being instituted. I would, in other words, like them to be made licit.

  72. Martial Artist says:


    Yes, I have “considered the possibility….” I did so when I first entered RCIA at my parish.

    It is my firm belief that I was expressly led to the Catholic Church, and to my particular parish, by God. If the marriage tribunal finds that my prior marriage was valid, I will ask God to provide me the guidance to do whatever is necessary, including placing myself under a solemn vow to live together with my current wife as brother and sister, and the grace to live up to that vow, in order to gain admittance to the Body of Christ. I do not take what I believe to be direct guidance from God lightly.

    Pax et bonum
    Keith Töpfer

  73. Martial Artist says:

    jesusthroughmary and kat,

    Thank you both for the reference to making a spiritual communion. That will help greatly.

    Pax et bonum

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