Blessings at Communion time… again

Vote for Fr. Z!I just hammered out my weekly column for the paper.  Among other things I wrote about the issue of blessings during Mass at Communion time.

I have written about this before (try HERE and HERE and HERE and HERE and HERE and HERE and HERE …).

Here is something of what I wrote this week:


We are in the section of Mass called the Ritus communionis, the preparation for and reception of Holy Communion.  We can dispense with a look at the rendering of the Our Father, since the translation is not changing.  Let us then skip to the part immediately following, known as the rather medical sounding “embolism”.

The embolism (from Greek embolismos, “insertion, interpolation”) is the section between the end of the Lord’s Prayer and the fraction rite (during which the Host is broken).  In the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite the priest says this prayer quietly as he takes the paten, the small plate for the Host, from underneath the linen corporal, makes the sign of the Cross upon himself with it, and, having kissed the paten, slides it underneath the Host which was lying upon the corporal.  None of that is done in the newer, Ordinary Form.

In Eastern Rites, after the Lord’s Prayer the priest blesses the people.  Then, taking up the Eucharist, he utters the ominous “The Holy to the holy!” This is both an invitation to come to Communion and a warning not to approach unworthily.   There was a blessing in Western liturgies as well.  The liturgical scholar Joseph Jungmann in his Mass of the Roman Rite says that in Gallic liturgies a blessing was given not as a preparation for but as a substitute for Communion, after which those not partaking could leave.

Plus ça change… I suppose.  The more things change, the more they stay the same.

These days it is not rare that people will come forward at Communion time and, if they don’t receive, make some signal to receive a blessing instead.  There may also be the rite of the rush to the parking lot, which continues all through the distribution of Communion.  The parking lot is a modern development, but the theory remains pretty much the same.

This column isn’t about the moment of Communion itself, but the tidbit about blessings in lieu of Communion provides a segue to the subject of these fairly common practice of blessings at Communion time.  I may be stumbling toward the third rail by bringing this up, but from what I understand blessings at Communion are not permitted.

You have seen the drill: people not intending or able to receive go forward in the regular manner, but instead of receiving Communion they cross their arms over their chests as a signal to bless them.  In 2008 the under-secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship sent a letter (Prot. No. 930/08/L) with observations about this practice.  NB: this was a private response, not an official.  But it’s not nothing.  The letter states the obvious. The moment for a blessing during Mass is at the end.  Moreover, the letter repeats that lay people may not give blessings.

It seems that this practice developed mainly to make people feel good, which isn’t the point of any of the rites of Mass.  Receiving a blessing is not the same as receiving Communion.  The practice therefore is not well-proportioned to the dignity of that moment at Mass and should be avoided for that reason alone: it gives the wrong impressions.

I don’t believe there is an official condemnation of this practice from the Congregation.  Does there have to be? There is not an explicit condemnation of doing hand-stands at Communion time either. We all know the oft repeated point of the Church’s law that no one, bishops included, may not on their own authority add to or subtract from the rites Holy Church issues in its liturgical books (cf.  SC 22 et al.).  And yet that is precisely what is happening with these blessings at Holy Communion time.  It may be that approval will be given someday for these blessings.  But, would that not merely put the giving of blessings at Communion on a par with Communion in the hand or the introduction of girls serving at the altar? Both of those practices were contrary to the law and, because of widespread liturgical abuse, eventually approved.   But I digress.

For the Gallic version of these pre-Communion blessings in the Carolingian period a deacon would say “Humiliate vos ad benedictionem… humble yourselves (bow) for the blessings.”  The bishop, with mitre and staff, pronounced the blessing making three signs of the Cross, much as we see them do today at the end of Mass and other times. They would even add some reflection on the meaning of the feast being celebrated.  According to Jungmann, Pope Zachary complained to St. Boniface in 751 in a letter about the introduction of these pontifical blessings into the Roman Rite.  It seems there has ever been a struggle to keep gabby clerics in check.




When you’ve had a hard day fighting off the introduction of contra legem customs during Holy Mass, why not relax with a WDTPRS mug of piping hot Mystic Monk Coffee?

I am sure one of the reasons you go to Holy Mass regularly, apart from not wanting to go to hell, is to feel spiritually refreshed from your contact with the Lord.  You want to get back out there in the world and do what God put you on earth to do!   I am not suggesting that renewing yourself at Mass and renewing your supply of Mystic Monk Coffee are on par with each other… but perhaps refreshing your supply will in fact help you avoid hell too!   Think about it!

Are you thinking about it?  Not working?

Okay, it doesn’t work for me either, but the whole point of these is to make outrageous connections so that you’ll buy coffee from those traditional Carmelites in Wyoming to help them build their monastery.

Is it working yet?

If it isn’t perhaps the knowledge that the Carmelites are running a sale on their chocolate covered coffee beans right now might just do the trick.

Ground, or whole bean, or chocolate-covered beans, Mystic Monk Coffee!

It’s swell!

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    You have seen the drill: people not intending or able to receive go forward in the regular manner, but instead of receiving Communion they cross their arms over their chests as a signal to bless them.

    Another reason this is not a good idea: IIRC, in the some of the Eastern Rites, the faithful approaching to receive Communion also cross their arms over their chests.

  2. Supertradmum says:

    This crossed-arms blessing posture is common in all parishes here, where parents with children who have not made the First Communion encourage their children to do this as well as the Catholic school teachers. Rather than having the children just stay in the pew, these pre-Communion age kids file up and go through the blessing “ritual”. I really hate it and wondered how this got to be the norm.

    I have seen adults do this as well, which I do not understand, as RCIA people leave before Holy Communion, in most parishes. I wish a statement “from on high” would end this, as it seems unnecessary and not even appropriate liturgically. And, what I really see as silly, are all the EMs “blessing” people, children, when they have no power of giving a blessing. I mentioned this to my former pastor once and he said we can all bless each other…This priest is a Benedictine Monk. Another pastor I worked for in RCIA always asked the congregation to bless the candidates. A simple, general word from either the Vatican or the USCCB on blessings, whether by the priest, or the faux blessings from the EMs and congregation seems a real necessity to me.

  3. Centristian says:

    “Another pastor I worked for in RCIA always asked the congregation to bless the candidates.”

    Now that’s something I really dislike: demanding that the congregation stand with outstretched right arms to “bless” someone, making the Church look like a Nuremburg rally, for Heaven’s sake. [Also not the subject of this entry.]

    Some priests ask their congregations to do this at weddings, too, oblivious, apparently, to what it actually looks like (especially for any Jewish guests present) as everyone stands there, “heiling” the bride and groom, smirking and gigling.

  4. bangertm says:

    Fr. Z,

    In a post yesterday you mentioned that in the extraordinary form the minister says, “May the Body of Our Lord Jesus Christ keep your soul unto life everlasting. Amen.” when distributing communion. Isn’t that itself a blessing or is it something else? – Mike [Hmmm… that’s a good question. It seems somehow stronger, or beyond a mere invocative blessing. It is almost like a mini Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, isn’t it!]

  5. Subdeacon Joseph says:

    I would have to agree with Daniel. Christians of the Byzantine Rite all cross their arms when receiving the Eucharist, and this could potentially lead to confusion. The laity who have not communed will recieve a blessing from the Eucharist twice in the Byzantine Rite. The first is after the communion of the faithful when the priest elevates the chalice and says, “O Lord save thy people and bless and bless thine inheritance.” Then a second blessing with the chalice will occur when the priest takes it from the altar to the table of oblation. He will come out of the royal gates to the ambon and quietly say while facing the altar, “Always now and ever…” and when he reaches the ambon he will exclaim as he elevates the chalice, “and unto ages of ages.”

  6. Matthew in Vancouver says:

    I have three questions:

    1. Let’s say a person doesn’t want to receive Holy Communion because they are not in the state of grace. Would a blessing be of any benefit to them anyway?

    2. We all know that the laity have no power to give blessings (aside from father over children, etc). Does it follow that the laity have no power to pray over people?

    3. Father Z, could you include the “Cued Music” in an upcoming PodcaZt while giving a plug for the Monks? :-)

  7. MissOH says:

    I have an almost 4 year old who is too young to be left in the pew. We attend the EF on Sundays, but for daily mass there are some priests who like to give the blessing. I don’t want to make a scene (what am I going to do snatch her away?) Sitting in the front pew is not always possible since at one parish there are some regulars in the front who are also very enthusiastic during the “kiss of peace” which includes father coming down off of the altar to exchange peace with those in the front row.

    It gets even better at the pre-k she attends where they have all of the students too young for communion to go up for a blessing. Unfortunately, the only school that offers EF mass as its school mass is close to an hour away if there is no traffic. I am probably going to just have to teach her it is something she will probably have to do when she is at certain masses…

  8. Supertradmum says:


    I sympathize with you, and how did this ever get out of hand (no pun intended)? Teachers and priests have created their own liturgical rules, which confuse children. Please, we need a statement and an end to all of this blessing nonsense.

    “It gets even better at the pre-k she attends where they have all of the students too young for communion to go up for a blessing.” And, if there is a family at daily Mass with older, home schooling children, even these more conservative moms march their pre-Communion kids up for blessings…I don’t get it. Are these Masses so crowded that people are afraid of kidnapping from the pews, or can’t people watch out for children in the pews? It is a problem.

  9. asophist says:

    It was only two Sundays ago, during the sermon at my parish’s regular Sunday TLM, that the priest, from the pulpit, encouraged people to come up to the communion rail and cross their arms over their chest to receive a blessing if they were not disposed to receive Holy Communion. I expect this practise will continue unless (and until) there is some “official” directive to the contrary from the Vatican itself.

  10. dad29 says:

    there has ever been a struggle to keep gabby clerics in check

    Matched, blow-for-blow, by the struggle to keep musicians from ‘music-ing’ through everything at Mass.

  11. benedictgal says:

    I commented on the subject in my blog back in December:

    Some time after I wrote this, the diocesan magazine (part of which is incoporated into some canned publication from Lansing, Michigan) carried an article called “In the Know with Fr. Joe” where the author, Fr. Joe , wherein the priest extolled the virtues of imparting these blessings and how he takes his time in doing so.

    A friend of mine wrote him an email in protest, but, he never responded.

  12. capebretoner says:

    Our parish priest goes out of his way to give any child in tow a blessing at Communion.
    The part that bothers me the most is when the “children’s choir” storms to the front of the church at Sunday morning Mass specifically for that reason. If they haven’t made their First Communion yet, doesn’t sending them all up for their blessing take away from realizing Who it is they will at some point be waiting in that line to receive?
    (And I have to say that those chocolate covered coffee beans are absolutely delicious!)

  13. jilly4ski says:

    Supertradmum, indeed kidnapping, assault, theft and many other things are problems in some churches. I attend a downtown Cathedral, and we are instructed to not leave purses in the pew and parents are to attend all children to the bathroom. We have homeless people inside and outside the church, as well as other less then mentally stable people. I would not feel comfortable leaving a child under 4 in the pews while going to communion, unless in was the first few pews. Also I would be worried about the behavior of children under 5 sitting by themselves. I carry my newborn and husband carries the 2 year old, because we can’t leave them in the pew. So the priest reaches out to bless them. In fact once I ended up bumping the priest, because he reached out and stepped forward to bless the child, and I had forgotten. (The plus side of carrying a child up to communion, is that it gives me license to receive on the tongue, even after it has been “banned”).

  14. benedetta says:

    This kind of thing is heavily promoted where I am. With no commensurate explanation or catechesis, just, this is what we will be doing. But there is no question that a blessing does not substitute for the Holy Eucharist. This is all about EMHCs and promoting them as faux concelebrants, making them appear as if having some sort of special class or clerical authority, apparently for that day finally when due to the priest shortage we the laity will be left finally all alone and to our own devices, to…celebrate the Mass…

    I do not agree that it is a good thing to encourage very young children to go up in the line and expectantly cross their arms for this gesture because one doesn’t want to convey the message to little ones, especially at that age, that this blessing does somehow equate with the Eucharist which they should come eventually to desire and prepare to receive. One can hold the hand of a little one and explain (perhaps many times) that it is not a “cookie”, that it is Jesus, and that they will be able to receive Jesus soon, when they are a little bit older. And then help them to prepare and look forward to the blessed day and continue to teach the faith which still holds that when we receive we should be in a state of grace. To receive when in a state of grace, there can be nothing better than that on this earth.

  15. mibethda says:

    In days prior to the current practice of having young children process up in the communion line for a blessing, it was not uncommon to see parents of young children go up separately for Communion — one remaining in the pew with the young or younger children until the other returned. It generally seemed to work quite well.

  16. Gabriel_20 says:

    I’m really glad you put this up, Father — I was trained as an EMHC, at a parish that I have since left partly because they seemed rather careless about the liturgy, and we were told by the priest who was training us that any baptized person could give a blessing. Thereafter I was always vaguely concerned over whether I’d been correctly catechized; several things were left unclear, and I heard conflicting things.

    (Also, can I just say that I am persistently annoyed when priests do that “Bow your heads and pray for God’s blessing” variant, where the people have to respond? It isn’t so much that I have a clericalist temperament, though that is one of my flaws, as that there is no way of telling when we’re supposed to say “Amen” and so everybody is murmuring it hesitantly either early or late, myself included.)

  17. Stephen Matthew says:


    More or less you need to have some authority over a person to invoke a blessing on them. These blessings are authoritative, you might say. Lay people can bless in this way in limited circumstances, such as fathers blessing their children, or perhaps even the blessing at a meal may even qualify as such.

    However, any baptized person can certainly pray that God will bless someone/something.

    Many blessings are worded in such a way that it is not all together clear which sort of blessing is being given/asked for.

  18. Precentrix says:

    Where I’ve attended the EF, almost all of the parents will bring their children up to the rails. Some of the priests bless (for the most part silently and mini-benediction-of-the-Ssm style), others don’t, but the children come up to the rail with their parents and adore. In any case, such a blessing where given would be clearly different to the EMHC-with-n0-authority situation.

  19. benedetta says:

    If the faithful are to be encouraged to come up to receive a pseudo-blessing with arms crossed from an EMHC then they should also be encouraged to receive communion on the tongue, preceded with a bow or whilst kneeling and EMHCs should be trained, since they are trained to dispense these “blessings” as laity it should also not be a big deal to train about refraining from eye rolling or smirking when someone receives on the tongue or, gasp, wearing a chapel veil or, heaven forbid, whilst kneeling…why not?

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