QUAERITUR: Deacons and blessings with the traditional Roman Ritual

From a deacon reader:

I very much enjoy your blog!
You have written much on the power and effectiveness of Holy Water blessed according to the old rite (which includes salt) [NB: I don’t believe I have ever written that I think Holy Water blessed with the newer rite is not actually Holy Water.  I, however, have never used newer form to “bless” Holy Water.  FWIW.]

My Question:

Can a Permanent Deacon use the old rite to bless Holy Water?
Or is that reserved for the Priest?

I know you have said a “Deacon is a Deacon is a Deacon” and I agree with you.

However, I do not know what rites/blessings are allowed for Deacons under the Extraordinary Form.

Where can I find this information?

This information is found at the beginning of Titulus IX entitled De benedictionibus in the Rituale Romanum.  Here you will find the general rules.  Rule 1 says, in Weller’s translation, “Deacons and lectors may confer only those blessings which are expressly allowed them by law, in so far as both validity and liceity are concerned.”

The old rite for blessing Holy Water speaks about the sacerdos, which means bishop or priest. It does not mean deacon.   This is probably because the blessings include the exorcism of salt and of water, before they are blessed.   When you tangle with the Enemy, you want the ontological character of sacramental priesthood.  If a rare deacon would baptize in the older rite, he would use water that had been blessed already.

I surmise that deacons cannot bless Holy Water with the older form, even though the newer books may let them do so (De benedictionibus 1087).  The reason why deacons can “bless” the water in the new book is because, so far as I can tell from a close reading of the Latin text, at no point does the celebrant actually bless the water.  He talks about the blessings God could give people who use it, but the rite does not actually specify that the water be blessed.   If someone can show me that I am wrong, can point to the word or gesture I am missing, I will happily be corrected.

Good luck.

The new, dreadful, De benedictionibus – let it be swept away and forgotten – changes the theology of blessings in a way hitherto unimagined.  In a nutshell, the new, post-Conciliar book eliminates – horribile scriptu – the distinction between invocative and constitutive blessings.  The “blessings” in the new book don’t really bless things in the same way that the older ritual intended to bless things.  They talk in a vague way about God’s favor on those who might walk nearby or use the thing.

So, when we talk about the new laws allowing deacons to “bless” certain things, I think we have to read the text carefully and make a decision based on the intention of the blessing.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    In, dare I mention, the Book of Blessings for Holy Water Outside of Mass #1390 states, “…blessing outside of Mass, the rite given here may be used by a priest or deacon”

    Deacon larry [Yes, I know. That is what I wrote, above, when I mention De benedictionibus 1087. But you don’t actually bless anything. Read the text. Neither do priests.]

  2. Allan S. says:

    I hope I misunderstand, but as you write “the rite does not actually specify that the water be blessed”, does it therefore follow that today there is in fact no such thing as Holy Water at all? [I can’t make that call. It is above my pay grade. But I have never used the newer book.]

    This would indeed explain a lot, including the filling of [not]Holy Water Fonts from the tap and the refusual of some priests to bless water for the faithful.

    I’m still shocked though, especially if it’s true that Holy Water only exists if the older ritual is followed.

  3. Geoffrey says:

    I think it is unrealistic for “The Roman Ritual: Book of Blessings” to be cast aside and forgotten. [Really? A lot of people expected exactly that to be done with the older books. ] I pray that is “revised” by the CDW very soon! What’s one more ‘editio typica altera’? [No. It is too badly flawed to be revised. It would be far easier to add to the older Ritual.]

  4. MarkJ says:

    Does this theological shift for blessings according to the New Rites apply to the “blessing of the ashes”, too? If so, then the first time I actually received “blessed ashes” was at the TLM I attended yesterday for Ash Wednesday where the Traditional Form was used. Every other Ash Wednesday Mass I have ever gone to was the Novus Ordo… Seems like more evidence in support of the SSPX and their unflinching opposition to post-Vatican II changes in the Rites.

  5. Centristian says:

    “However, I do not know what rites/blessings are allowed for Deacons under the Extraordinary Form.”

    I think I’m a little bit concerned [Let us know when you actually become concerned. Or… on the other hand…] that the (now capitalized) phrase “Extraordinary Form” (based upon Pope Benedict XVI’s phrase, “ordinary expression”), has replaced “pre-Conciliar form” (or the like) in the common parlance of some Catholics. The two ideas, “pre-Conciliar” and “extraordinary”, are not synonymous or interchangeable. [Get back to us when you actually look at the texts in the two books.]

    There is no “Extraordinary Form” of holy water or of the blessing thereof. [Yes. There is.] This now misunderstood notion of an “extraordinary expression” used by the Pope in Summorum Pontificum refers to the Mass and the celebration of the Sacraments of the Roman Rite. It doesn’t refer to just anything, certainly not to holy water. [Wrong. Read the texts.]

  6. benedictgal says:

    In the older De Benedictionibus, the blessing was for the object; however, if I understand correctly, the present De Benedictionibus seems to shift the blessing on the individual, rather than on the object.

  7. Centristian says:

    “based upon Pope Benedict XVI’s phrase, ‘ordinary expression'”

    Of course, I meant “extraordinary expression”. Apologies.

  8. dans0622 says:

    I can’t disagree with your commentary at all, Father. The “Copernican revolution” in the “theology” of blessings is one of the most noticeable to me. I see it all the time, these days. Like yesterday at Mass, the priest came to the blessing of the ashes and followed the book exactly. I can’t recall the words he used but I couldn’t help but realize that, while he started by saying something like “Let us ask God to bless these ashes…”, the actual prayer of blessing was not directed to the ashes but to those who would receive them. I like to receive blessings but I am not ashes….yet.


  9. amenamen says:

    There are two blessings “in special circumstances” in The Book of Blessings

    Blessings of Articles Meant to Foster the Devotion of the Christian People
    Order for the Blessing of Religious Articles: Shorter Rite
    Short Formulary
    In special circumstances, a priest or deacon may use the following short blessing formulary:
    May this (name of the article) and the one who uses it be blessed,
    in the name of the Father, and of the Son, + and of the Holy Spirit.
    R. Amen.

    Order for the Blessing of Rosaries: Shorter Rite
    Short Formulary
    In special circumstances, a priest or deacon may use the following short blessing formulary:
    May this rosary and the one who uses it be blessed,
    in the name of the Father, and of the Son, + and of the Holy Spirit.
    R. Amen.

    [Right! Thanks for that. They may be the only two. I remember sitting with my bishop one afternoon trying to find an actual blessing in that book. It was an eye-opener.]

  10. In my email inbox from a permanent deacon:

    When I was ordained a permanent deacon, I asked for and received from my bishop permission to use the older Roman Ritual. According to his reading of Summorum Pontificum, I am allowed to use the older form of a blessing, under three conditions: (a) whenever I would be allowed as a deacon to use the OF to bless, and (b) whenever an older form for blessing this person or object is in the Ritual, and (c) whenever this older form is not expressly reserved only for a higher grade of clergy than deacon. [That sounds entirely reasonable to me.]

    I have used the older Ritual for blessings of people only twice (#29, pilgrims, and #33, sick children); others I have not yet been called upon for, but would be able to offer, would be e.g., #31, a sick adult; #34, expectant mothers, etc.; and for objects not for sacred use (pretty much all of Ch V, “blessings for irrational creatures,” [One could have a little fun with that!] is available to me, though I’ve only been asked a handful of times).

    Lastly, I have found #130, “Form of blessing any object,” invaluable as a adaptable template for impromptu requests for blessings. I would recommend this by itself to any priest or deacon, so as never to be unprepared.

  11. michalmaria says:

    Well, De benedictionibus is indeed awful, but it also states, that local bishops / conferences of bishops should prepare adaptations to local circumstances. Well… In Slovakia (where I’m writing from) they published a direct (unaltered) version of the original book and the priests here were more than unhappy. We use a lot of traditional blessings throughout the liturgical year, and they were simply missing there. (It was like: Hey and where is this… or this… or that…) Besides the sign of cross was almost never to be seen. In the end, a second book came out in 2009 with all that was needed and a nice decree from the Congregation (In Congr. De Cultu Divino tab., n. 1745/02L), which states (my loose translation): it is necessary to use the sign of cross [in the blessings, where its use is not mentioned]. If the sign [typographical] is missing [in the text], it should be given where the words blessing, bless, or similar do appear, or if they are not present, at the end of the prayer.
    This changed a lot, because frankly, the distinction between a simple prayer and a blessing faded completely in the revised Benedictionale.

  12. Gail F says:

    First you wrote:

    [NB: I don’t think I have ever written that I that Holy Water blessed with the newer rite is not actually Holy Water. I, however, have never used newer form to “bless” Holy Water. FWIW.]

    Then you wrote:

    The reason why deacons can “bless” the water in the new book is because, so far as I can tell from a close reading of the Latin text, at no point does the celebrant actually bless the water. He talks about the blessings God could give people who use it, but the rite does not actually specify that the water be blessed.

    Seems to me that is saying that water “blessed” with the new rite isn’t Holy Water, so you did just say it.

    FWIW, a priest made an offhand remark at a lecture I was present at last year to the effect that he wasn’t sure the new blessing did anything to water, which he said would explain a lot. It certainly freaked me out! What is a lay person supposed to do — call around and ask if the water is blessed and if so, what blessing the priest used? I know some readers will write in that that’s exactly what we are supposed to do. But I don’t think the Church should be putting us in that position in the first place. Just as I am shocked that people are writing in that priests won’t bless water for them. Why not? Am I way off base here, or is that something a priest could do pretty easily even if he thought it was silly? I don’t see why a priest would NOT do something only he could do, even if he thought it was silly, if someone really wanted it. Doesn’t that just go along with the territory of being a priest?

  13. GregH says:

    Father Z,

    Are there some higher-ups (i.e. when he was Cardinal Ratzinger) who feel the “Book of Blessings” is decrepit as well?

  14. GregH: Yes, indeed there were.

  15. Rob Cartusciello says:

    “Deacons and lectors may confer only those blessings which are expressly allowed them by law, in so far as both validity and liceity are concerned.”

    This passage raises another question: What may an instituted Lector or Acolyte bless?

    The Weller translation states the principle (quoted above), but never states where such a list of blessings exists.

  16. Vox clamantis in deserto says:

    Another Slovak voice in this discussion (greetings to Michal Maria :-) ):

    You can read a good review of post-IIVC changes and their (almost purely protestant, as far as I can judge them…) motivation at


  17. benedictgal says:

    I heard Dr. Van Slyke’s talk on the De Benedictionibus at the Society for Catholic Liturgy conference this past January. I need to read through my notes to review what was said.

  18. Allan S. says:

    This is all rather sad. All I want is some Holy Water I can take home so I can drink some every day while my doctors and I fight the ups and downs that go with any cancer diagnosis. It shouldn’t be this hard – that I would have to track down a willing priest, worry he will think me a little “touched”, make an appointment so I don’t inconvenience him having respect for his busy schedule, supply him with salt, water and a copy of the ritual.

    This is not (I hope) superstition; I just believe that it will really help, and with cancer you pretty much have to throw everything you’ve got at it.

    This is depressing. Very depressing.

  19. ipadre says:

    I whole heartedly agree with Fr. Z! There is no blessing and in most circumstances, no sprinkling with holy water. The is a complete change of terminology. The “theology” of the Book of Blessings, is that we bless God (give praise) for His gift of water, etc… I always use the old ritual and if it’s not available, I make an extemporaneous prayer, make a sign of the cross over the object and sprinkle it with holy water. I pray that CDW gives us a new Roman Ritual again. Another break of continuity.

  20. ipadre: We have the old Roman Ritual now.

  21. Centristian says:

    Father Zuhlsdorf:

    I apologize. Subsequent readings of various information available on this subject show me that my very definite assertion was too strong. I see that there happens to be, in fact, a school of thought that interprets Summorum Pontificum as embracing blessings, and there are likewise enough references to the older texts as the “Extraordinary Forms” of blessings. It also seems, however, that there is a contrasting school of thought that does not recognize that Summorum Pontificum has instituted the older forms of blessings as “Extraordinary Forms” of them.

    I suppose the latter way of looking at things seems–I now stress SEEMS–more correct to me insofar as I cannot find anything in SP, itself, that makes any references to blessings. Looking at the text of SP, alone, it is difficult for me to arrive at the first school of thought. But I am not as knowledgeable as those authors who I have read who support the notion of an “Extraordinary Form” of blessings, yourself included.

    If Summorum Pontificum, in which the Pope refers only to the Mass, itself, [and to the Breviarium Romanum and to the Rituale Romanum and confirmation is done with the Pontificale.] using the words “extraordinary expression”, is really and truly as sweeping as advocates of the first school of thought suggest, however, doesn’t the document, then, almost render the whole of the liturgical reforms that followed Vatican II optional? Does that not essentially mean that any priest, anywhere, may, if he so chooses, revert to every single pre-Conciliar use–from the Mass down to the simplest blessing–as if Vatican II never happened? I mean, if any priest can do it, then it logically follows that EVERY priest can do it.

    In other words, the entirety of the Catholic priesthood could, if it wanted to, tomorrow, turn its back on Vatican II altogether (liturgically, sacramentally, and ritually) and act as if the post-Conciliar reforms had never happened, all because of the provisions of Summorum Pontificum? [This is deeply offensive for two reasons. First, the “entirety of the Catholic priesthood” includes my Eastern brother priests, who have no interest in using the Roman Rite but who are, I am sure, glad that their Latin brothers have something again close to the dignity of what they have never lost. Also, you imply that those who desire to use the older forms are, by that desire, associated with those who desire to deny the authority of the Second Vatican Council.]

    Fine with me, if so…but I can’t believe that could be so. [It’s your straw man. Do what you want with it.]

  22. St. Rafael says:

    The one thing that the laity can do is have their own copy of the ’62 Missal and ask for the priest to use it, when they want some water blessed for personal use.

    Other than that, most priests should start using the old Roman Ritual on their own.

  23. Actually there is in the Ordinary Form a Blessing of Holy Water that blesses the water (and optionally salt). It is the rite prescribed for use during Mass at the Asperges. It is found in Appendix: Ordo ad Faciendam et Aspergendam Aquam Benedicta 1-5 (pp. 917ff in my 1975 Missale Romanum–it is also in the English translation of the Missal). The words “quaesumus hanc aquam + benedicere” are used in the blessing of the water; “ut hanc creaturam salis benedicere + tua pietate digneris” in the blessing of the salt. The two are then mixed.

    After one encounter of the rite for blessing for water in the new book of blessings, I have always blessed Holy Water with the rite within Mass. This is also a teachable moment since the congregation is present. And by communal celebration at Mass the blessing makes clear that Holy Water is a devotion of the Church as the Body of Christ in head and members, not merely a devotional of private use (although it may be so used as well).

    [I found that this is also in the 2002MR, pp. 1249 ff. The rite seems actually to intend to bless the water as you indicate. This makes theDe benedictione even more incoherent.]

  24. dcs says:

    All I want is some Holy Water I can take home so I can drink some every day while my doctors and I fight the ups and downs that go with any cancer diagnosis.

    Someone will correct me if I am wrong, but I do not believe that holy water ought to be drunk, at least not in our Western tradition. I’m surprised that no one has addressed this.

  25. Deacon Nathan Allen says:

    N. 224 of the Rite of Baptism for Children is an example of a clear blessing of the water, and the rubrics clearly state that a deacon can be the celebrant. But you’re right: The Book o’ Blessings is dreadful.

  26. Canonically Speaking says:

    Fr. Z, I love your blog, think it is a much needed ministry in the Church, and agree with you 99% of the time. But not this time. Even though Summorum Pontificum may allow the use of the blessings of the older ritual, the most recent liturgical laws are in force. By analogy, consider the 1991 Rite of Marriage, whose praenotanda are the current “ius vigens”, even though no English translation has been approved yet. Or, consider that women are not canonically required to wear a mantilla when attending the Extraordinary Form, since the CIC/83 does not require it. Therefore, I would argue 1) that deacons can bless holy water using the blessing found in the 1969 Rite of Baptism and in the Book of Blessings and 2) deacons can even bless holy water using the older ritual since the ius vigens allows deacons to. [I don’t buy it, not from a canonical point of view, but from a theological point of view.] Finally, I suggest we ought not call into question the validity of the blessings of the “De benedictionibus” since it has been approved by the competent authority in light of c. 841. [It don’t think that the mere fact of promugation guarantees that texts that have no language of blessing confer blessings. I don’t object to properly promulgated texts which actually bless.] After all, if the Anaphora of Addai and Mari can be valid without the explicit words of consecration, why not the blessing of holy water? [That is another issue. However, that was also a really bad decision that is not without it critics at a high level. Furthermore, for your opportune knowledge, Fr. Lang edited a book of essays about that issue.]

  27. BP247 says:

    We should have no difficulty blessing God, but using sacerdotal power to also bless an object is a good thing, and indeed a powerful rite. Even better is a consecrated thing. Unless I am mistaken unlike a sacrament which by virtue of the rite being celebrated in accord with the mind of the Church with at least those rites, actions and words necessary for validity it occurs “ex opere operato” whereas a sacramental such as Holy Water or other such things while indeed being blessed occur “ex opere operantis.” Thus a sacramental can be even more potent if blessed by a man meeting the qualifications of the rite in question who is also holy. In other words a blessing conferred by St. John Vianney is better than mine. But how about Saint Ephrem (perhaps it is anachronistic since maybe deacons never blessed things in the ancient church – I don’t know the answer to that question by the way), but supposing St. Ephrem did would his diaconal blessing be more potent than my priestly blessing because he is a saint and I am not, at least not in the same way he is? Or does the ontological distinction between diaconus and sacerdos both in Sacred Orders mean that even an unworthy priest, or a priest like me who should be holier than I am who blesses using sacerdotal power will confer a more potent blessing than a saint such as St. Francis or St. Ephrem, deacons both? Any thoughts? I am all for deacons by the way. Even while being a priest I remain a deacon. And if there be a deacon as holy as St. Gregory the Great, I say the cardinals ought to elect him after the reign of Pope Benedict XVI – may he gloriously reign at least as long as Pope Leo XIII his predecessor – or even a lowly sub-deacon who is holy and qualified, but you might have to look to the eastern Churches for a sub-deacon who is also a cleric as there are none to be found in the Latin Church who are also clerics. Then again even a sub-deacon who is not a cleric could be pope. Just as long as he is a man duly baptized, confirmed and not married. Sorry, St. Ambrose, I think that mean you are out.

  28. benedictgal says:

    Fr. Z, this is what I remembered from the SCL Conference when the De Benedictionibus was discussed:

    Constitutive blessings: constitute people for the service of God and for objects to be used in divine worship.

    Invocative blessings are implored on persons or objects, but, it does not reserve them for sacred use. Invocative blessings make up the bulk of the blessings today.

    In the early Church, the constitutive blessings were quite prevalent. The oil used for anointings is one such example.

    For centuries, blessings had an apatropaic slant, as these were used to guard against the Evil One.

    The prayer of blessing, itself, can be characterized as thanksgiving to God for his blessing and an intercession for his continued protection. The actual blessings are invoked, not on the objects, but on those who use them.

    Of course, I have to carefully transcribe my own handwriting into readable English, but, there was more on the subject.

    Somehow, I have the gut feeling that the older form of the De Benedictionibus was, as Fr. Z noted, for use by the sacerdos (bishops and priest). In the older form, there werer blessings that were reserved solely to the bishop and the rest to the priest. The deacon is not mentioned.

    I think that the matter of the deacon using the older form of the De Benedictionibus would be an interesting question to pose to the CDWDS.

  29. Dr. Sebastianna says:

    @DCS who said, “Someone will correct me if I am wrong, but I do not believe that holy water ought to be drunk, at least not in our Western tradition. I’m surprised that no one has addressed this.”

    I have heard a US Roman Catholic Priest say that it is OK to drink Holy Water if there is genuine need to do so. He gave the examples of serious illness and spiritual/demonic afflictions.

  30. Rob Cartusciello says:

    I have avoided this problem by buying a copy of the older Roman Ritual. The Weller translation is quite handy, and I never have to fret about what blessing the priest will use.

    In fact, at my first blognic, I had Father Z. bless two medals of St. Benedict using the older form.

    In similar manner, the priest at our wedding used the Rituale Romanum to bless our rings.

  31. CarpeNoctem says:

    Can I go back and pick up on somthing from MarkJ?

    There are two options for the blessing of ashes on Ash Wednesday in the Sacramentary (and incidentally, if I recall, they are the same in the Book of Blessings). The first formula one ‘blesses those who receive the ashes’ and the second one actually blesses ‘these ashes’. So my read is that the second one DOES bless ashes, where the first one… eh, not so much. The MR2002 seems to repeat this distinction.

    Now there is something good about having these options. I set out the ashes for my first Mass and blessed them with the “bless these ashes” language (option #2). In my two subsequent Masses (yes, I trinated yesterday to full houses), I blessed ‘the people receiving the ashes’ (option #1) because the ashes themselves in my mind were already blessed… and you don’t intentionally re-bless somthing that is already blessed, if I am not mistaken? I found the first formula IN THIS CASE more fitting for this very reason.

    Does this have any application to why/how water is ‘blessed’ the different ways it is?

    Is there, perhaps, a subtle distinction being expressed in the prayers, akin to the older forms that distinguished between baptismal water and holy water and lustral water? I can’t tell exactly. I suppose the Church vouches for the DB 1087 formula, but it does seem that the best thing to do is to simply use the old rite that makes explicit what is taking place and cast any doubt away on this…

  32. Allan S. says:

    RE: May Holy Water be Consumed by the sick?

    Yes, I believe it may. This appears to be some variant or special type of Holy Water blessing ritual, from the Roman Ritual (snipped for brevity):

    Let us pray.

    We humbly appeal to your majesty, O Lord, asking that as you once blessed the rock in the desert, letting a copious flow of water come forth when Moses struck it twice with his rod, thus typifying by this double stroke the mystery of your passion and the two wooden beams of the cross; so now you may again hallow with your bounteous blessing this water by the mystery of the same holy cross. And let every sick person who drinks of it or is sprinkled with it forthwith experience the healing effect of your blessing; through Christ our Lord.

    I bless this water in the name of God the Father almighty, who created this pleasing element for man’s use ennobling it by His wondrous power to wash away the stains of both body and soul; to be drink for the thirsty cool refreshment for those suffering from the heat; a means of travel for seafarers; and who in water and by the water in the universal deluge–when the cataracts of heaven poured down rain for forty days and forty nights, yet sparing the lives of the eight people in the Ark–prefigured the sacrament of the New Covenant. May He now bless and hallow this water, so that by the invocation of His holy name and that of St. Vincent, it may heal the sick, strengthen the infirm, cheer the downcast, purify the unclean, and give full well-being to those who seek it; in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

    Lord, hear our entreaties, and by the merits of St. Vincent, whose relic (or image) we apply to it, pour out your constant blessing on this element, water, and let it be a health-giving drink to those who use it.

    All: Amen.

  33. dcs says:

    @Allan S.,

    That seems to be a different sacramental than ordinary holy water.

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