QUAERITUR: Can EMCHs give “blessings”?

From a reader:

At Mass this morning, at least one of the EMs was ‘blessing’ children
as they came forward. My understanding was that only priests could
give blessings.

We are a parish with 2 priests covering 3 churches, plus one Permanent Deacon.

The priest in charge was officiating today, alone. He also happens to
be the Vicar General.

I’m only in RCIA so I don’t feel I can comment but it just didn’t seem
quite right. Can you advise?

Since you are in RCIA, you are no doubt curious and interested to learn about Catholic worship and practices. I wish all Catholics were interested for their whole lives in learning about our worship.

I will refer you to a good entry about this issue HERE. It includes an article by Mr. Paul M. Matenaer, who wrote it for the newspaper of the Diocese of Madison.  My emphases and comments.


In 2008, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments received a letter asking precisely this question. The congregation responded in a private reply with five observations on why this practice is not permitted. [NOT]

But first, let me note that even though private replies do not have the force of universal law, they typically (and this one especially) contain an excellent analysis and resolution of the issue, giving us a unique look at the practice of the Roman Curia. In other words, this private reply is persuasive not by reason of authority but by the authority of right reason, to which every well-intentioned Catholic should submit. Here are their five observations:

Blessing given at end of Mass

[1] The Congregation for Divine Worship points out in their first observation that the liturgical blessing of the Mass is given to everyone gathered in the church just a few moments after the distribution of Holy Communion. This occurs when the priest, making the sign of the cross, says, “May Almighty God bless you, the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.”

In other words, there is no need to bless only some members of the congregation (e.g. children and non-Catholics) during communion, when the entire congregation is blessed by the priest just moments later.
Laity unable to bless at Mass

[2] In the second observation, we are reminded that within the context of Mass, blessings are the competency of the priest, not lay persons. Article 18 of the Book of Blessings [ugh] notes that even though lay persons may give some blessings, “whenever a priest or deacon is present, the office of presiding [over a blessing] should be left to him.”  [And at Mass there is always a sacerdos present.]

A 1997 instruction, Ecclesia de Mysterio, on the collaboration of the lay faithful further indicates that the laity should never say prayers or perform actions during the Mass which are proper to the priest, as this may lead to a confusion of roles. Since the blessing of the congregation during Mass is reserved to the priest, lay persons must avoid doing so.

Laying on of hands discouraged

[3] The third observation addresses the practice in some places where the EMHC lays hands on a member of the congregation as a sign of blessing. The private reply states that this practice “is to be explicitly discouraged” because the laying on of hands has its own “sacramental significance” which is inappropriate here. The Catechism notes that since this specific sign commonly accompanies the administration of sacraments (e.g. Confirmation) and the succession of the apostles, the laying on of hands must not be used here.

Some prohibited from receiving blessings

[4] Finally, in the fourth and fifth observations, the private reply notes there are some who should neither approach Holy Communion nor receive a blessing. This would include non-Catholics and those mentioned in canon 915 of the Code of Canon Law, such as those under the penalty of excommunication and those persisting in manifest grave sin. [!] Giving a blessing to these persons might give the impression that they are in full communion with the Church or have returned to good standing. In order to avoid the possibility of scandal, EMHCs should not give blessings.

Additions to the rite prohibited

[5] Finally, even though the private reply does not specifically mention this, we ought to recall that “no one may on a personal initiative add to or omit or alter anything in [liturgical] books” as canon 846 of the Code of Canon Law clearly states. Nowhere in the Roman Missal or the GIRM are the extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion instructed to bless those unable to receive communion; therefore, this practice of blessing is one of these additions to the rite which is strictly prohibited.

Making use of the sacramentals

Sometimes we may be tempted to think that since something is not part of the Mass it has no spiritual importance. But this would be to neglect the power of the sacramentals, such as blessings, which are liturgical actions signifying spiritual effects obtained through the intercession of the Church. Done properly and in the right context, these blessings better dispose us to receive grace and sanctify various occasions in life.

[NB] One such sacramental that lay persons may administer is the blessing of sons/daughters, which can be as simple as praying over your children: “May the Lord keep you and make you grow in his love, so that you may live worthy of the calling he has given you, now and for ever. Amen.”

Therefore, even if EMHCs are not permitted to give blessings during Mass, the desire to bless is good nonetheless and can become a fruitful aspect of our faith when done in accordance with the Church’s rites. As a parent, I have always enjoyed the practice of blessing my young children before bed and teaching them to reverence the Eucharist with a simple bow of the head as they walk past the minister of Holy Communion at Mass.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. Tom Esteban says:

    And yet… world over, in every Novus Ordo parish around the world, the army of EMHC around the sanctuary are giving blessings and playing priest. “Oh, Rome? No no, they only give guidelines, we do things differently here. If you want the medieval Church go be schismatic somewhere else. Over here everybody is a priest you see! I will not be deprived of my right to do this!”

  2. Ben Trovato says:

    World over? Every NO Parish around the world? Not in our parish in the UK, nor in many others I have been too. Yes we have unnecessary EMHCs but quite frequently they are only distributing the Precious Blood, and so nobody goes to them for a blessing.

  3. yatzer says:

    May one bless grandchildren?

  4. Nun2OCDS says:

    But while the time of communion is NOT the time for blessings- with regard to #4 please explain who should not receive a blessing? Why should a blessing be denied those “who should neither approach Holy Communion nor receive a blessing. This would include non-Catholics and those mentioned in canon 915 of the Code of Canon Law, such as those under the penalty of excommunication and those persisting in manifest grave sin. [!] ” Is it not possible that from the blessing such persons might receieve the grace that would move them to take the necessary steps to return or enter the Church? Are those in RCIA not to be blessed with all others at either the end of Mass or outside of it?

  5. Salvatore_Giuseppe says:

    I also would like to know the story about non-Catholics and blessings. Is the blessing at the end of Mass not efficacious for them? Should a non-Catholic (especially a catechumen or candidate) not cross themselves as if receiving the blessing?

  6. Rob in Maine says:

    Thank you for the (re-)post Father.

    When I was child, I distinctly remember at Mass for my recently deceased Grandfather, there was a golden patten with a cup in the center. If I recall, and I was only a boy, we received communion by intinction.

    About fifteen years ago I was in my mind twenties, trying to be a good Catholic and go to Mass in my new town. I had a bad cold, so I tried to self communicate by intinction. Well, I was seriously dressed down by the EMoHC right there! I was so embarrassed I left by the side door, never returning to my pew.

    Mind you, this was long before I became serious about my Faith and years before WDTPRS, Catholic Answers, podcasts and all the other great Catholic resources on the internet.

    This post, Father, is a good lesson on the reasons why our Holy Church has the rules it does. All one needs to do is take the time to understand.

    Thinking back, I feel the EMoHC had the correct intention, however it should have been a “teaching moment.” Still, this incident could have been avoided with reception on the tongue at the balustrade!!

  7. BobP says:

    The new English translation at the Gloria says “…We praise you. WE BLESS YOU. We adore you. We glorify you.” Apparently we can bless. And God at that.

  8. Simon_GNR says:

    I am soon going to become an EMHC and I am being prepared for this role by my parish priest. He said to me that when people come up for a blessing I should give some form of blessing but he was not very specific about what I should say. I know that only a priest can give a blessing as such but I thought that perhaps if I used a subjunctive form of blessing (“May God bless you…”) rather than an indicative one (“God blesses you…”) that might be OK. But I think really he ought to say to the congregation before the communion of the faithful begins that those wishing to receive a blessing should join his queue rather than the one for the EMHC, our usual practice being to have two persons on the sanctuary steps giving the host to the communicants – the priest and an EMHC, with two separate queues of people lining up to receive. I have seen/heard the practice of asking those wanting a blessing to come up to the priest not the EMHC and this seems a sensible approach to me.

  9. EoinOBolguidhir says:

    RULE OF THUMB: only persons representing God the Fathers should directly bless people. This includes only priests (presbyters and bishops), and fathers blessing their children in their own “domestic churches.” cf. Laertes and Polonius in Hamlet, or people seeking a father’s blessing to marry. Others may pray for God to bless people, or bless certain things (e.g. instituted lectors blessing breads), but they should not bless a person.

    YATZER, I’m sure this would apply to grandfathers as well as fathers.

  10. If your EMHC won’t bless you, just walk up to him an sneeze. She won’t be able to help herself.

  11. Would that this situation never arose, but the fact is people with their hands crossed over their chests are going to come up to lay people (and priests for that matter) for a blessing outside the order of the Mass. If such well-meaning folks are not instructed otherwise, their coming up will create awkward and seemingly inhospitable moments that need to be dealt with. Without adding to the liturgy in an unauthorized way, might not the EMHC or priest say something, anything?

    For instance, in such situations, is not one able to say, “I can’t bless you right now” or “please go back to your seat” or some other instruction?

    Would it not be permissible then to say something a little more hopeful like, “May God bring you into full communion with Christ and His Holy Church.”

    Such a thing would apply to anyone who is not actually receiving Holy Communion for whatever reason — mortal sin, not fasting appropriately, not a Catholic, too young — except perhaps someone who has received twice already that day.

    Just asking. Would that everyone were appropriately instructed on the matter and no (unnecessary) lay EMHCs were being used.

  12. ContraMundum says:


    Whatever the theory may say, I’ll say that yes: the blessing of Mass has an effect on non-Catholics as well. I’m a convert, and I think most converts will agree; we benefited from Mass even before we were able to receive the Eucharist.

  13. jhayes says:

    Several months after the CDWDS private letter started to circulate on the Internet, Father Edward McNamara, professor of iturgy at the Regina Apostolorum University, published an article in Zenit explaining why this was still an unresolved issue.

    A: We have addressed this topic on a couple of occasions (May 10 and 24, 2005) in which we expressed misgivings regarding this practice. At the same time, we pointed out that the legal situation of the usage is murky with bishops making statements falling on both sides of the argument.

    Recently, however, a document has appeared in several Internet sources which indicate that the Holy See is tending toward a negative view of the practice. The document is a letter (Protocol No. 930/08/L) dated Nov. 22, 2008, sent in response to a private query and signed by Father Anthony Ward, SM, undersecretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship.

    As a private reply the letter is not yet a norm with legal force and, as it makes clear, is not a definitive reply. However, it provides some valuable pointers on the legitimacy of this practice and the mind of the Holy See regarding it.

    The letter said that “this matter is presently under the attentive study of the Congregation,” so “for the present, this dicastery wishes to limit itself to the following observations”:

    [Points 1 – 5]

    Although the letter as such is not legally binding, some of its points, such as No. 2 on the prohibition of lay ministers giving liturgical blessings, are merely restatements of existing law and as such are already obligatory.

    Nor did the letter deal with all possible circumstances, such as the case of small children mentioned by our reader. Because of this, some dioceses have taken a prudent wait-and-see attitude regarding these blessings. For example, the liturgy office of the Archdiocese of Atlanta, while reiterating that “the Archdiocese has no policy prohibiting the use of blessings at the time of Holy Communion,” prudently suggested to pastors that it “may be appropriate to avoid promoting the practice until a more definitive judgment regarding its value in the liturgical celebration can be obtained.”


  14. paterscotus says:

    Having been an enthusiastic promoter of individual blessings during Holy Communion when a transitional deacon I have quite changed my mind since becoming a parish priest; this, because of the reasoning of the Church (as stated in the cited letter from the Congregation for Divine Worship) and due to direct pastoral experience. This is why I oppose the practice:
    1. It is not an authentic part of the liturgy. Recall that Vatican II said that: “Regulation of the sacred liturgy depends solely on the authority of the Church . . .Therefore no other person, even if he be a priest, may add, remove, or change anything in the liturgy on his own authority” (Sacrosanctum Concilium 22). The practice of going up for “blessings” in the Communion line is an accretion of uncertain origin and, potentially, harmful effect (see #3 below).
    2.Furthermore, each of the four processions in the Novus Ordo Mass has a purpose: the entrance, the presentation of the gifts, and the recessional all have a clear meaning and end and do not involve everyone. So, too, the communion procession is for those who are intending to and are properly disposed to receive the Holy Eucharist.
    3. Despite the primary focus of most proponents on the little children who are receiving “blessings,” real pastoral quandaries flow from this well-intentioned practice. The unmarried, cohabitating couple, for instance, who come up in the communion procession, stand side by side, arms crossed. When I “bless” them as a priest of the Roman Church, what is that saying? Likewise, due to this widespread practice, and particularly at weddings and funerals and Christmas and Easter, virtually everyone gets into the communion line, Catholic or not, spirituality disposed or not. That, clearly, is not in line with the mind of the Church, can lead to sacrilege, and can be embarrassing at the time of communion as well.

  15. ContraMundum says:

    … particularly at weddings and funerals and Christmas and Easter, virtually everyone gets into the communion line, Catholic or not, spirituality disposed or not.

    That is a huge problem. And most of them are not even content to just receive a blessing; most of them are receiving Communion. It is a very strange thing, but in the heart of Mass there is a perception of peer pressure to receive under any circumstances whatsoever, since “everybody is doing it” — even though that profanes the Sacrament and obtains not a blessing, but condemnation.

    I believe, O Lord, and I confess that Thou art truly the Christ, the Son of the Living God, Who camest into the world to save sinners, of whom I am first. I believe also that this is truly Thine own pure Body, and that this is truly Thine own precious Blood. Therefore I pray Thee: have mercy upon me and forgive my transgressions both voluntary and involuntary, of word and of deed, of knowledge and of ignorance. And make me worthy to partake without condemnation of Thy most pure Mysteries, for the remission of my sins, and unto life everlasting. Amen.

    Of Thy Mystical Supper, O Son of God, accept me today as a communicant; for I will not speak of Thy Mystery to Thine enemies, neither like Judas will I give Thee a kiss; but like the thief will I confess Thee: Remember me, O Lord in Thy Kingdom.

    May the communion of Thy Holy Mysteries be neither to my judgment, nor to my condemnation, O Lord, but to the healing of soul and body. Amen.

  16. vox borealis says:

    This is basically (and unfortunately) a lost cause, in my humble opinion. I raised this issue at my own parish…once. It was a holiday season, near Christmas or Easter (I don’t recall) so the army of EMHC was doubled, and communion was distributed not only at the front of the church but also “in the middle.” Since my family with kids sits near the back, we were shunted into an EMHC line (which I try to avoid) and before I could do anything, she (of course) slapped a blessing on the kids. I raised the issue with the “director of the EMHC ministry” (actually a friend, but still…) who immediately handed over my complaint over to the pastor, who in turn sent me a rather sternly worded email about how the EMHC didn’t really give blessings but only made the sign of the cross said a few words (ok…they *simulated* a blessing?) and that my attitude during such a holy season would not be tolerated.


    This practice is now so entrenched, and—as has been noted several times above—the laity Catholic and otherwise so expect to “get something” at Communion time, and moreover ordained ministers appear so willing to concede this issue, and moreover still the problem of far-too-ordinary EMHCs just grows and grows, I just don’t see any way to put the genie back in the bottle.

  17. Speravi says:

    In our parish the pastor and deacon usually lay on hands and say a prayer, so as to avoid giving a blessing. Since I am not the pastor, at first, I also did this (thinking that at least we weren’t giving a liturgical blessing). However, I noticed the EMHC beside me doing the same thing. Therefore I started giving a full verbal blessing with the sign of the Cross so as to do more the EMHC (remember, I am not the pastor…and I have heard through the grapevine that he might have told the EMHC’s to do this). Then I realized that it is weird to give a blessing while I am holding the Eucharist. Traditionally, you don’t even bless incense in the presence of the Eucharist exposed. So now I have been making the sign of the Cross with the Host in silence. I am not sure what else to do. I see only 3 viable options. Ask the pastor to stop all the blessings (surely the best, but I am not inclined to think it would be very well received), give exactly the same non-blessing blessing as the lay extraordinary ministers give, or just give the kids a blessing like they have been told they would get and one which clearly seems like, and actually is, more of a blessing than they get from the lay extraordinaries.

  18. mattdiem says:

    Why do *sponsors* make the sign of the cross over the catechumens in the “RITE OF ACCEPTANCE INTO THE ORDER OF CATECHUMENS”

    I am sponsoring a friend as he becomes Catholic this Easter….DG!!

    As we were rehearsing the “RITE OF ACCEPTANCE INTO THE ORDER OF CATECHUMENS” I found it rather odd that *I* was going to be making the sign of the cross over his ears, hands, feet etc and not the priest.

    A brief summary:


    The signing is carried out by the catechists or the sponsors. (If required by special circumstances, this may be done by assisting priests or deacons.) The signing of each sense may be followed by an acclamation in praise of Christ, for example, “Glory and praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ!”

    While the ears are being signed the celebrant says:

    Receive the sign of the cross on your ears,

    that you may hear the voice of the Lord.

    While the eyes are being signed.

    Receive the sign of the cross on your eyes,

    that you may see the glory of God.

    While the lips are being signed.

    Receive the sign of the cross on your lips,

    that you may respond to the word of God.


    I wanted to make sure this was kosher. I asked our priest and he said that it was fine and common practice. It just feels rather funny to me. Am I giving a blessing in a liturgical setting? I am not ordained…

  19. wmeyer says:

    I seem to recall a year or more ago when Fr. Z offered a link to an artice from the reliable Dr. Ed Peters, in which he reviewed the canonical reasons why an EMHC is not permitted to give blessings.

    It would be much simpler to just do away with the EMHCs altogether, and praiseworthy, too, I think, as there so many ill practices associated with the office.

  20. guatadopt says:


    Technically, as clerics, Deacons can also give most blessings that a priest can, in abstentia. They can also bless objects.

  21. Gretchen says:

    We have a pastoral associate in our diocese (a laywoman who has been in Catholic ministry for many years) who–on most Sundays–calls up the children for the Children’s Liturgy of the Word, and says to the congregation, “Please raise your hands toward the children for a blessing.” She then proceeds to say a blessing over the children before they are led off to Children’s Church. Most parishioners raise their hands in blessing. This happens just before the Scripture readings.

    How should this be approached in my parish? BTW, our ‘pastor’ is not a priest, but a pastoral administrator, a permanent deacon. Our parish priest must defer to the deacon in these things.

  22. benedictgal says:


    With all due respect, there are some flaws with your line of reasoning. When the celebrant prays “Ecce Agnus Dei”, he is issuing the invitation to receive Someone, Jesus in Holy Communion, not something, as in a blessing which will be imparted on everyone at the appropriate time, the end of Mass. It is better for those who cannot receive Holy Communion to remain in their pews and make a Spiritual Communion, asking Our Lord to enter spiritually into their hearts.

    Well-meaning CCD and RCIA instructors have the mistaken notion that these kind of blessings make some sort of substitute, consolation prize, if you will, for not being able to receive Holy Communion. However, tbis should not be the case. Sadly, we live in an age where we think that we are entitled to something, even during the Mass. The Church has every right to determine who is to approach the altar rail and when. She is the arbiter of wbat goes on in the Sacred Liturgy. We are not.

    Both Sacrosanctum Concilium and Redemptionis Sacramentum remind us that none of us, not even the celebrant, himself, has the authority to add anything to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. This “ritual”, as well-meaning as it appears to be, actually does more harm than good because it goes against both SC and RS. We need to teach the faithful humble obedience and not invent things and insert them into the Mass, basing ourselves on some misguided sense of inclusiveness.

    If you look at it carefully, the blessing at the end of Mass is the most inclusive part of the Holy Sacrifice because it applies to everyone, Catholic, Protestant, non-Christian and even Atheist.

  23. Matthew says:

    Perhaps those who want blessings rather than communion would take a stick of gum instead. That way they could have something in their mouth and get something when they went to communion -as we know that is their right.

  24. aspiringpoet says:

    I understand and accept the reason for not giving blessings to non-Catholics. However, I would like to mention that shortly before I had decided to join the Catholic Church, I went to Mass with a Catholic friend who encouraged me to go up to the PRIEST (not EMHC) for a blessing during Communion time. I think I had read at the time that this was not allowed, but in order to oblige my friend I did so. I had been struggling spiritually and emotionally for hours, in particular with certain fears about the Church, and when the priest blessed me, all of that immediately disappeared and I was aware of God’s grace and peace in a very palpable manner. This experience had many good effects on me and helped me to believe in the Sacrament of Holy Orders.

    So perhaps God sometimes uses even things that are illicit for His own purposes. This does not mean we should encourage illicit practices or not try to change them. I think that EMHCs giving blessings makes no sense at all. But I think we should not despise people who (usually in ignorance) go up to a priest for a blessing, but know that God may be giving His grace to that person at the moment in a special way – and that that person may desperately need it.

  25. Centristian says:

    Laymen and Laywomen are distributing Holy Communion during Mass. Sometimes they’re even wearing albs. If the Church is going to let laymen and laywomen go that far in looking and acting like ordained clergy, during Mass, what difference does it make, at that point, if they bless people too? What lines are really left to blur? Might as well.

    The problem is not that lay ministers bless people, but that they appear in the context of the liturgy, at all. Send them to the hospitals and nursing homes and keep them out of the sanctuary.

  26. benedictgal says:


    I am not saying that you are at fault. It’s the folks who keep perpetuating this illicit practice who should be held accountable. They are the ones who, in my opinion are doing more harm than good.

    If the faithful desire a blessing, there is nothing to stop them from asking the celebrant or the deacon for one after Mass. But, as I stated before, everyone will be receiving the blessing at the appropriate time, at the conclusion of the Mass.

  27. Tina in Ashburn says:

    Do blessings, or any Sacrament for that matter, even work on those in the state of mortal sin? Clearly, God works in the souls of those open to Him, or because of prayers for such souls. But in general, being in the state of grace allows blessings, Sacraments, even our good works to be the most effective.

    Funny you should mention that. I just went through this yesterday with my RCIA candidate that I’m sponsoring. Although the priest prayed the words, I felt very uncomfortable crossing/blessing my candidate. Blessings get effectiveness through authority. I do not have authority over my friend, so my blessing was just a lame action I guess. Or worse, the action emphasizes the empowerment of the laity while disregarding of the priesthood. Or the worst case scenario, is that this could cause scandal if the blessing is totally empty and means nothing. I dunno. [gulp]

    Think about what it means to perform an action in the Liturgy that is meaningless and powerless, there are so many reasons that is wrong and harmful. Just who made up these Rites and activities?

    Blessing, like everything the Church does, always hinges on authority. If we do not have authority over the people we ‘bless’, the action is meaningless.

  28. Get rid of EMHCs. Then we won’t have this problem.

  29. benedictgal says:

    Actually, it is just as bad, in my opinion, for priests and deacons to do this during the context of the distribution of Holy Communion. While the original question raised the issue of EMHCs engaging in this practice, it does seem to me that Fr. Ward, in his response, also touched on the matter of the clergy.

    If we are to adhere to doing the red and saying the black, then we also need to bear in mind that we (clergy and laity alike) cannot simply insert things into the red and edit the black.

    Now, some will say that the Holy Father will bless children during Holy Communion. This is a different matter since he is the rule-making authority here. The CDW acts with his authority. The CDW, through Fr. Ward, gave its response. However, just because the Holy Father does something extraordinary during the Masses he celebrates, that does not give the clergy carte blanche to do things in the Mass as they see fit.

    Down here, what one parish priest has done is to have those children, who, out of necessity, must approach the altar with their parent, bow before the Blessed Sacrament as an act of reverence rather than receive a blessing. Another priest has altogether stopped the practice and even included his reasons for ceasing it during a homily he preached during the Solemnity of Corpus Christi.

  30. JimmyA says:

    The practice of blessings by EMHCs is the norm in Westminster Cathedral, no less. It certainly does create issues as those who do this are good people and one is put in the position of having to appear to ‘snub’ them.

  31. Supertradmum says:

    Thank you so much for this post, Father. This entry needs to be sent to every church in the United States and some in Great Britain. Thankfully, I have not seen this in other countries. I feel that it is a theologically unsound practice which came in through the Charismatics, as did to a certain extent, guitars and tambourines, which, along with this blessing by laity, are in the same horrible category of “things not to be done at Mass” or elsewhere for that matter.

    I am also glad to see the inclusion of the blessings which parents may give. I think this should be daily, at night, after evening prayers. Children need our blessings as parents, as a sign of love, forgiveness and protection.

  32. asperges says:

    For goodness sake. Just imagine you were reading this stuff in the 50s: you would think the lunatics were running the asylum! Where does all this come from? It is because the liturgy has been turned upside down and the beliefs that it upheld have gone out of the window. A perfect example of Lex orandi, lex credendi.

    And what do the good folk now not waiting for Communion with these hoards of lay helpers do with the two minutes they saved? I respectfully suggest trying to find an EF Mass somewhere and go to that for the sake of one’s soul and sanity and some sort of sense of Catholic proportion again.

  33. Joan M says:

    Something that no one has addressed in all of the replies –

    Here in Trinidad, at least in the parish I attend, almost all of the EMHCs “wash” their hands when they go up to the altar. What they actually do is dip their finger tips in a bowl of water and dry them with a white towel. This practice, of course, does little for their hands. Then, when small children come up, whether or not the child is looking for a blessing, and whether or not the parent indicates that they would like the child blessed, some of the EMHCs insist on tracing a cross on the child’s forehead – with the same hand that is used to give the Sacred Host to those receiving Holy Communion.

    In my opinion, this lack of hygiene is a serious reason for forbidding blessings in the Communion line.

    Actually, I have seen parents having to maneuver deliberately to avoid their child being blessed, because they know that this has no place in the liturgy, but the particular EMHC always tries to do this.

    Why on earth do some people, priests and laity, insist on “enhancing” the Church’s liturgy?

  34. mpolo says:

    As it is near impossible to introduce a catechesis on this topic (I am a religious, so only celebrate occasionally in various parishes), I have opted to avoid scandal by giving a blessing to small children in the Communion line, as this is more than expected around here. As I don’t want to be tracing particles of the consecrated host on their foreheads, I have been making a cross over them while saying “May almighty God bless you, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.” (The Ciborium with all hosts remains in the left hand.)

  35. Dax says:

    Centristan, Ms Anita Moore, Asperges and Joan M – Amen.

    Truly a sad state when EMs and others pretend to be priests. This piece comes in on the heels of the wymynprysts in MN and I really don’t see a difference.

    I have been going to the NO Mass on Sundays with my wife and son for about 8 months and most of the time a EM will sit directly in front of us. They arrive late, are dressed inappropriately – slacks and low-cut tops on the women; blue jeans and Polo shirts for the men – and sit and talk before, during, and after the Mass – each one, almost without exception. Then they all trample to the altar at their cue without so much a bow let alone genuflecting. It is truly disgraceful. After Communion a select couple of women, dutifully and quickly remove the ciborium from the Tabernacle and quickly bring backstage them the “sacristy” which is little more than partition wall on the altar. It is so strange that the Blessed Sacrament cannot stay in the tabernacle, even when the altar lamp is lighted. I just don’t get it. I really don’t recognize this Mass and therefore cannot recognize anything that occurs during it as genuine, even well-intentioned “blessings” given by lay folk.

  36. Clemens Romanus says:

    Perhaps it’s time to revive the ancient diaconal instruction, ” Si quis non communicat, det locum.”

  37. Dax says:

    Clemens Romanus says:
    Perhaps it’s time to revive the ancient diaconal instruction, ” Si quis non communicat, det locum.”

    I like it. Then most of the EM would have to leave.

  38. Volanges says:

    I’m thankful that this practice hasn’t caught on in my parish. I recall a woman who moved here a few years ago who was outraged that her toddler didn’t get blessed when she took him with her when she went to receive. One day she was ranting, “I shouldn’t have to ask for a blessing for him, it should be automatic that Fr. bless him when I go up.” I couldn’t understand where that was coming from since I’d never expected that my children would receive a blessing when they accompanied me in the Communion procession.

    Now I often read comments from people who say they feel pressured to go up because everyone in the pew is going and they don’t want to impede traffic! Impede traffic?!? However did we cope when only one or two people went to Communion and the rest of us stayed in the pew? How do you manage at the movies when someone in the middle of the row needs to leave to go to the bathroom or to the concession stand? Do you accompany them so as to not impede traffic??

  39. Blaise says:

    I don’t think I have ever known a celebration of Mass in England where the priest(s), deacons and EMsHC have not given a blessing to children, or anyone who presents themselves asking for one. It is only the EMsHC who are distributing the Body of Christ who give blessings not those with the Precious Blood. In fact I would go so far as to wonder whether it is not a local norm of the Church adopted by the Bishops’ Conference that this should be done.

    Interestingly it is almost the “guidance” given on celebrations of the Eucharist where there are separated brethren present – that they should be encouraged to come forward to recevie a blessing.

    In this situation it is very interesting that the CDW has the views set out above that non-Catholics cannot receive blessings; I think per se this is probably too broad a statement. Can non-Catholic Christians marrying a Catholic not receive a blessing at their wedding?
    Of course that is a separate question from whether blessings should be given at all at communion.
    And as someone who has in the past been appointed as an EMHC it is very difficult to avoid giving a blessing when people come up expecting it. My approach used to be to show them the Body of Christ and say nothing. They tended to move on.

    So as long as Bishops condone or encourage priests to give blessings to anyone not communicating, and as long as priests do not ensure proper formation for EMsHC this will continue.

  40. pjsandstrom says:

    In principle there is nothing wrong or forbidden for one Christian to retrace the Baptismal cross on the forehead of another — it is common in many families before bed, for example. And it is normally perfectly alright to add “God bless you” to the gesture. After all that is the origin of Goodby (God be with you); it is perfectly innocent, and if one is used to dealing with children, for example, the fact that they ‘get something’ when they come up to Communion with their parents is considered a ‘good thing’ by all concerned, especially the child. It is not arrogating a ‘clerical privilege’ but a natural gesture between believing Christians. [Maybe we should be considering for these children to do what the Eastern Catholics and Orthodox do, and give them the Eucharist (the normal and Divine food for the Christian Life)].

  41. benedictgal says:


    The problem with this logic is that these “blessings” occur within the context of the Mass. When the priests says “Behold the Lamb of God”, it is an invitation for properly disposed faithful to come forward to receive Christ in Holy Communion, not a blessing that will be imparted later on at its proper place within the Mass.

    If parents want to bless their children, nothing precludes them from doing so apart from the Mass. As Fr. Z has noted not a few times, Rome has written, in Ecclesia de Mysterio, that there are boundaries that the laity should not be crossing within the context of the Mass, imparting a blessing is one of them.

    A blessing in lieu of receiving Holy Communion cannot, in my opinion, not a good thing. We are teaching the kids (and adults, for that matter) that we can change things in the Mass at will, adding things and rituals that we have no business adding to the liturgy.

    It amazes me that folks do not see this as a bad thing.

  42. benedictgal says:


    Regarding your question about the non-Catholic marrying a Catholic and receiving a blessing while the Catholic receives Holy Communion, the Holy Father, in Sacramentum Caritatis, writes that:

    “In this regard, I would like to call attention to a pastoral problem frequently encountered nowadays. I am referring to the fact that on certain occasions — for example, wedding Masses, funerals and the like — in addition to practicing Catholics there may be others present who have long since ceased to attend Mass or are living in a situation which does not permit them to receive the sacraments. At other times members of other Christian confessions and even other religions may be present. Similar situations can occur in churches that are frequently visited, especially in tourist areas. In these cases, there is a need to find a brief and clear way to remind those present of the meaning of sacramental communion and the conditions required for its reception. Wherever circumstances make it impossible to ensure that the meaning of the Eucharist is duly appreciated, the appropriateness of replacing the celebration of the Mass with a celebration of the word of God should be considered. (153)”

    In fact, that is what is recommended for Catholics entering into marriage with non-Catholics.

  43. Centristian says:


    “In principle there is nothing wrong or forbidden for one Christian to retrace the Baptismal cross on the forehead of another — it is common in many families before bed, for example…

    … It is not arrogating a ‘clerical privilege’ but a natural gesture between believing Christians.”

    In many (?) families before bed. In the year 2011? I doubt it. Whatever the case may be, fine. At home, in your child’s bedroom. Bless away. That’s one thing. That a layman should bless his fellow worshippers with the sign of the cross during the liturgy in the manner of a priest, however, is another thing, altogether. That lay persons should bless people at Mass is…at the risk of sounding nerdy…unliturgical. Now, I know it’s a quaint notion that liturgical prescriptions be acknowledged, understood, and adhered to, but it is actually even more than that, I think.

    That EMHC’s should be seen to bless worshippers is not just unliturgical in the sense that it is unliturgical to say, leave a corporal on the altar when there is no Mass taking place; it’s more gravely unliturgical than something picky like that because it misinforms. The phenomenon of laymen and laywomen extending their hands to offer worshippers their blessing during our public worship misinforms worshippers (not to mention visitors from other faiths) about the roles and prerogatives of the laity versus the roles and prerogatives of the clergy, and in the context of a liturgical celebration, versus the role and prerogatives of the celebrant of the liturgy, specifically.

    The formal blessing of worshippers during Holy Communion further misinforms the congregation–particularly in this uncatechized age–by making it nearly seem like an either/or option: Communion or a blessing, your choice. Might as well go up for one as the other; same thing, choose your preference. Better to go get the blessing, actually, because that way I don’t have to feel guilty about not confessing my grave sins beforehand; saves me the trouble of even bothering with that. The fact that not only priests but lay persons are giving these blessings during Mass compounds the confusion.

    Extraordinary Ministers are not called by the Lord, they go through no vocational schooling and therefore have no qualifications apart from being (we hope) practicing Catholics. EMHC’s are not even tested to make sure they are properly catechized Catholics. They have not been ordained to anything, not even to a minor order. They’re just volunteers, essentially, who have received the merest instruction before their appointment certificates were rubber stamped by some clerk of the diocese.

    For many, then, the conclusion might be something along the order of, “hey, if the crabby old lady down the street and that dumb kid who works at Taco Bell can put on a white robe and stand up there at the altar of our church and give Communion and bless us, what on earth is so special about the priest?”

    What indeed? If the crabby old lady down the street and the dumb kid at Taco Bell can do all that, why even bother going to church at all? If those two dingbats can do that and the priest isn’t any more special than they are, why bother getting up on a Sunday morning to drive to church? Why not just stay home and do it ourselves? In fact, why not just skip it altogether because obviously it isn’t that important. If it were that important, they wouldn’t have the crabby old lady down the street and the dumb kid at Taco Bell doing it, would they?

    But as I’ve said, if they’re going to let lay extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist act as ordinary ministers of the Eucharist during the liturgy, itself, then, sure, might as well let them bless everyone, too. Why not at this point? What difference does it make? Bless away.

  44. ChrisWhittle says:

    Eucharistic ministers don’t belong in the Church.

  45. Blaise says:

    Chris Whittle – Priests and Deacons are the ordinary Eucharistic ministers; I think they belong in the Church. As the Church has laid down that Extraordinary Ministers of the Holy Eucharist can be used in certain circumstances I don’t believe we can say they don’t belong in the Church. Unfortunately I think the interpretation of when they can be used is the problem.

    Benedictgal – whether you have a nuptial mass or just a wedding service does not address the question of whether non-Catholic’s can be blessed per se; the language of the article and the apparent CDW letter imply that non-Catholics should not be blessed. Personally I think this is an exaggeration and there is a big difference between being in a state to receive communion and being blessable.
    I think his Holiness’s comment “there is a need to find a brief and clear way to remind those present of the meaning of sacramental communion and the conditions required for its reception” is the key point. Priests shy away from this and don’t make it clear that not everyone can receive communion. It is rare in my recent experience to hear a priest preach on the need to be in a state of grace, and encourage people to go to confession. I think it is a sign of Benedict’s concern for the unity of Christians that he does not want to pretend or to offer alternatives.

  46. Fr Deacon Daniel says:

    In the Byzantine Churches when a young child approaches, we give them Communion for such is the Kingdom of God! :-)

    I wonder, though, if restoring the Altar Rail might help reduce some of this confusion, and limit the distribution to those who serve at the Altar?

    EMHC’s should not be blessing anyone but themselves. Even we deacons in the East do not bless objects or others. If someone does approach the Chalice and does not wish to receive the Holy Gifts (or cannot) they oftentimes simply venerate the Chalice by kissing it, making an act of spiritual communion. Such veneration might not be possible (even if it was desirable) in the Latin Rite because of the separate distributions of the Holy Gifts.

  47. benedictgal says:


    When a Catholic and non-Catholic marry in the Church, the recommendation, albeit, strong one, is that they do so within the context of a Liturgy of the Word. If the couple are to be one flesh and one party receives Holy Communion while the other does not the, there is a strong disconnect with the unity that the newly married couple is supposed to have. Receiving a blessing in lieu of Holy Communion would not make any sense and it is also nowhere within the Rite of Marriage.


    I would respectfully disagree with your statement. Without Eucharistic Ministers, there would be no Mass. Fr. Z, along with all priests and bishops, are Eucharistic Ministers because only they can confect the Eucharist. Bishops, priests and deacons are the Ordinary Ministers of Holy Communion. The laity who assist in the distribution of Holy Communion are Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion. We need to use the proper terminology that the Church has given us.

  48. JuliB says:

    I was assisting at Mass on Sunday as an EMHC. Unfortunately, I was positioned next to Father giving out the Body of Christ as well (instead of the other two giving out the blood). For the first time, a girl came up to me for a blessing. I quickly and quietly said (with a friendly smile) that I couldn’t give the blessing, she smiled, laughed and said ok.

    What with all the communication and smiles, I’m sure most people thought I had said some sort of blessing.

    I wish that this would be discouraged, but I feel more confident in handling it in the future. For the times I do not receive, I just stay in my seat.

  49. Emilio III says:

    While attending daily Mass in another parish recently, I was surprised to see an elderly EMHC, when approached by the typical blessing-seekers cross himself and say “Dominus nos benedicat, et ab omni malo defendat, et ad vitam perducat aeternam. Amen.”

  50. At our temporary parish (we are planning to change parishes in the coming year), the EMHC not only give a blessing, they do so while placing their hand on the child’s head. Now, I fully admit to being an “overly-protective” mama bear of a mother, but this really bothers me. I don’t know most of the EMHC – our parish has 4800 families, about 15,000 people. But I wouldn’t want a stranger walking up to my kids on the sidewalk and putting their hands on their heads. Why would I want them doing it in Church? A priest is different by the reality of his ordination. But then I likewise think just such a distinction gets blurred if not completely lost when I’m supposed to let EMHC interact with my children the way a priest would. My kids are also very young and I can’t help but wonder to what extent this might contribute to some confusion for them.

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