QUAERITUR: A Baptist going up for a blessing during Communion time

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From a reader:

I am a Southern Baptist woman ( born and raised). I have been listening to EWTN For a year and attending Mass since Christmas. I had not gone down for a blessing until Easter at the suggestion by the “cradle Catholics” around me. After reading your blog today, I am confused. Is it wrong for Adults who are journeying to conversion to receive a blessing during Communion? Should I wait until I complete RCIA next Easter? I don’t mind waiting; I also don’t want those around me to think I am not sincere in my journey. Catholicism is so different. I keep a dictionary and Catholic Encyclopedia at hand.
Please advise. thanks.

I, too, am a convert. I can understand both your confusion and your desire to do the right thing.

We really drill into questions on this blog. We veteran, battle-hardened Catholics can get deep into details and particulars, thus leaving the less-schooled scratching their heads.

First, be at ease. You haven’t done anything wrong by not going up for a blessing and, even if you had gone up, you wouldn’t have done anything wrong.  Relax about this.  On the scale of “Catholic Things We Really Need To Fix”, this is not one of the very most pressing.  Communion in the hand is a more urgent problem by far, but I digress.

According to the Church’s liturgical laws, Communion time is for Communion. Doing something other than what the liturgical rites prescribe during Mass is not permitted.  The Communion portion of Mass is governed by the rubrics, rules, just like every other part of Mass.  Priests and others have no authority to change those rubrics on their own. They shouldn’t be giving blessings during Communion time.  This is, nevertheless a wide-spread practice. In my opinion, all those people going up for a blessing, with good will and in good faith, are not doing anything wrong. I and others think (correctly) that the practice should be ended and people should be given the whys and wherefores. Ending it should be accompanied by lot of instruction and it should be ended through a careful and kind process.

You can ALWAYS ask the priest when you see him for a blessing outside of Mass! I am sure he will be pleased to give you one.

And if Father ever says that you can just come up at at Communion time for a blessing, you can smile, and thank him, and think to yourself, “I know something you don’t know.”

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Dr. Edward Peters says:

    I agree, of course, that stamping out blessings at Communion time is not on my Top 10 Crises Needing to be Fixed list, but….”Communion in the hand is a more urgent problem by far, but I digress.” Careful. Whatever may be said about both events, blessings at Communion are done in violation of liturgical law, no?, and reception in the hand is done in conformity with liturgical law, yes?. etc., etc., Those of us who receive in the hand (and would receive prostrate if that’s what Rome directed) tire of being the poster children for bad liturgy, for acting in accord with liturgical law. I’m sure you agree, but, still, it’s language I (and others) notice out there.

  2. Dr. Peters: Careful! o{]:¬)

    I am reminded of the man brought into the emergency room after being hit by a car. His bones are broken but his undamaged heart is beating well. The orthopedic specialist says, “This guy is a mess!”, while the cardiologist says, “Looks okay to me.”

    Communion in the hand is more serious an issue in itself because it concerns direct contact with the Eucharist. Blessings don’t concern contact with the Eucharist. I think both practices should be stamped out, but one is more important than the other.

    However, I have always on this blog stated that people have the right to receive that way, in the Ordinary Form, as long it has been approved in that region. I don’t like it. Dura lex sed lex.

  3. Dismas says:

    Few have done more for this ‘cradle Catholics’ faith or taught me more about our Church, in recent years, than our dearly beloved converts. May God increase the graces he brings us through them always!

  4. rcg says:

    Not go on a tangent, but a related event to warn this sweet lady about is that she may seeon of the legion EMHC giving blessings during Communion. This now annoys me so severely I am forced to look away. She should, in her graceful Southern manner, avoid that situation until we have more bricks in place.

  5. ambrogio says:

    And if Father ever says that you can just come up at at Communion time for a blessing, you can smile, and thank him, and think to yourself, “I know something you don’t know.”

    Now Father, inviting people to pride? That hardly seems a good thing. [puh-leeze Relax. It isn’t necessary to get up into everyone’s face all the time. A smile is often the best answer. o{]:¬) ]

  6. Dr. Edward Peters says:

    Agreed, it was just, well, you know, lex is lex. :)

    [And dura lex is dura lex!

    And while I am at it, I hope everyone will buy some LEX swag!]


  7. Laura98 says:

    The Priest at our parish encourages people (especially those in RCIA) to come up for blessings during Mass. So that is what we did. *sigh* In a way it made it easier for me as I could go up with my daughter during Communion, which she can have. But I have always felt uncomfortable with the practice. It just didn’t seem right.

  8. I agree the “communion-line ‘blessing'” issue is not high on the “fix-it” list for me.

    Also, as far as liturgical norms go, some intrusions to the communion line are worse than others. An actual blessing–a cleric imparting a blessing–is, to my mind, a greater intrusion than a mere greeting–which is what I do.

    (My approach has been to work to lower expectations as a prelude to dropping it, or perhaps having it fade on its own. I’ve had some progress. I just didn’t want to spend a lot of pulpit- and bulletin-time on explanations of this, when I think there are bigger fish to fry. I figured I might eventually get to the point that all the kids get is head-nod. Because, honestly, in my parish, what’s really being asked for, I find, is some sort of acknowledgment so that folks don’t feel awkward or–“so they feel included.”)

    My point is, from a rubrical point of view, the more minimal a greeting is, the less it bothers me; there are other odd things and mini-conversations that arise during communion time, such as:

    “Have you made your first communion?” (To those who approach and act so uncertain–or look so young–that I’m unclear if they should receive.)

    “I’m going to put the host on your tongue.” (To children whose hands are filthy, or to people whose sleeves cover their hands, or they are wearing gloves, or they have a cast or are carrying a baby or any other reason I think their attempt to receive in the hand is ill-advised. I have found that if I go to place the host on their tongue without any prelude, it’s awkward; a whispered explanation, above, seems to make it work fine.)

    “Are you all right?” “Are you Catholic?” (Should need no explanation.)

    And I’m sure you can imagine some…admonitions I have made, over the years, to schoolchildren when coming forward to communion–such as, “knock it off!”

  9. Timothy Mulligan says:

    Dr. Peters, less than a week after Christmas in 2010, I saw Our Lord’s body, broken and dirtied, on the floor underneath the pew in front of me. That was a direct result of distributing communion in the hand. So much for your law.

    You know very well, sir, that the faithful have a right under canon law to petition their pastors, including their bishops, and the Holy Father himself, in matters that pertain to the good of the church. This is one such matter.

    I will never forget what I saw that morning. I will never forget picking Our Lord up from the floor. I will never forget the failure of the pastor to come out with a purificator after I brought him what particles I could. Don’t you forget it, either.

  10. eulogos says:

    Fr. Fox,
    You mention children “too young” for communion. Occasionally you might have Eastern rite children who have been receiving since infancy, who would not even understand your question about “first communion.” Hopefully their parents would quickly let you know. Also, they might be crossing their hands over their breasts, seeming to indicate that they did not wish to receive, yet they might stand there as if expecting to receive, since this is what Eastern Catholics do. I know their parents should have told them how to recieve in a Latin rite church, but perhaps habit was too strong or they forgot. I frequently read at the Byzcath forum about Latin rite priests who didn’t know what to do in these situations or who even refused to give communion to Byzantine children who were obviously under the age when Latin rite children start to receive. Your post made me think of this. Have you ever encountered this situation?

  11. dnicoll says:

    As an ex-Baptist, and now Catholic (Yay!) my prayers are with this correspondent – I hope she finds the journey as great as I did. I can recommend the view from this side of the Tiber. And it is nice to know I’m not the only convert who asks about getting it ‘right’ in Mass and elsewhere. The liturgy is wonderful.

  12. Bender says:

    As much as I abhor announcements made in the middle of Mass, especially the stage-direction type (even the “let us sing Hymn 123” interjections are getting to be annoying), perhaps it might be useful to give a positive-sounding announcement, “be advised, for those who wish to receive a blessing, Father will be imparting such a blessing immediately after Holy Communion.” Or, “We invite those who cannot receive Holy Communion to kneel in prayer and make an act of spiritual communion, and Father will also impart a blessing to you immediately after Holy Communion.”

    It is enough to make one wonder if everyone has already mentally checked out after Communion when the celebrant says, “May almighty God bless you, the Father, and the Son, + and the Holy Spirit.”

  13. Tradster says:

    This is a good time to make the reminder that an individual blessing at Communion is pretty much redundant since everyone in the congregation receives a priestly blessing a few moments later near the end of the Mass. I fail to see why that fact is not sufficient to put this matter to rest for good.

  14. Supertradmum says:

    High on my list is the stopping of Eucharistic Ministers, unless the Deacon is acting as such. Getting rid of these would end silly non-blessing blessings, possibly Communion in the hand, and cause a revival of the use of the Communion rail, as well as re-creating respect for the Eucharist. One abuse leads to another and another. I agree with Father that Communion in the hand is the greatest abuse at Communion time. I also think that if this practice ended, the other things would also logically fall away.

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  16. Canicus says:

    Much of this controversy is due to the fact that most churches over-organize the reception of holy communion – row-by-row so those who should not receive feel compelled to walk forward to receive – ‘something’……..communion should be organized so there’s no pressure on anyone to go, and no shame or notoriety for staying at their places and praying. I stayed in the pew until I’d made my first Communion – something you never see these days. By the way, Supertrad, the Deacon is an ordinary minister of holy communion – he does not ‘act’ as such. The duly instituted acolyte would be the first of the ‘extraordinary’ ministers, if in fact there is a duly instituted acolyte present….nothing gets my ire up more than Extraordinary Ministers and Ministrettes playing at giving ‘blessings’ – and tough the blessing of children would not be high on my ‘fix-it’ list, it seems so obviously silly since everyone is blessed at the conclusion of Mass……this is a hard practice to stop as all the “helicopter parents” of today feel they’re children are being ‘denied’ something……

  17. Cathy says:

    It just seems odd that this is done, I perfectly understand that one who is not able to receive, may cross their arms in front of them and simply bow in reverence and adoration of Our Lord substantially present in the Eucharist. What is confusing, is when the priest is holding Our Lord, substantially present in one hand, and blessing with the other. I don’t know quite how to express the oddness of this, save thinking of a priest extending his priestly blessing with one hand while holding Our Lord in the other during Benediction. I don’t know, this practice seems to be, well, just not fitting to the occasion of Holy Communion.

  18. Glen M says:

    Dear Dr. Peters,

    Of course you are correct that the blessing isn’t permitted and Communion in the hand is, however, as Fr. Z points out the latter is of more concern than the former.

    When Pope Paul VI called this matter to a vote, it was defeated. In an act of papal charity, he permitted the continuation of this CITH to the areas of the world where it was already being done (Rhine areas). When Cardinal Bernardin brought this matter to a vote years later at the USCCB (even though by the law the USA did not qualify for the indult) it was defeated twice before finally getting approval (albeit by dubious means). If you read Pope Paul VI’s concerns regarding the practice of Communion in the hand I hope you’ll agree they have come to fruition.

    This is why many in the Church feel it would be in the greater good for the original law to be respected and the concerns of Pope Paul VI corrected. Belief in the Real Presence is fundamental to the Catholic faith. Given weekly Mass attendance has fallen to 10-33% in the West surely there is wide spread disbelief and apathy to the Blessed Sacrament. Many souls are at stake.

  19. SimonDodd says:

    Just a personal reflection from someone who was in a similar situation to the questioner. While I was in the first stage of RCIA, I would go up for a blessing like everyone else; we were expressly invited to do so, and when you’re new you do what you’re told. Besides, you don’t want to be in the way! As time went on, things that I was reading started to give me anxiety that there was a problem with the practice. In particular, a letter on EWTN’s website from the CDW indicating that they had some concerns and were actively studying the issue made me anxious.

    At about this time, we got a new priest, and when I presented myself for a blessing, he seemed uncomfortable. Now, I don’t want to say he wasn’t or isn’t comfortable with it; I say only that he seemed uncomfortable with it. In light of the reading and consideration I’d given the issue, I took that as a good opportunity to stop going up for blessings, as a general matter. I wasn’t ready to encourage others to do likewise, to say “this is actually a problem,” but I felt that it was enough of a problem that I couldn’t continue to participate in it while mulling it further. So I stopped and tried to ensure that I found a pew where I wouldn’t be in the way if I kept it.

    The thought has also occurred—maybe this is pride, I don’t know—that there’s something quite positive about keeping one’s pew. It seems to me that what’s really at the root of this blessing business is the desire to circulate everyone through the communion line. I’ve read that people sometimes feel like if they don’t go up in line, people will look at them funny, and my guess is that at some point in the past, some of the “inclusion” people—you know the type—decided that if everyone joined the communion line, no one would feel excluded, and the people who would otherwise have had to keep their pews could subtly get a blessing instead. This is, of course, well-intentioned poison. It’s not hard to predict what happens next. So I can’t help but feel that by keeping one’s pew, one gives a positive example: Never receive on autopilot. Receiving should never be the default option. Only if one is affirmatively in a good place to receive should one present oneself for communion. By breaking the mindset that “everyone goes up,” by there being visible people keeping their pews, I think that’s actually quite helpful to breaking the mindset that receiving is the default.

  20. Glen M says:

    I’ve been told that when the three hour fast was law if you didn’t go up for Communion it was just assumed you had something to eat before Mass. Now that there practically isn’t a fast, that benefit is lost. Many people don’t realize you have to be in a state of grace and many more don’t know what a mortal sin is anyway.

    Wouldn’t it be nice if Confession was offered before Sunday Mass?

    As others have said, how bad is this crisis when some laity think they can give blessings at the foot of the altar?

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  22. Toronto AU Catholic says:

    I recently had the misfortune of watching confusion that can happen with such blessings – and this is just a practical, not theological, criticism.

    My sons’ catechism class (all preparing for their First Communions later this spring) were recently participating in a Mass, and they all went up as a gaggle to receive their blessings (and from an EM no less). The befuddled EM wasn’t sure what to do, so she started handing out the consecrated wafers to the children (some in the hand and some on the tongue). Some of the kids thereby had their First Communions a few months earlier than planned. The poor Catechism teacher panicked, reminding the rest of the kids to cross their arms as they went up.

  23. AnnAsher says:

    I was trained in this practice as well. It was quite the revelation when this blog one day pointed out that we are blessed at the start of Mass and at the end, and in the middle if it’s TLM! Suddenly taking my kids for blessings at communionseemed like an unnecessary traffic jam and – better – I was now consciously aware of those blessings!

  24. AnnAsher says:

    Added confession : I used to be one of those laity that distributed Holy Communion and administered blessings at the foot the cross. I’ve also distributed ashes on Ash Weds. I tried to make it very meaningful and even progressed to where I’d put my hand on their heads as I gave them the blessing. Then I made up my own blessing too! It was abt 4 sentences long. I won’t repeat it here because it might make some of you barf. I’m nauseated just thinking of it.

  25. Dr. Edward Peters says:

    Thanks Glen M. If you get a moment, might you link to Paul’s comments for me (others?)

    Re TMulligan above, real smart. Blast the guy who points out the CITH is approved by Rome, and then blame him for every act of desecration since then. That’s gonna win fair-minded persons to your cause. Not.

  26. Dr. Edward Peters says:

    Glen M, just saw your post re 3 hour fast. It is correct. It one reason I am calling for the restoration of the 3 hour fast: http://www.liturgysociety.org/JOURNAL/Volume11/11_3/Peters11.3.pdf. I have a follow-up coming out soonish.

  27. Eulogos:

    I am aware of that, but given that Eastern Rite Catholics, or Orthodox for that matter, are rare hereabouts, I have to operate on the Roman way of course.

  28. Eulogos/Susan:

    Oops, sorry, missed your final question.

    I have, but actually an Orthodox family, who, per Canon 844, can receive communion under conditions specified in that canon.

    I don’t know about other priests, but being a pastor teaches one to be flexible and adaptable, in the best sense.

  29. Glen M says:

    Hello Dr. Peters,

    Thank you for your reply. I’m happy to help and provide some research into this issue. After reviewing this material it would be greatly appreciated to have your opinion as a canon lawyer as to whether any laws were broken by introducing Communion in the hand in the U.S.A. I’ve searched in vain for information as to how it started in Canada. I suspect it wasn’t in wide use prior to 1969.

    A second issue is the particles. Given the manner of distribution of Holy Communion in most Ordinary Form Masses in Canada & U.S.A. (especially with E.M.H.Cs) are any laws or binding instructions being violated?

    Instruction on the Manner of Distributing Holy Communion
    Sacred Congregation for Divine Worship

    IMMENSAE CARITATIS—On Facilitating Reception Of Communion In Certain Circumstances
    Sacred Congregation of the Sacraments

    2008 CARA survey: 43% Catholics believe the Eucharist is a symbol.

    May God bless you,


  30. SimonDodd says:

    Glen, I don’t know about its beginning, which I have no doubt was illicit, but the CDW allowed episcopal conferences to petition for an indult in 1969 (that’s Memoriale Domini, to which you linked); the American bishops—apparently bowing to the growing prevalence of illicit CITH—petitioned in 1977, a request which the Holy See granted on June 17, 1977 under Prot. no. CD 701/77, of which I have a copy courtesy of USCCB.

    I gave a reasonably detailed history of the practice in part I of my essay Domine, non sum signus: Conclusions on the manner of receiving Holy Communion, which you can find linked from this post: http://simondodd.org/blog/?p=359.

  31. Denita says:

    This brings me to a question, slightly off-topic, but I ran into another woman who was a Eucharistic minister in Ill. and she said her priest gave her permission to bless people and-get this-said the pope OK’s it? I tried to tell her where I heard it was not OK, but was confused about giving her a resource. Any Suggestions/opinions?

  32. SimonDodd says:

    Denita, the burden of proof is always on the person making the positive assertion. You can’t prove that the Pope never said it (what would you cite?), and insisting that you should do so is scurillous: You can’t prove a negative. But one can prove a positive: If the Pope said it, he said it somewhere, so if someone claims that a person said anything, the burden of proof is on them to show where, to cite the source on which the claim rests. It sounds like the EMHC’s authority was the priest, so your next step is to ask him.

  33. Denita says:

    Sorry, no can do. He’s in Ill. Excuse me for not being clear on that.

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