QUAERITUR: During Mass, whole congregation told to raise hands to bless people

From a reader:

At Mass today the congregation was asked to raise their hands in blessing over members that are celebrating an anniversary in Sept. I can’t find anything in the GIRM that addresses raising our hands in blessing at Mass. I am uncomfortable with this gesture. Can you tell me if it is appropriate.



Yes, I can tell you. No, it is not appropriate.

After Mass, perhaps. Even then… not so much. At the time of the priest’s blessing at the end of Mass, no. No, again. No.

Anything that might confuse people about the invocative blessings of a priest and some invocation made by laity should be avoided.

I am sure this gave some people a warm fuzzy. It probably gave others a shiver of discomfort at the liturgical abuse.

Still, in the larger sphere of things, this is pretty tame.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. KristinLA says:

    Is it appropriate for the priest to give a blessing to a child in the Communion line who is is too young to receive? Why do some adults walk up with arms crossed on their body? It seems well intentioned to give a blessing but is it appropriate at that time? I thought we ALL received the priest’s blessing at the end of the Mass. ??

  2. guatadopt says:

    1. No, they receive a blessing at the dismissal with everyone else.
    2. Because they are poorly catechised or don’t know better.
    3. Yes and no. The blessing is at the end of mass.
    4. Bingo!!


  3. Gail F says:

    I disagree — it is not tame! I am sick of it! I see it all the time. If you only see it once or twice then I guess it’s not so bad.

  4. Matt R says:

    Well, it’s particularly bad when half the congregation fully extends their right arm, not realizing that it looks like the Hitler salute…a chorus of ‘Heil Hitler’ usually emerges in whispers from the people who want to point out how ridiculous the practice is anyways. I try not to say anything, but if I do, it’s ‘Ave Caesar.’

  5. priest up north says:

    @Matt R:
    You put the words right into my mouth; the best image I ever heard of this act of all extending their hands is a “reenactment of the Hindenburg Rally.”

  6. MyBrokenFiat says:


    Yes… this happened at our PTA meeting for the catechists and the families last week and it drove me up a wall. I hate doing this as I feel it is very confusing to folks. And yes, it really does look like a Hitler salute. Gives me the creepies all over the place, but I do it out of humility and obedience.

    But I really, REALLY wish they’d stop it with that whole “raise your hands in blessing, laity!” as if we were all mini-priests or something. UGH. Hate it, hate it, hate it.

  7. Sissy says:

    Hi Matt R: I hope you’ll accept my apology for being too contentious the other night.

    I agree with you that this display is a bit unsettling. My former parish indulges in this regularly; a visitor once leaned over to me and whispered “What’s with the Nazi salute?”. The worst (for me) was when all of the children who were to receive first communion the following Sunday were called forward to the sanctuary, asked to turn to face the congregation, instructed to extend their right hands, and then told to say “In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, I bless you”. I’m glad to hear from Fr. Z that this sort of display is relatively tame.

  8. Indulgentiam says:

    yep, down here in the land of cotton, where there are protestant meeting halls every other mile or so, the ‘Heil Hitler’ is a permanent fixture in every O.F. And in case you are not shocked enough there is also the “extend your hands toward this sick brotha/sista and send them your energy! your force! hallelujah!” oh mama, so we travel to another state for the E.F

  9. frjim4321 says:

    See it a lot but we don’t do it here.

    Seems like people are wanting a blessing from the spiritual leader.

    Yes, it does seem too much like the Nazi salute . . . people pick up on that and don’t like it.

    Generally speaking, if it’s not in the rite, its only going to klutz things up.

  10. This happens often at our parish.

    We learned very recently that parents and Godparents have a special privilege to bless their own (children/Godchildren). I think our son learned it here from Father Z and taught us! So much to learn, after being raised Catholic and never knowing much at all, really.

    Now we bless our children (and Godchildren) often!

    Thanks, Father Z for sharing truth and bringing us light!

  11. Angie Mcs says:

    I would be grateful if someone would explain this right arm so-called ” blessing”. What is it supposed to signify, where does it take place in the mass? I have heard about it here on this blog but have never seen it where I go to mass. It seems from the comments here that it is very unpopular and done with much reluctance, but done out of obedience, which I can certainly respect.

    I am aware of various gestures that make people uncomfortable in all churches, but am curious about this particular one. It does seem like it would look like a nazi salute, so I wonder why it’s called upon at all. Thank you for any enlightenment!

  12. Matt R says:

    @Sissy, of course.
    @Angiemcs, it is usually done at certain Masses in the OF, at the end after the post-Communion prayer and before the dismissal and blessing (instead of or combined with the 0h-s0-necessary announcements). However, as Fr Z pointed out, it’s not supposed to take place in the Mass at all. I don’t know why priests-or whomever puts together the liturgy- insist on it. It’s confusing, and I don’t think the laity can give those kinds of blessings-so I can’t answer what it’s supposed to signify, other than it blurs the line between the clergy and the laity. Often it happens on Mother’s/Father’s Days, the start of the CCD year, and after Baptisms celebrated during Mass (at least in my experience).
    Where can one find the blessings approved for lay people and how to do them?

  13. Matt R says:

    @frjim4321, “Generally speaking, if it’s not in the rite, its only going to klutz things up.” Bingo.

  14. ByzCath08 says:

    Back when I was a Latin rite Catholic, the parish we attended started doing this nonsense at the end of each mass. It never felt right and I couldn’t bring myself to join in. Even now, 5 years removed, it drives me crazy just thinking about it.

  15. Angie Mcs says:

    Matt R: Many thanks for the explanation. It DOES sound confusing, but when one messes with the liturgy, that’s probably to be expected.

  16. Supertradmum says:

    We lay people do not have the power to bless anyone but our own children in a parental blessing. So, the entire thing is a sham anyway. I hate it. It happens in my old diocese at the NO only.

  17. The Sicilian Woman says:

    It’s been a while since I’ve seen the one-armed blessing move by the laity. I don’t miss it. It always seemed completely wrong, and creepy. We’re not the priests – we don’t give blessings. Simple as that.

    Just about as bad is the extending of both arms and hands at one’s sides in the same posture/form as the priest, usually done during the Our Father, if one isn’t holding hands (ptooey!) instead.

    KristenLA: One should be in the line for Communion expecting only one thing – to receive the Eucharist. If someone wants a blessing for his or her child or him/herself, s/he should see the priest after Mass. Our pastor has requested at least a couple of times that only those wishing to receive Communion join the line, and to see him afterwards for blessings. I’ve noticed, though, that the priest who is filling for our pastor who’s on sabbatical does give a quick blessing for babies as he’s giving the Eucharist. While it’s a gesture with good intentions, it’s also one that will lead to expectations, and there are enough expectations and divergences from the liturgy without encouraging any more. I third what Fr. Jim said.

    Though, at the FSSP parish I attended last year, the priest also gave a quick blessing to the children brought to the altar rail by their parents as he gave the Eucharist. So I’ve seen it in the OF as well as the EF.

  18. Geoffrey says:

    I recently heard a positive suggestion on how to handle this, and I have been doing it ever since. When the celebrant says “please extend your hands” or some such, just fold your hands in prayer, and pray for whatever it is he is asking everyone to bless.

  19. I’ve been to churches where this exact thing happens all the time. In fact in my old parish that I used to attend with my family it seemed like every other Mass we were being instructed to “bless” somebody for something. I simply do not do it. I don’t really care if anyone notices or not. It’s not part of the Mass for starters, and number two I cannot bless anybody anyway, so it is an empty gesture.

  20. Bea says:

    You took the words right out of my “post”

    How can any lay person presume to bless anyone (except one’s own children , of course, because of the state of Grace.) Ridiculous to think otherwise. Thanks be to God this has not happened in our parish. (just watch them start tomorrow) Hah.
    We do get the request for a “round of applause” though. Hate that. What was it the Pope said in Spirit of the Liturgy?
    ? “Wherever applause breaks out in the liturgy because of some human achievement, it is a sure sign that the essence of liturgy has totally disappeared and been replaced by a kind of religious entertainment. ” (Spirit of the Liturgy p. 198)

  21. asperges says:

    I have never seen this in the UK, although I wouldn’t be surprised if the Charismatics do something similar. In general people here shudder at the thought of enforced participation – although they fell for the ghastly hand-shakes in the new rite: although this is still an element which causes great irritation amongst many.

    These aberrations are something which stem from years of anti-liturgical mentality. GIRM cannot cater for every mad whim coming from the imaginings of such people. Because it doesn’t forbid it, it doesn’t follow it’s allowed. This is what happens when a properly established rite is damaged. They probably got the idea from watching too many protestant evangelist channels. In my book it goes with ‘slaying in the spirit,’ shrieking, whooping and clapping, ‘giving testimony,’ poems at funerals and dancing in church.

    Let’s just try to become normal Catholics again.

  22. Precentrix says:

    As for the perennial ‘blessings at Communion’ thing…

    Folding of the arms over the chest is confusing. For at least a handful of people I know, it is a sign that they wish to receive on the tongue rather than in their hands – thus Father, who does do the blessing-at-Holy-Communion thing (though mainly children) can’t even necessarily determine the person’s intention………

  23. guatadopt says:


    Lay people can impart certain blessings as allowed according to the book of blessings (agh). However, a lay blessing during mass is ridiculous and unnecessary. Also, even the lovely book of blessings never allows lay people to extend hands or sign the cross to “bless”.

  24. jkm210 says:

    At my parish, some of the EMHCs try to bless my 3-year-old when she walks with me for communion. This may be a response to me having to physically restrain her hands grabbing for the bowl while saying, “Mommy! I’m HUNGRY!” I am hoping this is the seed of Eucharistic devotion! ;-)

    However, with regards to the crossing-your-arms-to-receive-a-blessing business, it’s better that than people who have no business to do so receiving communion. My husband’s grandfather, who was not Catholic but was married to a Catholic all his life, was always trying to receive communion even though he understood the reasoning behind refraining and knew that it upset his family when he did it anyway. He upset my husband by begging him on the night before our wedding to allow him to receive communion during the Nuptial Mass, even though my husband obviously could not give such permission. He had never heard of the hands-crossing business, but after we explained it to him and said something to the priest who was witnessing our marriage, we were able to avert some serious tensions and hurt feelings.

  25. Anne M. says:

    The last time our very conservative pastor was out of town our not so conservative deacon asked us all to stand and bless the visiting priest in this manner. Most of us refused because we know better. It did help us to identify the visitiors in the congregation that Sunday, however.

  26. Lepidus says:

    Does anyone out there have any links to official documenation on blessing (not) by the laity? I know a lady who is an “extra ordinary minister of Communion” – take it to the sick etc. She’s in the habit of doing a “blessing” on those she goes to. Finally, some elderly ladies told her off. YAY for the elderly! :D Anyway, just trying to prove to her that they were correct. Thanks.

  27. dominic1955 says:

    The few times I’ve been somewhere when they did this, I was wondering if I should start off the anthem, “Die Fahne hoch! Die Reihen fest geschlossen…”I know a bunch of people already made that comparison but that’s pretty much exactly what it looks like. I have no problem with re-appropriating things that in and of themselves are not bad but were used by bad people but it doesn’t apply in this case.

    First, who ever extends their right arm (or even both) to bless? Liturgically apt priests might do the more restrained raised hand in preparation for the sign of the cross, but no one goes stiff armed. Secondly, I think when most people want a blessing they want it from a priest or at least a deacon. I don’t want/need every Joe Schmoe giving me the stiff arm. A “God bless” or something similar is quite sufficient from my lay brethren. Lastly, I think people realizing all this, draw the comparison between the hippy-dippy “everyone raise your arm in blessing” and the Heil Hitler salute because-all these things combined-they see it as just plain silly and mock it.

  28. cothrige says:

    Many here have referred to doing this out of obedience, and while I can respect the intent there I do think it is misplaced. I don’t believe we Catholics are in any way called to be obedient to error. Yes, we should avoid any kind of protest type behaviour in Mass, or calling attention to ourselves, but wrong is wrong and I think it is a mistake to continually join in with abuses and errors, even relatively tame ones, and by doing so participate in and encourage others in sin. When our parish does this I stand quietly as I am and take no part in it. I don’t grumble or complain, no matter how much I desire to, but I don’t join in. It has no place in the liturgy and so I cannot believe that any of us are bound by obedience to involve ourselves in such antics, and doing so can do nothing but encourage their continued use by those in positions of authority.

  29. MuchLikeMartha says:

    Our former pastor did this on a regular basis. As a poorly catechized (new) convert I went along with it because I thought it was the way things were done. Herd mentality and all that. It never would have occurred to me to think it was wrong or to question it. It did seem very protestant and rather…southern evangelical, but again, I figured Fr. wouldn’t have purposely led anyone astray and assumed that it must surely be legit. Weird, but legit. This makes me so grateful for the internet, Fr. Z and our current pastor who is a brick by brick kind of guy. He had his work cut out for him when he got to our parish as far as cleaning up the liturgical abuses and restoring the true focus of and appropriate sense of reverence at Mass.

  30. benedictgal says:

    @Lepidus, ask and you shall receive. Here it is:

    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”:

    1. The liturgical blessing of the Holy Mass is properly given to each and to all at the conclusion of the Mass, just a few moments subsequent to the distribution of Holy Communion.

    2. Lay people, within the context of Holy Mass, are unable to confer blessings. These blessings, rather, are the competence of the priest (cf. Ecclesia de Mysterio, Notitiae 34 (15 Aug. 1997), art. 6, § 2; Canon 1169, § 2; and Roman Ritual De Benedictionibus (1985), n. 18).

    3. Furthermore, the laying on of a hand or hands — which has its own sacramental significance, inappropriate here — by those distributing Holy Communion, in substitution for its reception, is to be explicitly discouraged.

    4. The Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio n. 84, “forbids any pastor, for whatever reason to pretext even of a pastoral nature, to perform ceremonies of any kind for divorced people who remarry”. To be feared is that any form of blessing in substitution for communion would give the impression that the divorced and remarried have been returned, in some sense, to the status of Catholics in good standing.

    5. In a similar way, for others who are not to be admitted to Holy Communion in accord with the norm of law, the Church’s discipline has already made clear that they should not approach Holy Communion nor receive a blessing. This would include non-Catholics and those envisaged in can. 915 (i.e., those under the penalty of excommunication or interdict, and others who obstinately persist in manifest grave sin).

    The document bears a protocol number: 930/08/L

    I have also written extensively about it here:

  31. jaykay says:

    Dominic1955: “First, who ever extends their right arm (or even both) to bless? ”

    I agree completely, and I can only think that this may perhaps be some sort of weird cross-over from the (far too widespread) practice of Priests concelebrating who typically stretch out their right arm to participate in the consecration (which of course is not a blessing anyway). As for stretching out both arms: bleeughhh!! Even more goofy – it would look like a basketball match or a yoga class. Or liturgical dancers in freeze-frame. Bleeughhhh again.

  32. Skeinster says:

    This happens a couple of times a year at the local parish. Usually, it’s in connection with catechesis, RCIA, retreatants- ironic, I know
    Over a decade ago, the priest at my nephew’s baptism had everyone extend their hands over each candidate, in the right arm salute. Two preteen twins, who were in our party, took this as an invitation to do the Macarena, by themselves, in a back pew until their mother saw them.
    But you can certainly see the connection… and it just proves that add-ons klutz it up, as Fr. Jim says.
    Not to mention that the other grandma, who had a huge pot of sauce on the stove at home, was furious with Fr. Creative for dragging simple baptisms out FOREVER.

  33. JacobWall says:

    I have a question as per the first few comments on this post: I bring my young children up with me when I receive communion, not for a blessing, but because they begin to cry loudly if I go without them (yes, I know, it’s a discipline issue I have to deal with as well, but until I can get that worked out …). The priest has actually told us that people not receiving communion are not to be blessed at this time. Yet, contrary to the priest’s instructions, the Eucharistic Ministers always bless my children when I arrive. So as not to cause a disruption I just let them give the blessing and move on.

    What do other parents do with children too young to receive communion? Is it best to leave them in the pews (with another adult, of course)? Do you carry them up with you? Should I talk to the priest about this? Should I try to avoid letting the Eucharistic Ministers bless them? How much does it matter?

  34. Minnesotan from Florida says:

    I have learned a lot about blessings from this item and its comments and am grateful for that. But I protest against those who would allow a continuing Nazi tyranny to govern their lives by objecting to a gesture that seems to them to be like a Nazi salute. However enormous the harm (and its continuing consequences) the Hitler regime did, still, it lasted only 12 or 13 years and has been gone for 67 years. As for the raised arm itself, it was and I suspect still is the ordinary gesture of blessing used by many kinds of Protestant ministers, and I suspect quite formal, urban, and Northern ones as well as the Southern, “Bible-thumping” ones caricatured by some contributors to this thread. Certainly it was used by the pastors of the reasonably urban, reasonably “fashionable,” college-town Methodist church (in the South) I was brought up in, DURING the War (1941-1945, for the U.S.A.) and afterwards, as well as by pastors in other “mainline” denominations in the town. No one seems to have objected to it as people so foolishly (in my opinion) did to the extension of the arm (even though IT was palms up) in the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag. Again, please let us not allow ourselves to continue to be bound and governed by what Hitler did even nearly 70 years after his defeat.

  35. Lepidus says:

    Thanks for the info, Benedictgal. Do you have anything regarding blessing by the laity outside the formal structure of the Mass? Thanks again!

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  37. Rick DeLano says:

    Do it yourself liturgy.

    If the Council allowed it, and the bishops allow it, what basis do the faithful have to criticize it?

    Find a Traditional Mass.

    The liturgical reform has failed.

    The Council has failed.

    There is no chance that the Pope or the Cardinals will admit, or so much as allow the slightest hint of a suggestion of this.

    By the time the disaster of Vatican II is finally acknowledged, there will have been a bloodbath of Christians, a persecution of the faithful, a devastation of our civilization.

    “Foundations once destroyed, what can the righteous do”?

  38. irishgirl says:

    I remember going to a wake for a Third Order Franciscan back in the early 1980s, and the members of the deceased’s fraternity (not the one I was in) stretched out their hands in the direction of the body in the coffin.
    Ugh. Didn’t like it then, and if I find myself in a similar situation, I don’t like it now.
    It DOES look like the Nazi salute when there’s a bunch of people doing it. Gives me the creeps, and besides, it’s just stupid.
    We laypeople are NOT mini-priests! It’s none of our business to ‘bless’ [except for parents doing it for their children, but that’s done in the privacy of their homes] !
    The act of blessing is a priestly gesture ALONE.

  39. Shonkin says:

    I agree that the extending of one or both arms by the laity as a blessing has no place in a Mass. I also agree that the “blessing” by anyone during Communion, but especially by EMHC’s, has no place in the Mass.
    However, I detect a lack of distinction between the meanings of blessing as a word in the dictionary and as a part of the liturgy.
    If I say, “God bless you!” I have uttered a prayer for your well-being. That is by definition a blessing. It is not a solemn liturgical blessing. Of course it is our business to bless each other, and the more the better! It is better than cursing each other. Let’s just not confuse it with something liturgical.

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