QUAERITUR: Extraordinary Ministers of Communion giving blessings as if they were priests

From a reader:

I talked to our parish Director of Liturgy today about our 12 (!) Eucharistic Ministers who routinely bless children and adults. She informed me that this has been approved by our bishop, and then berated me for my lack of charity (apparently I don’t want little children to receive blessings).
She went on to say if the practice was wrong, then it is the Vatican’s fault for not letting the American bishops know. [So, anytime “the Vatican” is silent about some particular thing, it is permitted?  That’s just dumb.]

Should I pursue this by writing to the Vatican…at the risk of getting everyone in my parish mad at me?

Please VOTE daily!

It has been said that liturgists are raised up by God so that those who have not yet had the opportunity to suffer for the Faith may do so.

Anything that confuses the roles of lay people and priests (or deacons) should be avoided.

While it is true that any person can ask God to bless anyone else, and while it is true that parents should bless their children, lay people cannot bless in the manner of priests. Lay people ought not do anything which resembles blessing in the manner of the priest, such as making the sign of the Cross over people as a priest would do. That’s bad. B-A-D.

To suggest that lay people bless in the manner of a priest reveals a lack of understanding of their roles and dignity. Many people think that for lay people to have “dignity” or “equality” in the Church, they must do things that pertain to the priest. This is the same as saying that lay people have no dignity of their own unless they imitate priests. That is a form of clerical condescension.

The moment of Holy Communion is NOT the proper time to give blessings.

There is nothing wrong with blessings. Blessings are good! However, in the sacred action of the Mass, there are times for things in their proper order. Communion time is for Communion. The old adage is “ubi maior, minor cessat… where the greater things is, the lesser thing gives way.” At the end of Mass the priest is supposed to impart a blessing. That is the time for blessing people during Mass. Communion time for Communion. Blessing time for blessing.

Also, take a look at this good entry HERE, wherein many of the issues about blessings at Mass are covered.

A quote:

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.

That entry also deals with the issue of large numbers of unnecessary ministers of Communion.

If you wanted to write a respectful letter to the pastor of the parish or to the local bishop asking by what authority lay people are giving blessings in the manner of a priest at Holy Communion time, you might get an answer back, in writing.  Save it and all correspondence on the matter.  I have tips for writing to ecclesiastical authorities HERE.

UPDATE 25 Feb 16:49 GMT:

Over at his place, Rev. Mr. Kandra has chimed in:

[…] when confronted with a child (or sometimes an adult) who seeks a blessing instead of the Eucharist, I prefer this formula: “Receive Jesus in your heart”—which is not a blessing, but an admonition.  It could be said by a priest, deacon or lay person.  And it fits. [Fr. Z approves… provisionally… since there is no rubric about saying anything in that situation.  Still, good approach.]

Until the faithful can be properly catechized on this, I don’t think flat-out refusing a blessing is helpful. It certainly doesn’t do much to advance the cause of evangelization.

But meantime: EMHCs (and for that matter, deacons) have no business blessing anyone during Mass.


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    Something interesting has recently happened on our parish. A recent announcement in the bulletin stated that since no one had stepped up to replace the extra-ordinary ministers who
    were retiring and/or leaving, no longer would the chalice be offered at the Sunday masses.
    Hurray! If this trend continues, perhaps I will live to see the day where there will be no
    extra-ordinary ministers at the Sunday masses ( where communion lines do not warrent them).

  2. Jeannie_C says:

    This goes on in our city, too. Little children and babies accompanying their parents receive the sign of the cross on their foreheads, then the EMHC’s fingers are once again touching and administering the Body of Christ. Adults not receiving Holy Communion approach with arms folded over their chests, receive the same blessing, as though it somehow substitutes for what they cannot receive.

    I don’t like to see this, and when I asked about it was told they were not imparting the same blessing as the priest, but it looks the same to me. I also take issue with EMHC’s who strike a pose and hold onto the Body too long, as though threatening to withhold by whatever power they imagine themselves to possess.

  3. kallman says:

    Yet another good reason to abolish EMHCs altogether.

  4. William says:

    Does tracing a cross with your thumb on another’s forehead fall under “in the manner of a priest”? It is now common practice for lay people to impose ashes on Ash Wednesday. Lay folks at our place bless throats on the feast of St. Blaise, too. Throat blessing, I thought, was strictly a priestly blessing.

  5. acardnal says:

    “Director of Liturgy”? Parish liturgical coordinator? These titles drive me nuts! There is absolutely no need for them. The liturgy is already prescribed in the Missal.

    Ditto what Dr. K said above. I have a copy of it and its available via the Internet.

  6. Jeannie_C says:

    My husband and I are becoming increasingly uncomfortable with the actions of EMHC’s in our diocese. Several weeks ago the priest of a small parish we often worship at was away and his replacement failed to show. We left at 20 minutes past the expected commencement time of the Mass. At the 40 minute mark, no priest in sight and the usual congregants still sitting and waiting, the lectors, EMHC’s and altar servers initiated a “Communion service.” They did the readings, then opened the tabernacle and distributed whatever reserved Host was left from a previous Mass. I believe they had the hymns, passed the collection baskets, everything proceeded as though for a Mass but with reserved Host according to someone who remained.

    No doubt these people view their role as EMHC as exceptional, perhaps the administering of blessings, sign of the cross on foreheads confirms to them they are extensions of the priest, whether he is present or not.

  7. Supertradmum says:

    It happens all the time in the Southwark Catholic Diocese. And, it seems so pointless. A lay person has no power to give a blessing. I especially find it appalling when a woman does it.

    The laity who have children can bless their children. Period.

    Only the priest’s hands are holy and blessed. I have given up mentioning it. And, it is too common to write to the bishop, as it seems to be accepted in the NO Masses.

  8. jhayes says:

    Jeannie_C, there is an authorized Sunday Service in the Absence of a Priest, inluding the distribution of pre-consecrated hosts.

    Here is a webpage from the Diocese of Manchester, complete with videos of how layperons can carry out the service. It mentions that two laypersons in each parish have been trained to do it.


  9. MikeM says:

    That whole thing can get pretty awkward. There were a few times where I was dragged reluctantly into filling in when the scheduled EMHCs didn’t show up (I had been “trained” and approved to be one in the process of fulfilling my role in a different position). People walked up to me looking for a blessing. I obviously wasn’t going to masquerade as a Priest in that regard, but it’s awkward to “refuse” people publicly like that. I paused and prayed for them and at that point they moved on, apparently satisfied. It would be helpful if it were explained to people that lay people are not to give blessings during Mass. That most people don’t seem to recognize that makes it awkward for EMHCs who want to conduct things properly.

  10. Ryan M. says:

    Thank you for this post, Father. It’s rather timely: an extraordinary minister blessed our newborn as we came up just this morning, and I was uncomfortable with it, and wondered whether it was proper.

  11. BLB Oregon says:

    It is difficult when someone looks for a blessing, you give them a “God bless you” that is the equivalent of a post-sneeze “Gesundheit!”, and even then you still feel…just wrong. It would help if the priests would simply explain that everyone receives a blessing together at the conclusion of Mass, and that there aren’t extra personal blessings given during the Communion Rite. Better a blessing from the priest than from a layperson, yes, but the current state of things explains why the best of all is not at all, IMHO.

  12. Jeannie_C says:

    jhayes – thank you for pointing this out and for the informative link which Hubby and I have just read.
    We returned the weekend after the absentee priest incident, and arrived just in time to hear someone telling the pastor some people had left the previous Saturday – taking their envelopes with them, which led to the pastor having a meltdown temper tantrum over finances as well as making negative statements about a group of people from another ethnic population not supporting the church but rather sending all their money back home. It was a pretty ugly sight, needless to say we haven’t returned but have gone to a different parish.

  13. yatzer says:

    I suppose some consider it a way to blend in when not receiving Communion even though everyone else is. And I suppose that is an unintended consequence of promoting more frequent Communion even though that in itself seems like a good idea to me.

  14. wmeyer says:

    I have a fairly clear recollection that Dr. Peters addressed this issue a few years ago, but I do not have a link. As I recall, he made clear that the EMHC, in particular, is not (qualified, permitted, entitled, whatever) to confer a blessing on anyone who approaches with arms crossed over their chest. This is apart from Fr. Z’s clear point that the communion line is not the right time or place, even when approaching a priest or deacon.

    And I included “entitled” as a choice above because I firmly believe that in my diocese, at least, EMHCs believe that they are entitled to serve, without the approval of the celebrant.

  15. catholicmidwest says:

    1. It’s wrong. See Dr. K’s link above. Thank you, Dr. K.
    2. The fact that the word hasn’t got to everybody is the fault of a whole lot of people down the line, and it’s inexcusable, given the fact that we all can read and we all have the internet. People are just assuming they can do whatever they want, and not paying attention. This is a huge and pervasive problem in Catholicism, particularly in the US.

  16. gloriainexcelsis says:

    I was horrified when I saw a video from my old Catholic college (I would take the capital C out these days). It included a Mass. The college chaplain and the woman lay president of the college walked together down the center aisle with holy water and (?) hyssop, she sprinkling the assemblage along with Father. She helped to distribute Holy Communion – in the hand – standing – and with each recipient she laid a hand on the forehead in blessing. AARGH! The vessels for the Eucharist were glass. Insert tears here.

  17. BLB Oregon says:

    –I suppose some consider it a way to blend in when not receiving Communion even though everyone else is.–

    My children were born not that long before the turn of the century. Having everyone come forward for “something” during the Rite of Communion feels to me as if it springs from the same well-meaning impulse that sends everyone home with a gift bag when they go to celebrate someone else’s birthday. There is this sense that people will not feel included in a celebration if they don’t “get” something or if they are not somehow made into central actors in some group drama.

    It’s much like the sense that the parish is not blessing someone if only Father extends his hands in a blessing. No, when its a _really special_ blessing, every single person in the whole assembly has to extend their own hands to make it a real good, even if all those elbow-straight flat-hand-down extended arms do give a picture akin to a Hitler Youth Rally. I think the same kind of well-meaning-misunderstanding is responsible for the practice of applauding the poor choir at the end of Mass. The ones who (not to burst anyone’s bubble!) weren’t singing to please anyone but God have to be turning inside out!

    Sometimes less is not just a bit more, but incomparably more.

  18. Thomas S says:


    With regards to blessings at Communion time, at the parish I occasionally attend for the EF, at Communion time, when a little child kneels at the rail, the pastor will say the usual Latin formula for distribution of Communion and touch the bottom of the ciborium to the top of the child’s head. Is that typical of the Extraordinary Form?

  19. Granny says:

    KAS… you ask, ‘I’d like to know HOW to avoid a determined EMHC”
    1. Go to EF Mass in your area, eliminates all issues =)
    2. If you must go to OF, note which side of the church Father dispenses Communion and only sit on that side of the church (we did that for years).
    3. Sit up towards the front so you don’t get shuffled off to the EMHC at the back of the church.
    4. Don’t be afraid to jump lines if Father or deacon is not on your side.
    5. If your priest asks why you changed lines simply say you prefer to recieve from the Priest or Deacon only.

  20. Fr_Sotelo says:

    Thomas S:

    Perhaps Fr. Z will answer in a different way. However, in my opinion, that is not typical. The EF Mass has no provisions for doing anything at the Communion rail during Communion time except giving Holy Communion. Also, sacred vessels are not supposed to touch the laity in the EF.

    I’m glad Fr. Z has raised this again. It is the never, never ending discussion. And those who don’t want children blessed at Communion are always accused of not loving children (? scratching my head).

  21. jhayes says:

    The issue of giving bessings versus invoking blessings is fairly subtle, but is illustrated in the ending of the Sunday Celebration in the Absence of. Priest.

    There are two versions, depending on whether a deacon or a layperson leads the celebration:

    A A leader of prayer who is a deacon says:
    The Lord be with you.
    All respond:
    And also with you.

    He blesses the people using the following blessing.

    May almighty God bless you,
    the Father, and the Son + and the Holy Spirit.
    All: Amen.

    B A leader of prayer who is a layperson signs himself or herself with the sign of the cross and says:

    May the Lord bless us,
    protect us from all evil
    and bring us to everlasting life.
    All: Amen.


  22. “It has been said that liturgists are raised up by God so that those who have not yet had the opportunity to suffer for the Faith may do so”

    I had to laugh at that little sentence…I’m afraid it’s true…That said….no blessings for lay people during Mass…

    Granny you forgot 6) Go to an Eastern Rite Mass :) (Divine Liturgy)…no Liturgical madness.

  23. JacobWall says:

    Just over a year ago, our bishop issued a statement, read in our parish, and I assume in all others, that such blessings are NOT to take place. I was glad for this clarification. However, many of the EMHCs simply ignore the instruction. I know for a fact that it’s not because they forget or don’t know – for the first month or two, they followed it. And it’s only certain ones. I know there are certain EMHCs who don’t. I don’t know if there’s any connection, but the ones who do NOT give blessings are usually the better-dressed and older men. The women and the more casually dressed men seem to be the ones who want do the blessings. If I’m in the line of one of these men, I usually don’t jump ship to the priest’s line. Otherwise, I usually just choose the priest’s line at the beginning. (My two oldest children are 5 and 2, and if it causes more issues to leave them in the pew than take them with me.)

  24. JacobWall says:

    #7 – No row by row.

    A number of people have mentioned being “shuffled” to the EMHCs at the back – I’ve never seen this, but I assume it’s a symptom of row by row.

    While my small parish definitely has too many EMHCs, this shuffling has never been a problem. My wife and I just go to whichever line we choose. No shuffling, no redirecting, etc. If EMHC has ever complained that we walked past them, no one has ever told us.

    This is easier because we ignore row-by-row. I’m pretty sure that our diocese has issued a statement instructing people NOT to go row-by-row. At the very least, the priest has said that we’re not supposed to do it, and disapproves. In any case, this helps a great deal not to be “shuffled” into a given communion line. If you don’t go out with everyone else in the pew, there’s no awkwardness or “pressure” to go where they go.

    There is the difficulty of squeezing past the people who have not yet gotten up to go to communion, but really this is the way it should be. Waiting for the person next to you to get up is inappropriate because it creates a pressure for EVERYONE to go up. (This adds to the problem with the blessings.) If you simply get up and go, completely disregarding turns and rows (only respecting the communion lines, of course,) you can go to the line you choose.

  25. JacobWall says:

    (that #7 is adding to Granny’s and Joe’s list above.)

  26. Cathy says:

    Is it at all possible to please stop this all at once? My parish has two priests, eight deacons and loads of EMHC’s. Yet, we have one priest, one deacon at each Sunday Mass for distribution of the Holy Eucharist. These “blessings” are distributed by the priests, the deacons and the EMHC’s. The goal for more EMHC’s is so that the Eucharist under both species be offered to all at every Sunday Mass. I am not so sure that the use of EMHC’s out of necessity in regards to time is even remotely considered any more. Can anybody simply stand up and say that this has gotten way out of hand? When people are more concerned about the reception of “fuller” communion in this manner, are we being invited back to old heresies? Are we being desensitized to potential and actual sacrilege?

  27. Medjugorje Man 07 says:

    I am at fault and must correct my service. Thank you for the informative blog and dogmatic jugdements! If only we could be this informed about the LA Diocese

  28. St. Epaphras says:

    ” I’m pretty sure that our diocese has issued a statement instructing people NOT to go row-by-row. At the very least, the priest has said that we’re not supposed to do it, and disapproves. In any case, this helps a great deal not to be ‘shuffled’ into a given communion line.” — JacobWall at 8:58 p.m.

    More like “herded” than shuffled, IMO. Some ushers seem to show very strong herding instincts at Communion time and remind me of an Australian Shepherd I once had the misfortune to know who lived mostly indoors (!)

  29. Del says:

    Thank you for linking to Paul Matenaer’s article in the (Diocese of Madison) Catholic Herald — it was a joy to read it again!

    Mr. Matenaer has finished his canon law degree and has returned to serve Bishop Morlino in Madison. I visited the Matenaer home a few weeks ago, and took them dinner and a home-made cheesecake to help them welcome a new child into their lives.

    Come to think of it, quite a few exceptional characters have settled into Madison recently!

  30. frjim4321 says:

    The moment of Holy Communion is NOT the proper time to give blessings.

    Thank you! I wish this idea would get around.

    And whoever started this idea of people crossing their arms over their chest as a sign that they want “only a blessing?” And the guy on the Sirius “Catholic” channel out of NYC used THAT as an example of sensus fidelium. Gag me!

  31. Granny says:

    Joe, good addition!
    6. Go to an Eastern Rite Mass :) (Divine Liturgy)…no Liturgical madness
    Jacob I’ve never hesitated to switch lines at Communion. The getting herded to the back usually happens if you sit behind the middle “break” . Sometimes our old NO parish would send a deacon to the back of the church. You, thinking that there will be a deacon distributing turn to the back only to find that he is off to the side with the Chalice and it’s an EMHC distributing. Then I have NO qualms about turning around and joining the line for the priest. It always amazes me, and I’ve talked to so many others, who don’t understand why when there is a deacon or two + the priest the deacons will take the Chalice instead of the Host. Many of the parishioners of our old NO parish would prefer that the deacons distribute the Host, and the EMHC offer the Chalice, but no one speaks up.
    Our grandson was an altar server at the NO parish. For a long time the servers were given Communion by either the priest or deacon. Then one Sunday I noticed that it was a EMHC. When I asked if he could please go back to distributing to the servers he told me that he would have to check with the “liturgical director to see how that would work in the choreography” Yep… he said that, out loud.

  32. jesusthroughmary says:

    I still can’t understand why people think row by row communion is a problem. It’s just being civilized. The people that don’t go up just don’t go up. NBD.

  33. Luvadoxi says:

    It’s impossible for us to avoid row-by-row. The police, uh, usher puts his arm in front of the pew entrance because I guess there’s fear of a stampede or something if this isn’t done. Really irks me.

  34. I think some EMHCs do this as an expression of dissent. For example, some years ago, I saw a woman EMHC “bless” a non-Catholic woman who came up in the Communion line by making a sign of the cross over her with the Host. Both of them smiled really big afterward. I knew them both personally. The EMHC was an outspoken proponent of women’s ordination and was clearly crossing a line into explicitly priestly territory.

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  36. Luvadoxi says:

    St. Epaphrus, I hadn’t read your comment when I posted above but I had to LOL! At least our ushers haven’t started nipping at our heels. Yet.

  37. Cecily says:

    If you distribute communion as an EMHC, why not just say “Sorry, I’m not a priest” when the crossed arms people come up? That would be educational and you wouldn’t be compromising. I don’t act as an EMHC and we don’t have them in our parish, so maybe I don’t understand all the ramifications of this situation…would a riot ensue?

    At my parish we use our altar rail. One Sunday a visiting seminarian was distributing communion. I noticed that he just passed by the kids with the crossed arms without doing anything to them. They looked a little confused, but they survived.

  38. Luvadoxi says:

    Father, Granny’s observation about the deacon and the chalice made me wonder about something I read once–that the deacon is the minister of the cup. Can you clarify what this means, and if it means deacons should be distributing the chalice rather than the host? Or does it mean the deacon holds the chalice at the altar? If he is the minister of the cup/chalice, maybe that’s why he’s not distributing the hosts. ::::confused::::

  39. Luvadoxi says:

    I meant of course–that I’m confused, not that Granny’s confused!

  40. JacobWall says:

    I haven’t been in a place where row-by-row has been “policed” by ushers, although in all the Canadian parishes I’ve been to, most people simply do it by their own free will. In Mexico (my other place of residence) most people simply aren’t organized enough to go row by row. I think even if you tried to enforce it, it simply wouldn’t work. Kind of a fortunate fault of theirs.

    It’s really unfortunate that there are ushers set up at communion time to enforce row-by-row. It seems rather absurd to me.

  41. robtbrown says:


    Crossing the arms in front of the chest for a blessing rather than communion was the common practice when I was an Episcopalian 50 years ago.

  42. VexillaRegis says:

    Slightly OT, but what should a priest *in the EF* do when a known non-catholic comes forward and kneels at the communion rail, making the sign “I can’t recieve, but would like a blessing”? This happend att a low Mass in our parish, but i shut my ears and went back to my place, so I don’t know how the pastor acted.

  43. Volanges says:

    JacobWall, I concur. In Canada, over the last 30+ years I’ve never seen an usher policing the Communion line, yet in most parishes I see an orderly, voluntary, row by row procession to Communion. It’s still a very weak excuse for leaving the pew. Many non-Catholic spouses who attend Mass in my parish simple move aside so that anyone who wishes to got to Communion can get past them. That’s also what I do if I don’t feel disposed to receive. The whole idea that people are being forced to go forward is farfetched at best. Adults with functioning minds should try using them.

    OTOH, our new Pastor has asked parents not to rush off with the babies when they come to Communion but to wait until he has blessed them. For the last couple of years there is no EMCH ministering the Host, only the priest. Two EMHCs minister the cup. Until he came, blessings in the Communion line were a rare thing, usually involving a visitor. Most EMCHs would have had no idea what to do if someone came up with arms crossed since that was never addressed in their training.

  44. wmeyer says:

    frjim, I feel tremors again, as we are on the same page on this one. I have no idea where the crossed arms came from; I was instructed to do that as a catechumen, in the uber-lib parish which was then mine.

  45. Granny says:

    Luvadoxi… Granny is frequently confused =D
    I don’t know about the Chalice/Deacon link but the Deacons at the NO sometimes distribute the Host so…. I don’t think that is the situation. At the Newman Center nearby, the Mass is very reverent except for the DREADFUL toe tapping radio top ten Christian music played at a roar through the entire Mass. The preaching is outstanding, both the priest and deacon have gifts in that ability. Communion there is always the priest and deacon giving the Host and the EMHC the chalice or so I’m told. We’ve been a few times to different Mass times but hubby and grandson refuse to go unless it is a dire emergency because of the music. Last time we went my husband had kind of an anxiety attack, by the time they got to the “meditation” Hymn I thought he was going to start screaming and run out the doors … seriously.

  46. Precentrix says:

    With regards to the EF…

    Don’t get me wrong, when I kneel to receive Holy Communion I have my eyes closed and am not looking to see what’s going on around me. But I do watch attentively at other times. So this is an observation, without comment on appropriateness. In my experience, most priests, even in the EF, will almost instinctively bless babes in arms even during Communion. This doesn’t extend to older children, and certainly not to random adults, only to the really littles. I really don’t know if any of them have stopped to think about it before they do it. The difference one notices in the EF is that if Father is going to do the little Cross thingy, he will never do it with his thumb in this context, for the same reason that he doesn’t use finger and thumb to turn the pages of the missal after the Consecration – and that he usually won’t say anything. This is a general observation, from different countries, in different parishes and with priests from different communities…

    As I said, an observation, with no personal comment except I think the instinct says something positive, even if it’s not entirely a case of black and red. And, like I said, it seems to only apply to babes in arms.

  47. pmullane says:

    Extraordinary Ministers Blessing people is a flower that has many roots, mostly (I think) coming from a misconception about Holy Communion, and what Holy Communion time is for. Asking for a Blessing during Holy Communion is similar to walking up to the Queen, then asking her man at arms to convey to you her best wishes. It would make more sense if people would go into the communon line and, before the Blessed Sacrament, make a spiritual communion. But there is no good reason why you would stand in a queue to do this when you could do it in your seat. But this situation is one that will happen when you have the perfect storm of:

    a) An under catechised laity with regards to Holy Communion, and sin;
    b)A body of professional laypeople who want to ‘do jobs’ during Mass, but who do not necessarily understand the jobs that they are doing;
    c)A casual attitude towards the Eucharist, by both priests and the laity.

    I would suggest that if you solve the above probems then the issue of Extraordinary Ministers giving Blessings would sort itself out.

  48. wmeyer says:

    Granny, the pervasive use of Haugen and Haas as “liturgical music” sets my teeth on edge. At best. When a drum set appears on the scene, I am ready to depart. And please, all our priests and bishops, would it be too much to ask that the choir and musicians not treat the church as a rehearsal hall while those of us who arrive early are at prayer? Although I admit, that is much less offensive than the endless babble of gossip and jokes in the choir pre-Mass at my former parish.

  49. wmeyer says:

    pmullane: On your point a) above, you could have said simply: An undercatechised laity.

    I believe it to be the case, not only with respect to Holy Communion and sin.

  50. pmullane says:

    wmeyer: Of course you are correct.

  51. vetusta ecclesia says:

    I agree with one of your correspondants above re. “directors of liturgy”. We are members of the Roman Church whose liturgy is found in the liturgical books. If you say the black and do the red you have the liturgy.

  52. Adam Welp says:

    I am a sacristan and EMHC at my parish, though by personal choice, I only assist as an EMHC maybe once or twice a year. I am printing the letter from the CDWDS and keeping it in my Daily Missal so I can pull it out whenever I get flack for not blessing those in line during Holy Communion.

    While we are at it, what’s with EMHC’s saying “This is the Body of Christ/Blood of Christ” when functioning as an EMHC? Is there a misprint in my Daily Missal or a change in the rubric; or do these people really think we don’t know who we receive when we go to communion?

  53. marthawrites says:

    Excuse my ignorance: at the Ash Wednesday Mass in a parish with three priests and a deacon only the priest offering the Mass signed us with ashes. The others doing so were five EMHCs. One of them also signed the priest, it being the first Mass of the day. Is this appropriate?

  54. Volanges says:

    The imposition of ashes is not a blessing and the words spoken at that time cannot be interpreted as such. The ritual allows for a lay person to do it.

  55. TomG says:

    Too many Catholic people, whether of the cradle variety or converts, are wannabe evangelical Protestants liturgically. It is true that some EF devotees are probably overly into aesthetics, but the fact is that the overwhelming majority of Catholics are cultural philistines. And the Church over the last half century has done nothing but encourage the latter.

  56. thymos says:

    Fr. Z.,

    could you provide information on in what manner parents *can* bless their children? I’ve always traced a sign of the Cross on the forehead, whilst saying the words “may God Bless you.” Or is that too much like a priest’s blessing?

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  58. acardnal says:

    jhayes wrote, “The issue of giving bessings (sic) versus invoking blessings is fairly subtle, but is illustrated in the ending of the Sunday Celebration in the Absence of. Priest.”

    The two versions of blessings you quoted from the “Sunday Celebration in the Absence of a Priest” were probably appropriated from the “Liturgy of the Hours”. One is used at dismissal by the ordained cleric if he is present during recitation and the other when there is no cleric present.

    The above notwithstanding that is really not the issue here. In this post, the EMHCs are usurping authorities and powers that they do not possess and are reserved to the ordained. They are blessing the laity “in the manner of priests”. In many instances, the EMHCs are even “blessing” the laity while holding the Holy Eucharist!

    This is just one more example of the blurring of the lines between the ordained and laity. Confusion results. The proper roles and responsibilities of the ordained cleric and the lay person are obfuscated. Consequently, the diminishing of the meaning and understanding of the Real Presence results. Why kneel? Why receive on the tongue? Why worship our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament? Why are a priest’s hands consecrated by the bishop with holy oil at his ordination but an EMHC’s are not?

  59. Xmenno says:

    Looks like I ‘m a little late to this conversation. In our Cathedral parish, EMHCs do not give blessings, (thanks be to God), but people who are visiting from other parishes look miffed when they do not receive one. I instruct our RCIA catechumens and candidates that they may proceed through the communion line, with arms crossed, and bow before the Host, in reverence and belief that Jesus is present. Their act anticipates their eventual reception of Jesus, and strengthens their new belief in the Real Presence, as all physical liturgical gestures and postures strengthen our beliefs.

  60. St. Epaphras says:

    Luvadoxi, Ah yes, the old arm-over-the-end-of-the-pew ploy…yes, yes.

    Seriously, I don’t let ushers decide for me whether to go forward for Holy Communion.

  61. JacobWall says:


    Considering your 30+ years compare to almost 2 years I’ve been in the Catholic Church (with part of that in Mexico), I’m sure you have a much better grasp of how well these things work in Canada. Personally, I don’t like row-by-row, and I think communion time works better without it. When you’re following your row out, I do feel there’s a bit more “pressure” (not quite the right word) to follow the line to a certain EMHC.

    However, what you said is true. My non-Catholic brother regularly attends Mass with us (in fact, I think he’s outstripped many Canadian Catholics in his total Mass attendance by now) and there’s never been any “pressure” to go up or anything – in fact, I think he’s quite comfortable and happy to stay where he is. (He is big a somewhat awkward, so moving past him with the kids is a juggle sometimes, but we’ve got used to that!) Same is true for many of my Protestant family and friends who’ve come on occasion. So, I think it’s safe for me to take back that part of the complaint – at least for Canada.

    As I’ve said, even though my parish is very orderly and follows the rows very much by their own free will, I’ve never had a dirty look or complaint that I go up “out of turn.” Of course, I also make an effort to be polite and not to draw attention to myself. I leave the pew on an “open end” if I can, and otherwise, I’ve never found that people hesitate or begrudge moving aside for me as I move out.

    I suppose when open spaces are limited (as they are in my small parish, where the side aisles don’t have space for two people to pass going opposite directions) the Canadian tendency to go in order helps prevent “traffic” issues, and that’s helpful. (In larger church buildings, however, I haven’t seen that space for people move around in out of order is an issue.) So, as long as we don’t get these “ushers” directing people, I can definitely live with the Canadian orderliness. I definitely won’t start any “end row-by-row” campaign, although I probably will throw the idea out there now and then.

  62. acardnal says:

    I find it curious, too, that many EMHCs are soooooooo diligent about using hand sanitizer solutions before assisting at Holy Communion but yet, most times I have observed, they do NOT use an ablutions bowl to clean their fingers of any sacred particles afterwards. Another public display of a lack of belief and understanding of Whom they have just touched.

  63. maryh says:

    @BLB Oregon
    I think the same kind of well-meaning-misunderstanding is responsible for the practice of applauding the poor choir at the end of Mass. The ones who (not to burst anyone’s bubble!) weren’t singing to please anyone but God have to be turning inside out!
    God bless you for that comment. And they don’t wait until after the Mass is actually finished. It happens during the announcements before the last blessing. It doesn’t happen all the time, but I don’t really know what to do with myself when it happens. I might just as well applaud the congregation for praying.

    But when you have us right up there in front next to the sanctuary, what do we expect? We have a talented choir director, weekly practice, and many very talented singers. I know that the congregation feels they are merely appreciating us, and that there is not the slightest intent of disrespect to the Mass, much less disrespect to what we were actually trying to accomplish.

    We have made so many improvements – more Latin, more chanting. Brick by brick.

  64. wmeyer says:

    acardnal, I have observed the opposite here. The EMHCs do not wash before distributing, but do wash after. Very odd, to my way of thinking. But I do not receive from them.

  65. The Blessing of People Who Cannot Receive Holy Communion

    While this is quite common in the U. S. today, the blessing of non-communicants is not authorized by the rubrics. The blessing of those unable to receive Holy Communion is an unauthorized addition to the Mass. It was not practiced in the Tridentine liturgy and should not be practiced in the Novus Ordo of the Mass. The practice seems to have been tacitly accepted by many bishops who are aware of this nascent custom and have even participated in giving such blessings.
    The GIRM §24 states: “Nevertheless, the priest must remember that he is the servant of the sacred liturgy, and that he himself is not permitted, on his own initiative, to add, remove or to change anything in the celebration of the Mass.”
    Redemptionis Sacramentum (On certain matters to be observed or to be avoided regarding the Most Holy Eucharist) 31, also speaks on this matter:

    “In keeping with the solemn promises that they have made in the Rite of Sacred Ordination and renewed each year in the Mass of the Chrism, let Priests celebrate ‘devoutly and faithfully the mysteries of Christ for the praise of God and the sanctification of the Christian people, according to the tradition of the Church, especially in the Eucharistic Sacrifice and in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.’ They ought not to detract from the profound meaning of their own ministry by corrupting the liturgical celebration either through alteration or omission, or through arbitrary additions.”

    Recently, 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 and Discipline of the Sacraments.
    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, “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.

    Archbishop Charles Chaput also addressed this issue in the Denver Catholic Register, Feb. 12, 2003:
    “As members of the community move forward to receive Holy Communion during Mass, parents will often bring their small children along. Over the years, it has become a custom in many parishes for these children to receive a blessing. I don’t really know where this practice began, but it’s worth some reflection.
    “Usually the children in line will look up expectantly at the person distributing Holy Communion. The minister then responds by doing one of several things: He or she may pat the child’s head, or touch the head in a sign of blessing, or mark the child’s forehead with a sign of the cross. As warm and well intentioned as the gesture may be, in the context of the liturgy, the Communion procession really isn’t the time for a blessing of children or adults who are unable to receive Communion.
    “Both children and adults can make a spiritual communion. They may come forward with their arms crossed and bow before the Eucharist. Then the priest, deacon or extraordinary minister could say to them kindly, “Receive the Lord Jesus in your heart.” This is not a blessing, but an invitation to worship, so no gestures are made.”

    Baptized babies and young children who have not yet reached the age of reason, are living Saints. Blessing a Saint is totally unwarranted.
    The entire congregation is blessed during the Concluding Rite; therefore, there is no reason to bless non-communicants.
    The responsibility resides with the diocesan bishop: “It is the right of the Christian people themselves that their diocesan Bishop should take care to prevent the occurrence of abuses in ecclesiastical discipline, especially as regards the ministry of the word, the celebration of the Sacraments and sacramentals, the worship of God and devotion to the Saints” (GIRM §24).

    From my book, “On Holy Ground: Church and Mass Etiquette.”

  66. New Sister says:

    In my home parish (Portland, OR diocese) the EMHCs are empowered! Sunday Mass has (literally) dozens of them. Yes, they bestow blessings upon people. As Holy Mass begins, they are part of the procession, entering two by two & bowing before the altar before going to their special rows of seats. Then the altar girls (usually girls), perm. deacons & the Priest (whom they call the presider) follow. Bienvenue, Abp Sample!

  67. Why should someone who is not of our Faith or is not in a state of grace receive a special blessing?

  68. aquinasadmirer says:

    In the spirit of the “Update” Fr. Z added to his post, I’m reminded of the advice to EMHCs of what to say instead of the “blessing.” This is doubly helpful for little children tagging along with parents. It’s simply saying (and not with the consecrated host) : “Jesus loves you”


  69. Don in BC says:

    I don’t know where the idea of crossing the arms over the chest came from to indicate that you were not receiving communion, but I do think it shows an ignorance (and unintentional disrespect) of the Eastern Rite Catholic liturgies by Latin Rite (Roman) Catholics. In the Ukrainian Catholic liturgy you cross your arms over your chest to receive communion. Why did someone ever think it was a bright idea to insert the gesture for receiving communion in one Rite into another Rite to indicate that you were not receiving communion?

  70. Don in BC says: Why did someone ever think it was a bright idea to insert the gesture for receiving communion in one Rite into another Rite to indicate that you were not receiving communion?

    I doubt that’s where hand-crossing for a blessing comes from. This is very commonplace in dioceses (e.g., my own) where there are no Eastern Rite parishes whatsoever, and therefore people probably don’t know it’s done in the Ukranian Rite. It is probably more likely of Protestant provenance. Someone earlier commented that they used to do it in the Episcopal church.

  71. In the Byzantine Rite, one normally crosses their arms while opening their mouth (and not sticking their tongue)…So perhaps this could be where the practice comes from….

    Medjugorje Man 07…when it comes to the LA Archdiocese….I do not even know where to begin, but let’s just say, the amount of cleanup that archdiocese needs will take decades.

  72. jhayes says:

    I remember being instructed during Mass about crossing your arms over your chest to receive a blessing instead of the Eucharist. This was at St. Anthony’s Shrine – aka “the Worker’s Chapel” – run by Franciscans in downtown Boston. My guess is that that was in the early 1990’s

    That is the same place where a priest who was introduced a “Liturgy expert” spoke at Mass to demonstrate using the Orans posture while praying the Our Father. My recollection is that that was officially proposed by he USCCB at that time but dropped before it became official.

  73. Michael_Thoma says:

    Hands crossed across chest is a sign all over Eastern Europe and a lot of Western Europe of people who RECEIVE communion. It is how many Byzantine receive every Sunday.

    These new gesture creators are creating confusion!

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