ASK FATHER: Blessing of Throats by a nun

st_blaiseFrom a reader…


Father Z you are one of the very few people I can go to when I have a question about our faith (I’m still learning) and I had my head bitten off today when I asked if this was ligit: Our priest blessed the candles after mass then had a nun administer the throat blessing for St. Blaise day alongside him. He did one side of the aisle, she the other. Is the blessing from the nun just as efficacious as from the priest? Thank you Father Z for all you do, I pray for you regularly.

Thanks for the prayers.  I need them.

Traditionally that is unthinkable.  Thus, I don’t know what a “blessing” from a nun does.  I don’t have to wonder what a blessing from a priest does.

The problem here is that the new rites are in line with the theology of the Book of Blessings, or De Benedictionibus, which in its preliminary comments, radically departs from the Church’s perennial understanding of blessings and their distinction as constitutive (making something a blessed thing) and invocative (calling down God’s blessing).

In The Book of Blessings (which I think ought to be eradicated) we find a difference in what priests or deacons do and what all laypeople (including all women religious):


1647 A minister who is a priest or deacon touches the throat of each person with the crossed candles and says the prayer of blessing. Through the intercession of Saint Blase, bishop and martyr, may God deliver you from every disease of the throat and from every other illness:

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, + and of the Holy Spirit. [The “+” indicates that the priest or deacon makes the sign of the Cross.]

Each person responds: Amen.

During the blessing suitable psalms or other suitable songs may be sung.

1648 A lay minister touches the throat of each person with the crossed candles and, without making the sign of the cross, says the prayer of blessing. Through the intercession of Saint Blase, bishop and martyr, may God deliver you from every disease of the throat and from every other illness:

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

Each person responds: Amen.

1649 After receiving the blessing each person may depart.

1650 If all cannot be blessed individually, a minister who is a priest or deacon, without candles, may extend his hands over the assembly and say the prayer of blessing. A lay minister says the prayer proper to lay ministers without making the sign of the cross.

Other than the fact that the priest makes the sign of the Cross, or extending a hand, does this look different?

But… something is different here.  It’s just not easy to put one’s finger on it.

On the one hand, anyone can ask God at anytime to pour His blessings down on anyone or anything.  When a priest does that, however, as a man whose soul has been ontologically conformed to Christ the High Priest, who acts in persona Christi capitis, I think something else happens than when a lay person does it.  What is that “something else”?  First, I think it has to do with our assurance that the petition for blessing has been heard.  In an analogous way, though this limps, we can all earnestly pray to God to forgive our sins and, we hope God will do so.  We can even tell a friend about our problems and receive consolation and advice.  Great!  On the other hand, in sacramental confession, when the priest gives you absolution, you don’t have to wonder if your sins are forgiven.

On the other hand, it must be noted that the Rituale Romanum indicated that a lector (in the older sense, not the installed modern lector) could bless bread and first fruits… but he wouldn’t be ordained as either a deacon or a priest!  So, apparently Major Orders are necessary.

Moreover, lay people are baptized, which means that they do participate in the priesthood of Christ, though not in the way that priests and bishops do.  Laypeople have vocations which, frankly, call on them to call down blessings.  I have especially in mind the duty of a father to bless his own children.   In the ancient Church, catechists would bless catechumens (cf Traditio apostolica).  There is clearly a hierarchical distinction that must be observed: If a priest is present, the priest should give blessings before a deacon would, or layperson.  Keep that in mind in the family home: perhaps the father of the family customarily begins the meal blessing… if a priest is your guest, he should do it.

CCC 1669 says:

Sacramentals derive from the baptismal priesthood: every baptized person is called to be a “blessing,” and to bless. Hence lay people may preside at certain blessings; [However…] the more a blessing concerns ecclesial and sacramental life, the more is its administration reserved to the ordained ministry (bishops, priests, or deacons).

Does the St. Blaise blessing have a great deal to do with the ecclesial and sacramental life of the Church?  I don’t think so.

In the final analysis, we have to accept that the efficacy of blessings depends on the authority and authoritative prayers of the Church.  Furthermore, we have to admit that the efficacy of the blessing must rely in large part on the will, disposition and desire of the recipient.

Keep in mind that the St. Blaise Day blessing isn’t efficacious because of the candles… this isn’t magic.

In sum, I think there is a difference between what Father does and what Sister does.  I think Holy Orders matters.   What that difference is…. I don’t know.

But if it were up to me I’d get in the line with the priest.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    Hmmm…maybe that’s why I always get sick after having my throat “blessed” by a layperson. Fun to think about, lol.

  2. Geoffrey says:

    The Book of Blessings says that “an acolyte or reader [lector] who by formal institution has this special office in the Church is rightly preferred over another layperson as the minister designated at the discretion of the local Ordinary to impart certain blessings” (n. 18, d).

    I am going to be instituted as an acolyte by my bishop at the end of this month, and I can find very few resources about it. I ask for prayers!

  3. Imrahil says:

    In my parish, the only blessings done by laypeople are the blessings of children (and in some places, of those unable to Communicate) by EMHCs.

    For Holy Communion, there’s always EMHCs in Masses with larger attendance. Also, there are lay theologians in paid service for the Church (which is called a pastoral assistant). Just to give the background to the following “but”.

    But blessings are always done by priests and deacons.

  4. Papabile says:


    what diocese are you in, or are you a seminarian???

  5. iPadre says:

    That brings to mind a question I have always had. Since a deacon is ordained to service and not to priesthood, dos the blessing come through to the authority of the Church, whereas when a priest blesses, it comes through his ordination as priest. When a priest celebrates s Sacrament or blesses or acts as priest, it is Christ acting through him? I hope everyone doesn’t have a nutty, this is a serious question.

  6. poohbear says:

    The cCatholic hospital where I used to work had the retired sisters doing the throat blessing too. They would go around the hospital and everyone would line up. I never went and it caused lots of discussions among my coworkers. The sisters have now been reassigned, so not sure what they did this year.

    (Yes, I used C and c deliberately because in some things they were very Catholic and in others, not so much.)

  7. Geoffrey says:

    Papabile: I am not a seminarian. My diocese is in California and does not have a formal program for instituted ministers, but the Bishop is open to instituting individual laymen who ask him. As far as I know, I am only the second non-seminarian to be instituted to the acolytate by him. “Brick by brick”!

  8. Dr. Edward Peters says:

    Once again, Pater states clearly what the law is, and then, as is his right, he points out weaknesses in it. But he always is clear about what the current rules are. May his tribe increase.

    Thought exercise: I wonder whether the use of the lay blessing option has gone beyond what it can sacramentally sustain. Here is not the place to make the point, but, in brief, blessings come from one in authority. Now, as a layperson, I do have some degree of spiritual authority over certain Catholics: mainly, my family. If I were to bless the throats of my children, that could make some sense; but should my neighbor bless them? Lay, in short, need not be read as “every lay person on earth”,should it?

    [Good question.]

    Fr. Z's Gold Star Award

  9. wised says:


    “In my parish, the only blessings done by laypeople are the blessing of children … by EMHCS”
    When we in the Madison Diocese received our EMHC training, it was made clear that such “blessings” by EMHCS was not appropriate. It has remained so to my knowledge. However, I have observed such blessings in other diocese. A layperson going through the “motions” would seem to imply more than meets the eye and lead to confusion among the poorly catechised in the congregation. I am truly honored to be selected from time to time to assist in distributing the Body and Blood of Christ, but I harbor no illusions that I am any more than a EMHC and a layman.

  10. jhayes says:

    I beieve that (in the US, anyway) EMHCs can also impose Ashes on Ash Wednesday. The Ashes have to have been blessed by a cleric.

  11. The Cobbler says:

    Pater Zedissimus,

    Please forgive me if I’ve asked this before and forgotten, but, as a father, should I be blessing my children the “invocative” way, something along the lines of “May God bless you, [child’s name]; in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,” (or maybe “O God, please bless [child’s name]…”) or in a more “constitutive” way, something along the lines of “I bless you, [child’s name], in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”? Or have I got the difference between invocative and constitutive wrong — does it have more to do with the difference between making something a sacramental and merely imparting the blessing directly than with which of those ways it’s phrased? [Invocative, not constitutive. You would not be trying to make your children consecrated, sacred persons (as priests and religious are).]

    Also, assuming I’ve asked the right question in the first place, would the same or a different answer apply to their mother blessing them? And would the same guidelines for appropriate motions/gestures apply as to, say, an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion or a lay minister of St. Blaise’s candles, or since the parental blessing are inherently proper to the parental authority would the more priest-like laying hands and/or signing the cross be appropriate (or, since it’s in a private context and providing no other reason it would be likely to be misunderstood, does it matter in the first place)?

  12. Suburbanbanshee says:

    Re: the candles: So lay blessings on St. Blaise’s Day aren’t simply a lay use of candle sacramentals? I could have understood that better, honestly.

    Re: lay blessings: Usually in Catholic tradition and that of other Christians, laypeople giving blessings gave them as part of their offices, or as part of their status. For examples, abbesses could bless, because they were elected superiors. Parents and grandparents could bless children. Old people could bless young people. In many traditions, the ones staying home bless the ones going on journeys, and the dying bless those who are going to outlive them.

    OTOH, anybody could call down blessings on someone who helped them, and it was medieval Irish law that anybody who saw someone making something had to bless the work. (Irish culture was big on blessing everybody, as a greeting.)

    The St. Blaise thing being done by laymen or laywomen just seems betwixt and between. It just doesn’t seem like it’s our business. Whereas if the nun or Bob the layguy were sitting people down and rubbing their throats with festive St. Blaise goose grease, it would make sense to me, because it would seem more like a laity thing.

  13. Suburbanbanshee says:

    PS. I just made up the goose grease. But if there were such a thing, it would probably be lanolin from last year’s sheep, because of St. Blaise being martyred by being raked with wool combs.

    There is apparently a custom in some parts of Italy of eating the tail end of the Christmas panettone today, and in Metz at the Church of St. Eucaire they give out actual blessed brioche topped with something that looks like spikes (to look like the wool combs). Both of these are also associated with healing or warding off throat problems. Again, these sound much more lay-oriented.

  14. Suburbanbanshee says:

    It seems that St. Eucaire Church gives out blessed brioche because they have a St. Blaise pilgrimage to visit and touch their St. Blaise relics!

    If you go over to the sidebar, there’s a little diocesan Facebook feed showing the reliquary, a brioche, and a sign telling people the store’s closed for business on St. Blaise’s Day. :)

  15. Kathleen10 says:

    We had a sister impart our St. Blaise blessing as well. I got in Father’s line.
    @Dr. Peters, Amen to “may his tribe increase”.
    Interesting topic on how far one may go in imparting a blessing. I have felt the impulse and followed through, with family, to trace a cross on their forehead and whisper “May God bless you”. I also work with children, and have done this for children I am concerned about, and no one, including them, is the wiser, but it gives me a large degree of happiness.

  16. jbazchicago says:

    I believe the headline should read: Blessing by a layperson. [No.]
    There are only two types of folks, clerics and non clerics when it comes to these questions. I think the headline can itself be deceptive, as if a nun (or religious sister, which I believe is the intent, unless people are flocking to cloisters and receiving blessings through the grate of willing cloistered nuns). were somehow a half-priest or something. The query could be, blessing by an acolyte? Since proper acolytes are deputed to bless in limited circumstances.

    I do like Dr. Peters point. It would be marvelous if there is a lack of clerics the father of the household may give certain blessings to his immediate family. However, we all know those who would actually take it seriously would never do it, they’re already loading up the van and travelling over an hour to attend a decent Mass as it is, so the likelihood of missing the opportunity for a blessing is…well…unlikely (I had an Austin Powers moment there…).

  17. Mojoron says:

    A priest! HA! He sits down and lets the Sacristan and his/her helper do the blessing. Expediency, don’t you know!

  18. What about the blessings of abbesses? I only knew of it from when I was a brother at Mother Angelica’s. She was able to give blessings as an abbess… and they also have crosiers… Or can have them… I never read about any of that, just had someone explain these things to me. Not sure of their accuracy.

  19. JARay says:

    As I have said before, I am an Instituted Acolyte. I had the task of leading a Liturgy of the Word on the feast of St. Blaise and I knew very well that there would be no blessings of the throat at the Mass which followed two hours later. I knew nothing about the directions for Instituted Acolytes being able to conduct some sort of blessing but I was determined that those who were present at the Liturgy which I conducted, would at least have something which acknowledged the blessing given on this day.
    I got each person to place one of their hands against the neck of their neighbour and I said aloud a prayer of invocation asking for the Intercession of St. Blaise with the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, to grant to each the blessing which is traditionally given on the Feastday in spite of us not having the blessed candles and a priest to administer this blessing. I asked this through Christ, Our Lord. And they all responded “Amen”.
    It was the best I could do and I feel that it was worth doing. And if the situation arises again, I will do exactly the same. Several came up to me afterwards and expressed their thanks for my effort.
    They all went away knowing that this tradition exists!

  20. FranzJosf says:

    This lay/cleric distinction about the sign of the cross is not unlike the same distinction made in the NO Exsultet, where the layman must leave out a portion of the text, including the greeting, “The Lord be with you.” (I’m guessing that only a cleric sings the Exsultet in the Old Rite.)

  21. Augustine Thompson O.P. says:

    Why am I about to post when I am to go to Compline in 9 minutes and then to meditation, study, and sleep? Because the canonist, Mr. Peters, has given us the key that people are not noticing, I think.

    Blessings are give by superiors to interiors. This is painful to know in our egalitarian society, but it is simple: those above you in the supernatural and natural hierarchy can bless you: the ordained can bless the unordained; parents (includes mothers), their children; religious superiors, their subjects (includes women), catechists, their catechumens; and so on.

    But one might ask, what of those with no “official ecclesiastical” superiority, and clearly no natural superiority? E.g. Extraordinary ministers? Well, as noted above, even lectors (in the old minor orders) could bless some things; so also, I suspect, the old acolytes.” Modern acolytes are instituted with the rite of subdeacons (giving over the paten, chalice, and elements—not a candle), so what about them? I don’t know. Do extraordinary ministers have enough of a rank to give blessings to communicants? Not clear, but they do have some kind of minister in the local church.

    So, I would say: if you don’t believe in hierarchy, do give or receive blessings. What should be the current practice for “local hierarchical relations? Don’t know. I would love to hear from Dr. Peters, esq.

  22. Our genial host hasn’t said it (at least lately), so I will…

    There are those among the clergy who call the Book of Blessings the “Book of Wishes.”

    With the Saint Blaise Blessing, there is a very sensible solution to the problem of one priest, lots of people: the priest can impart the blessing to all, at once. “But, but!”–I hear you say–“what about the cool, double-candle part?” Alas, that is omitted; hence the enlisting of laypeople.

    A priest friend — now deceased — had a solution to that. He had the EMHC line up, armed with candles, and do the under-the-chin part…saying nothing–while he, himself, would impart the blessing to all, at once. Make of that what you will.

  23. WmHesch says:

    I agree, Father… There is a certain “je ne sais quoi” at work… but three points:

    1) The St. Blaise blessing hasn’t changed one iota since the Council. Interesting to note the most popular sacramentals escaped the Consilium’s scissors… And this one has remained steadfastly popular for centuries because it’s part of Catholic culture.

    2) Although this sacramental comes on the heels of Candlemas, I wonder how many parishes actually realize (traditionally speaking) the candles for the St. Blaise blessing have their own blessing… It’s not like it’s just supposed to be given with candles that have been blessed on Candlemas (notwithstanding popular misconception)

    3) What if the blessing wasn’t given by a nun- but by some polarizing lay Liturgitrix (let’s call her Phyllis Z.)- who wants to use the Novus Ordo’s loose rubrics to advance a political agenda and play-pretend priest whenever she can? Why even bother to get such a blessing from any such lay minister- nun or not?

  24. Elizabeth D says:

    My throat was blessed by my bishop.

    At moments I wish I could bless my catechism students (ie like a parent, not like a priest). I did install a little holy water font in the classroom, there is no problem about that.

  25. mrshopey says:

    This isn’t offered at the parish we are at. At the previous one, this was also when the candles were blessed too. I miss that, blessing of candles.
    My throat would always ache afterwards and I had wondered if there was something “wrong”.
    When the lay ministers would do the blessing, they would be chosen from the EMHC list. IOW, no ordinary Catholic could do it in that setting.
    I don’t like the laity imparting blessing like that nor during that setting. But, thank goodness we can fall back on what is allowed/not allowed and not at the mercy of my likes/dislikes.
    There is the option of going to the priest tho.

  26. Gregorius says:

    my parish actually gave the blessing on sunday. as there were huge crowds, their solution was to have the priest give the blessing to all, then he and laity imposed the candles. the laity said the blessing without the words “in the name of the Father…” or making a sign of the cross while he said the whole thing again to the individuals who approached him.

  27. Imrahil says:

    Ah yes, our priest also said gave the blessing to all in general, probably hoping to thus reduce the number of people approaching personally, but I don’t think he really did.

    He wore liturgical white for (what used to be called) the external celebration of Candlemas (on last Sunday), while another priest came only for the St. Blasius blessing (he had previously held a Mass in the hospital) and wore the red stole for St. Blasius. Good thinking, I’d say.

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