ASK FATHER: Is saying “God bless you!” a blessing?

From a reader…


I was just at a “seminar” that took place in a catholic church this past weekend and I knew right away that I was in the wrong place (thus the lower case c) when the parish priest introduced the speaker and asked all of us to extend our hand in blessing over this speaker, as though we had the power vested in us to confer blessing!

I spoke to my friends about this, and why it was so inappropriate, but it got me to thinking: I have long been in the habit of saying “God Bless” instead of “Good Bye” both in speaking and in writing…but if it’s inappropriate for me to bless someone in the way this priest was asking us to, then wouldn’t it be just as inappropriate for me to use this phrase? Of course, it is just me asking God to bless them, not pretending that I have the faculty to actually confer a blessing, but still…would it just be more appropriate for me to avoid saying this?

Saying “God bless you,” when someone sneezes has a long history in Christian civilization – spoken by cleric and laity alike. It’s a kind wish and a good thing to do. Similarly, saying “God bless you,” at the end of a conversation, or when tucking a child into bed at night, is laudable.

It’s an entirely different category to pretend one is a priest, extend one’s hands and attempt to “bless” another person. That’s something which the Church rightly reserves to Her ordained ministers, who act in persona Christi.

“But Father! But Father!”, some of you are now gurgling.  “Pope Francis himself asked people to bless him when he was elected and he’s the most wonderfulest, fluffiest Pope ehvur!  He’s the first Pope who ever smiled or kissed a baby!  You hate Vatican II, don’t you?!”

Yes, we all recall that awkward moment at the election of Pope Francis when on the balcony he said:

And now I would like to give the blessing. But first I want to ask you a favour. Before the Bishop blesses the people I ask that you would pray to the Lord to bless me – the prayer of the people for their Bishop. Let us say this prayer – your prayer for me – in silence.

Note that the Pope asked people to pray for the Lord to bless him, not that they would extend hands or make the sign of the Cross and bless him as priests might.   Just to be clear about that.  It was, however, confusing … for the easily confused

Avoid at all costs the silliness of simulating a priestly blessing. This veers close to sacrilege.  I think it smacks of an effort by a certain element in the Church to downplay the ordained priesthood.

Keep on saying “God bless you” when someone sneezes, and keep on asking God to bless friends and family members in your conversations.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    I abhor the Nazi salutes at the parish I am attending, when the lib priest asks the congregation to bless the kids at the kid Mass or to bless the new RCIA people, etc.

    Silly, and does undermine the priestly function. Parents can bless their own children. but the laity have no power. Neither do nuns, who seem to like to put their hands on the kids when they come up for the blessing instead of Communion, something which I wish was never started.

  2. Michael_Thoma says:

    What really gets my altar linens in a knot is when I say, hey let do this fill-in-the-blank Traditional practice, but get told that it needs permission from everyone up to the Pope personally skywriting it in Latin.. but when someone wants to be innovative, they just call it ‘charismatic’ or ‘the spirit of’, or just plan ol’ do it and don’t bother asking/seeking permission and it’s all a-ok. No one bats an eye and no permissions are needed when making things up on a whim.

  3. Imrahil says:

    Of course a layman is quite entitled to say “God bless”.

    Just as he is to say “Goodbye” (= God be with ye). (I dearly love, of course, our own Bavarian form which, if it had stemmed from English, would have probably turned out as “Tectigood”.)

  4. kekeak2008 says:

    I’m a father of two girls under two, and I regularly try to bless them before they go to bed. Is there a particular or standard blessing for such an occasion? I presume no crossing on the forehead. If the fellow readers could help out, that would be great. [I don’t think there is a specific form and I don’t think there is a problem with tracing the sign of the Cross on their foreheads. And bless you for doing this fatherly thing!]

  5. Tradster says:

    In English when the subject is omitted it usually presumes to be refer to the first-person (“I”). So the short “Bless you” can be taken as “I bless you” which is wrong. Saying “God bless you” explicitly wishes the blessing from God, not the speaker. To avoid any such misinterpretation I like to use the full “May God bless you” when speaking or writing.

  6. Vince K says:

    What about a parent or godparent tracing the sign of the cross on the child’s forehead and saying, “God bless you, in nomine patris, et filii, et spiritu sancti. Amen.”?

  7. roma247 says:

    kekeak2008, I always kept a bottle of holy water handy for just that purpose, and when retiring for the night would put a little on my thumb and fingers and bless each one as they slept. Of course, what you are doing sounds good too. Either way, it is a thing of great beauty for a father to bless his children and for them to grow up knowing this. Keep up the good work!

  8. Midwest St. Michael says:

    I bless our children too, kekeak.

    We have five ages 10-22. I always use holy water, as well. :)


  9. aquinasadmirer says:


    I’ve been doing this for my (now) three daughters for almost ten years now.
    The formula I use came from a homily which I got from audiosancto. It is this:

    May the blessings of Almighty God descend upon you, and protect you from all evil.


  10. ctln says:

    I’m so glad that someone brought this up. In our parish, on the first weekend of the month at every mass just following the announcements, the PASTOR asks everyone who is celebrating a birthday, anniversary, or “special day” to stand and then requests the entire congregation to raise their hands to “pray for” those standing to receive a special blessing. This just does not sit right with me, but we recently moved to a small town in Texas where it seems our faith has become quite Protestantized, for lack of a better term. We’re also supposed to ALL hold hands during the Our Father, which drives me insane to no end but seems to be a practice at all parishes in the diocese. I’m hoping that things might change when we get a new bishop this fall, but I’m not holding my breath.

  11. aquinasadmirer says:

    Oops. Should be:

    May the blessings of Almighty God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, descend upon you, and protect you from all evil.


  12. Packrraat says:

    We have one elderly woman who almost always blesses the priest as soon as he has finished blessing us. Very discrete, but also very wrong. I’ve gotten into the habit of closing my eyes as the priest gives us his blessing just so I don’t see her do this.

  13. defreitas says:

    Once, while my brother-in-law, who is a Ukrainian Catholic Priest, was a teacher at a school in Brampton, Ontario, he had to attend a graduation mass. At one point in the service a group of (Eucharistic?) ministers came out with small bowls of blessed olive oil and began anointing the teachers and students on their heads. When my brother-in-law’s turn came up, he went to the guy holding the dish and said to him that “as a priest he could not allow him to anoint him with oil” and said that “he would anoint himself and could do the same for him if he liked. As I understand it the minister declined the honour. I myself have been in situations where the congregations have been asked to bless “whatever”. One has to wonder from where these things come from.

  14. Joe in Canada says:

    I think it’s wonderful for parents to bless their children, and to use Holy Water too.
    In terms of the formula suggested above, ““God bless you, in nomine patris, et filii, et spiritu sancti. Amen”, I’ve heard priests say this at the end of Mass (in English). The problem is, God does not bless in the name of the Father, etc, any more than the Queen of England would say “I dub thee sir Knight in the name of the Queen.” So maybe it’s shorthand for “May God bless you, and I bless you in the name of the Father … etc” which seems redundant to me. A priest has the ability to invoke the blessing of God, in the name of the Father, etc.

  15. John the Mad says:

    Many years ago while serving as a captain in the Canadian Forces I was at a formal dinner in an officers mess when I was introduced to a colonel I didn’t know. When he found out I was about to enter the seminary (I did not go on to ordination) he got down on his knees in his mess kit (formal uniform) and asked for my blessing. I was gob smacked by his great humility and deep faith and was greatly embarrassed because I felt completely unworthy to bless anyone. A few minutes later I was told he had two sons who were priests.

    Later, married and a father, I blessed my sons with the sign of the cross at night and told them that I loved them. One son is now a sacristan at our parish and tells us he believes he has a vocation to the priesthood. One day I may kneel before him to receive his priestly blessing. Colonel, where ever you are, you had no idea what you started that day, although you may have been off by one generation.

    Dear Lord, assist my son in his discernment, bless him and watch over him.

  16. DonL says:

    Saying “God bless you,” when someone sneezes has a long history in Christian civilization ”

    I had once heard (?) that saying this developed because in the Middle Ages it was thought that the devil could enter the soul during that brief second and thus, it needed protection.

  17. mvhcpa says:

    My wife and I both trace the cross on each other’s forehead, then pray the St. Michael’s prayer anytime we go our separate ways (weekdays before work or weekends if one of us is going off shopping, etc.). My wife started doing this to me as soon as we got back from our honeymoon, which surprised me, as I had heard of parents blessing children but not spouses blessing each other, then I finally picked up on it after a few weeks.

    I don’t know if we are blessing each other or not, but it sure can’t hurt!

    Michael Val
    (who also wonders if us laymen are doing anything “efficacious” when we pray “Bless us O Lord” before meals)

  18. Heather F says:

    @John the Mad,

    How beautiful! Thank you for sharing.

  19. Michael in NoVA says:

    kekeak2008 says: 4 May 2015 at 12:35 PM

    I’m a father of two girls under two, and I regularly try to bless them before they go to bed. Is there a particular or standard blessing for such an occasion?

    I bless my kids as my mother used to bless my brothers and me, with the sign of the cross on the forehead and (more or less) the blessing that Aaron was told to give the Israelites:

    May the Lord bless you and keep you.
    May the Lord let His face shine upon you and be gracious unto you.
    May the Lord lift His countenance upon you and give you peace,
    This night and evermore. Amen.

  20. benedictgal says:

    Parents blessing kids at home is okay. My grandmother used to bless me whenever I would make the four hour south-bound drive home from Austin. However, when it comes to the Mass or any Church function, the blessing is reserved to the priest, plain and simple.

    I close my eyes when this mess happens in my parish. It seems to me that priests, as well-intentioned as they may be, have either not red Ecclesiae de Mysterio, or have outright ignored it for those dreaded “pastoral reasons” (which have done more harm than good):

    2. To promote the proper identity (of various roles) in this area, those abuses which are contrary to the provisions of canon 907 are to be eradicated. In eucharistic celebrations deacons and non-ordained members of the faithful may not pronounce prayers — e.g. especially the eucharistic prayer, with its concluding doxology — or any other parts of the liturgy reserved to the celebrant priest. Neither may deacons or non-ordained members of the faithful use gestures or actions which are proper to the same priest celebrant. It is a grave abuse for any member of the non-ordained faithful to “quasi preside” at the Mass while leaving only that minimal participation to the priest which is necessary to secure validity.

    It irks me when this happens all over the place. It has reached a crescendo with the ACTS folks.

  21. RocketRM says:

    I bless my two children at night. Sometimes when I forget or I’m rushed my daughter (4 yrs old) will remind me to give her a blessing.

    I usually make the cross on their foreheads and bless them with “May the Lord bless you and protect you from all evil and bring you to everlasting life”.

    … but now I’m thinking I may start giving the Aaronic blessing like Michael in NoVA mentioned. Absolutely beautiful!

  22. NoraLee9 says:

    Well if the Powers that Be keep undermining priestly authority, and laicizing the duties of the priests, they won’t have many priests to celebrate Mass and confer sacraments.

  23. VeritasVereVincet says:

    My church has the habit of raising all their hands to pray/bless certain people occasionally. As Confirmation was yesterday, this last weekend Father ended the homily by asking the confirmands to come forward. He encouraged and exhorted them, and then there was a too-long “song of blessing”. No one was told to extend their hands, but they all did anyway.

    I was cantoring, but I wouldn’t have raised mine anyway. My parents likely would (as they have in the past), but since they also happen to belong to an ecumenical charismatic community, I very much suspect they are praying and not “blessing”.

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