ASK FATHER: “Everyone, extend your hands to bless Myrna!”

From a reader…


Our Pastor has started a practice that makes me deeply uncomfortable.

Typically, the first weekend of the month after the announcements, anyone with a special day (birthday, anniversary, etc.) is asked to stand up to receive a special blessing. The congregation is then invited to “raise and extend your hands to pray for those standing.”

During mass this weekend there was a baptism, and afterwards we were all invited to do the same, extend our hands to pray for the family.

This just feels so icky and Protestant-y to me, but I am wondering if this is an abuse of some kind? I live in small-ish town Texas and the entirety of our diocese has some “issues,” so another parish is no better. The closest Latin Mass is 5 hours away…. :(

Praying for you, Father. I hope you are well. Thanks very much for entertaining the question. I can’t tell you how uncomfortable it makes me feel!

Oh, it’s definitely an abuse.

No one, not even a priest, is to alter the ritual of the Mass. That includes adding in rituals like this.

This sort of thing is probably born of sloppy thinking, sentimentality and a weak priestly identity rather than malice.

When this sort of thing is done, it undermines the community’s conception of the priesthood and the ability of the priest to bless and consecrate. If we all can gather around “Myrna” and bless her as she begins her new “ministry” as a checker at the local Piggly Wiggly, then how does this differ from the priest’s blessing?

This is an abuse and the bishop should be notified. Whether he does anything about it or not is an open question. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.


From a priest…


Thanks for your response on blessing Myrna. Just yesterday we had the installation for our pastoral council. We used a blessing we received from the diocese. When I blessed the council the congregation was supposed to be asked to extend their hands as I said the blessing.
I omitted that thinking that it was just another misunderstanding of the priesthood. We’re just “presiders” after all :)


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    Just wondering, does the Roman Ritual have an actual blessing for someone on their birthday (for outside of Mass)?

  2. Bob B. says:

    I’ve witnessed this too in many churches in this diocese.
    What of the “blessing” that a priest asks everyone to give by extending their hands as the children leave for their own bible readings (usually done at the “main” Mass on Sundays)?

  3. Toan says:

    “When this sort of thing is done, it undermines the community’s conception of the priesthood and the ability of the priest to bless and consecrate. If we all can gather around Myrna and bless her as she begins her new ministry as a checker at the local Piggly Wiggly, then how does this differ from the priest’s blessing?”

    I’ve actually wondered the same thing regarding the prayer before meals: “Bless us O Lord and these Thy gifts…etc.” Devil’s advocate: If laymen extending hands to bless Myrna undermines the community’s conception of the priesthood and the ability of the priest to bless and consecrate, why wouldn’t our standard prayer before meals undermine the same?

    Note: This is NOT a barbed question, and I am not angry or malicious. I actually do need help in understanding the difference, as this is not the sort of thing most people in my neighborhood would care about.

    Also Note: I will grant that such rituals should not be performed during Mass/baptism. This question applies to these types of blessings performed outside those settings.

  4. Jenson71 says:

    @Toan. I think the difference is that asking God to bless us (or our meal, or other people) is quite different than presuming that we ourselves can bless our meals, other people, or ourselves. In the prayer before meals, we are praying that God blesses us and the gifts; we are not saying, ‘We bless us and the meal.’

  5. JabbaPapa says:

    All Faithful can pray for blessings, but only the clergy may do so as a sacramental

  6. SaintJude6 says:

    This happens in the churches in our area (Dallas Diocese) all the time. The first time I attended Mass at the “faith community” a few minutes from our house, I spent the whole time trying to figure out if we had gone to a protestant service by mistake. (The “temporary worship building” was new, no sign.)
    There’s a lot of calling people up to the front and “praise and worship” music gleaned from the offerings of the local protestant Christian radio station. The blessing by the crowd always looks eerily like a nazi salute.
    Luckily the FSSP parish (and sanity) is only about 40 minutes away.

  7. tgarcia2 says:

    Sadly, this has occurred in both Diocese I’ve lived in (El Paso and Dallas), I just don’t participate. As far as the statement as the FSSP parish and sanity, well, that can be subjective since I did go there and now attend a NO parish now…..

  8. benedictgal says:

    Sadly my diocese (in deep South Texas) suffers the same fate. What is just as bad is that in my parish, the pastor encourages us to sing “Happy Birthday” to those who are being blessed for their birthdays. We just watched the immolation of Our Lord. It seems to me that such activity sucks the sacredness of the Mass out of the room and leaves us in a vacuum.

    Sadly, the closest EF to me is 130 miles away.

    To Toan, maybe this passage from the Congregation for Divine Worship can help you understand why this “blessing” is wrong on so many levels, especially when it happens during the Mass:

    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).

    I hope this helps to explain things.

  9. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    A little over a century ago, Patrick Morrsiroe, in his 1907 catholic Encyclopedia article, “Blessing”, began by enumerating “a variety of meanings in the sacred writings”, only to add, “With these various significations it is not the present purpose to deal.” Nonetheless, in dealing with “its strictly liturgical and restricted sense”, he soon comes, however, not only to note that “The solitary case in which one inferior to a priest is empowered to bless, is where the deacon blesses the paschal candle in the ceremonies of Holy Saturday” (adding “This exception is more apparent than real”), but to underline, “When, therefore, laymen and women are represented as blessing others it is to be understood that this is an act of will on their part, a wish or desire for another’s spiritual or temporal prosperity, an appeal to God which has nothing to recommend it but the merits of personal sanctity. The ordinary greetings and salutations that take places between Christians and Catholics, leavened by mutual wishes for a share of heavenly grace, must not be confounded with liturgical blessings.”

    Is the decisive difference between an abuse and a lay “act of will on their part, a wish or desire for another’s spiritual or temporal prosperity, an appeal to God” (whether acting alone or together, with or without the participation of someone in Orders), whether or not it takes place within a liturgy?

    (And, have developments in (the exposition of) baptismal theology since 1907 any bearing on this, real, or perceived?)

  10. mysticalrose says:

    This sort of thing is legion in the south and in college campuses everywhere . . . Yet another example of the “Hey, look at us!” ethos of the NO.

  11. Mike says:

    benedictgal, if you’re anyplace near Pharr, I should think that the Oratorian parish there, St. Jude Thaddeus, would probably be far less apt to engage in such abuses.

    (Disclaimer: I am a lay tertiary of the Washington, D.C. Oratory-in-Formation. I have never visited the Pharr Oratory.)

  12. benedictgal says:

    Pharr is where my sanity was restored, Mike. Oratorians are a blessing, indeed. Sadly, they are 130 miles away from me. God willing, I hope to return there soon because I need to be amongst them. I also owe St. Jude a HUGE debt of gratitude.

  13. gloriamary says:

    I live in south Texas too. Another practice in my former parish was before the mass: “Let us turn and welcome one another to this celebration.” So enduring not one but TWO rounds of handshaking, backslapping, chatter, etc. was the norm. Fortunately we have a designated parish that has the Latin Mass every Sunday. I went to my old parish on a Holy Day, and I just kept my head down and my hands together, and one lady came out of her pew to grab my hand and get in my personal space to make good and sure I felt welcomed!

  14. Sword40 says:

    I’ve left 3 parishes for exactly this reason. Now I’ve found a brand new FSSP parish in Tacoma, Wa.

  15. Clemens Romanus says:

    I’m from Edinburg, TX and had never seen this practice before until moving to the Dallas area. Our Priest, usually so faithful to rubrics, always asks the laity to extend their hands. Yes, the FSSP in Irving, TX is such a blessing!

  16. ben39 says:

    Would it be different, Fr. Z, if that had been done outside of mass?

  17. CPT TOM says:

    My home parish had the silly hand raising until we got a new parish priest who shut that down. He wouldn’t put up with it. Unfortunately he is not the pastor (we have a Deacon for a Pastoral Administrator) so we still have the “turn and greet your neighbor” before mass starts. It isn’t technically part of the mass…*sigh*

  18. jacobi says:

    The simple answer is to ignore all these variations.

    I do with the so-called “sign of peace” and the regulars have learned just to exchange bows.

    Mark you, it took quite a lot of ignoring of out-held hands until they got the message.

  19. gloriamary says:

    ‘her new “ministry” as a checker at the local Piggly Wiggly’
    That’s hilarious.

  20. FL_Catholic says:

    I thought this craziness was limited to Central Florida where I live, I’m sad to see that they are doing this stuff in Texas too. Seems like every Mass I go to no matter what parish I attend, at the end of Mass but before the dismissal the priest will walk up and down the aisle asking where the visitors to the branch are from and having the rest of the congregation applaud them for attending for the first time. A few times they’ve led the congregation in singing Happy Birthday too. Oh how I wish that once in a while a bolt of lightening would come out and zap a few of these liturgical abusers as a warning to the rest of them…

  21. thomas tucker says:

    I eschew this type of “blessing.” The other thing that irks me is when the priest is blessing a particular individual, or couple at a bpatism, and every one in the congregation responds by making the Sign of the Cross as if they are recieiving the blessing too. Grrrr.

  22. SanSan says:

    Oh my goodness–it goes on and on here in the Bay Area (CA)……the Capuchins are heavy in to it……your arm could fall off waiting for all the blessings to end. *sigh*

  23. Cantor says:

    I learned to just keep my hands at my side when my previous pastor somewhat frequently asked us to extend our right hands in blessing upon various people, objects, events, etc. Having spent several years in Germany, I’m frankly reluctant to offer the Hitlergruß for any reason!

  24. VeritasVereVincet says:

    Once a month, my parish includes a petition for those born that month, and a petition for those celebrating anniversaries that month. That seems to me a proper place for it, if it must be there.

    I would prefer, however, that they start skipping the “everyone sit so these people can stand and be seen” part, and the usual applause, which I do not join.

    thomas tucker:
    They probably can’t help it for the same reason I can’t hear “May the Force be with you” without mentally responding “And with your spirit.” It’s programmed into our brains.

  25. MrsMacD says:

    Some situations worth pondering,

    The Pope at the time ordered St. Clare to bless the meal. God worked a miracle and a cross appeared on each of the loaves of bread, as if to show the efficacy of her blessing despite the presence of the Holy Father.

    God doesn’t expect the impossible, so we can count on Him blessing our food when we say grace. He doesn’t require us to bring every meal to a priest to bless it.

    A Father can bless his wife and children.

    A mother can bless her children.

    Can a grandfather/grandmother bless his/her grandchildren?

    A King his subjects?

    Can an old person bless a young one?

    There is a lack of catechesis, even among the traditional Catholics.

    Where would we find an answer to this sort of question that we can trust?

  26. ChesterFrank says:

    This is a new “trend.” Even people on the historically conservative east coast have been asked to do this and one assumes its with the Bishops blessing.

  27. rroan says:

    re: Sign of peace.

    Oh how I’ve been tempted here to give the zealous pew-mate a solemn look in the eye, embrace the shoulders, lean forward and touch cheeks as is done by the ministers in a solemn high mass. But that would probably be sacrilege so I have resisted.

  28. Diane says:

    We attended Mass at a neighboring parish two weeks ago. The priest was baptizing a little one and after inviting the parents and godparents to trace the cross on the baby’s forehead, he then invited the entire congregation to come forward and do the same! Everybody stood there rather stunned and when nobody came forward, the priest then said …”Well, you’re not a very friendly community!” I hope that doesn’t catch on.

  29. av8er says:

    I’ve not seen this until moving to South Texas as well. There is one parish where the parochial vicar does a very reverent NO Mass. No hand raising, he faces liturgical east, and two weeks ago very kindly corrected the congregants to not clap. His homilies are awesome. He is a blessing to all of us. Once we went here, we didn’t leave. The pastor is another story. I think this is creep from Latin America… I could be wrong. We move soon and I hope to attend the EF in Austin.

  30. oldconvert says:

    We have a number of Indian Catholics in our parish, and their practice during the sign of peace is to do the “hands joined together and slight bow with smile” that is, as I understand it, an Asian sign of peace. It looks perfectly dignified and reverent in contrast to the hand-grabbing and waving going on elsewhere in the pews, so I have taken to doing it myself.

  31. Venerator Sti Lot says:


    It would strike me as ‘some-kind-of-European custom’ rather than sacrilege, though it might thoroughly surprise anyone who had not encountered its daily, secular equivalent in life or film – which gets me wondering if the daily use derives from the liturgical (I suppose the liturgical could even once have derived from a ‘daily’ use only to be later passed back to everyday life further afield…).

    The film clip in a recent post of the audience with the Venerable Pius XII provides a nice extra-liturgical example when he greets the cardinal (as I take it: I suppose the cardinal swiftly kisses his ring, as part of the exchange).

    And the angels ‘down front’ in Botticelli’s Mystical Nativity – which I take to allude to, or depict, “Misericordia et veritas obviaverunt sibi; justitia et pax osculatae sunt” (“Mercy and truth have met each other: justice and peace have kissed” : Vulgate Psalm 84:11).

  32. Suburbanbanshee says:

    Re: extraliturgical blessings, St. Clare did not bless the meal; she just said grace over the meal. She was the mother superior and the hostess, so she could ask the guest, visiting priest, etc., to say grace, or the guest could refuse and ask her to do it. This is a story about a pope wanting to see a saint pray, which is something that popes and saints often get into manners competitions about.

    There is a whole class of miracle stories about saying grace before or after meals, and about dire consequences to persistently neglecting it. Jewish people have similar stories for their mealtime prayers. God likes us to say grace.

    There is indeed a tradition that older or more authoritative laypeople pray for blessings for younger people or those in their charge, etc., and there are many other examples of laypeople doing this sort of thing.

    But not at Mass, and always in the “May God bless you” form instead of the various priestly forms of blessing.

  33. rroan:

    When I have the privilege of serving Mass for a good friend (who is assigned to the Rota as a Canon Lawyer) as he celebrates mass, the sign of peace is offered in (as he calls it) the “Roman Way”: lightly touch each others’ upper arms and bow towards each other. A lot more dignified (which, considering you we are in the Sanctuary, and Our Lord is present, body, blood, soul, and divinity not 3 feet from where we are standing, it should be…) than the glad-handing reception line routine that goes on.

  34. GrumpyYoungMan says:

    Sigh – this happened at my Nuptial Mass in the Archdiocese of Chicago. Everyone was asked to give the salute and bless us. We were also told we wanted “too much Latin” in the liturgy.

    Oh well, at least the linens on the round altar were colorful…

  35. ctln says:

    Thank you for answering my question, Father Z. I’m glad someone else brought up the nazi salute because it feels like that to me! Since moving to West Texas I have had to pinch myself several times during mass to make sure I was, in fact, in a Catholic church because it’s hard to tell sometimes. We also have the ghastly, “Please greet those around you before the mass begins” nonsense and people practically leap across the pews for the sign of peace. Sadly, I really have no other option as every other parish in the diocese is more of the same. We are getting a new bishop soon, so I’m trying to be optimistic that things *might* change.

  36. Magash says:

    The priest at a nearby parish is the only one I know who chooses to exercise the option of NOT inviting the congregation to exchange the sign of peace. It makes his celebration of the Mass very reverent and dignified. If I wasn’t so involved with the catechetical program in my own parish (I’ve been involved long enough that I’m now seeing many couples whom I instructed in Middle School placing their children in elementary classes,) I would move parishes. I am geographically equidistant.

  37. wised says:

    We were in Jackson, Wy at Our Lady of the Mountains over the Labor Day weekend for mass. The celebrant asked the congregation to extend their hands and “bless” the deacon and his wife who were celebrating their anniversary. The entire congregation complied. It was surreal. We deferred. I emailed the Cheyenne diocese.

  38. MrsMacD says:


    A Father can actually bless his children, not a may God bless you blessing, same for a mother.

    And when we ‘say grace,’ Father correct me if I’m wrong, we can count on God blessing our food, effectively erradocating any curses or demons in the food. If that isn’t a blessing, then what is it?

    What people need to know (I included) is the Catechisis surrounding blessings, so that they can spot an abuse when they see one. Now, this ‘everyone bless Myrna,’ is obviously an abuse to me, but that a grandson can’t trace Holy water in the sign of the cross on the forehead of his dying grandmother is not so obvious.

  39. Margaret says:

    When this kind of silliness pops up in a local parish, I normally just fold my hands in prayer, bow my head, and close my eyes. I’m joining my prayers with the priest’s blessing. If it’s obvious to others what I’m doing, well… fine.

  40. taffymycat says:

    divine economy of authority –grandson can’t bless grandma, but he may ask God to bless her.

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