ASK FATHER: Can seminarian bless an engagement?

From a reader…

I am a seminarian. One of my family member is have a non-Christian wedding but wants me to bless her engagement at home. Is it okay to do so?


Even if the marriage were to take place in the Church, a seminarian is a layperson, and would have no more jurisdiction than any other layperson to bless an engagement. Doing so would have no effect on the engagement, and would probably imperil your continuation in the seminary.

Even though the blessing of an engagement is not exactly usurping a role exclusive to the priesthood (the so-called Book of Blessings, propediem concremetur, allows most “blessings” to be done by just about anyone) and would not suffice to invoke can. 1041, 6 making you irregular for the reception of orders, it might allow for the invocation of canon 1384 and open you to punishment for the illicit performance of some sacred ministry.

Don’t do it. Even if you think you really should. Even if you think it’s going to be really super secret and private.


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. “a seminarian is a layperson”
    Would this statement be true even if the seminarian in question has received the tonsure?

  2. APX says:

    On the other hand, though, a priest can…using the solemn rite of betrothal found in the Roman Ritual, which has become quite popular in our community since it was first revived.

  3. Imrahil says:

    Can a priest, in morality, bless an engagement of a couple that is decidedly heading to a merely civil marriage? I doubt it. As they aren’t going to, really, marry, they haven’t, really, got engaged to each other.

  4. Imrahil says:

    Dear Catholic Tech Geek, no, by applicable legal definition.

    And if we want to go on with old use of language (the roles of tonsured seminarians have not, as such, changed after all; just whether they are called “clerics” by the Code has)… then w.r.t. blessings, even a subdeacon never held any more powers than a layman. A deacon has them, or some of them, though. (That is if I am rightly informed.)

  5. Gaetano says:

    Pursuant to Ministeria Quaedamn issued in 1972, “First tonsure is no longer conferred; entrance into the clerical state is joined to the diaconate.”

    It is true, however, that certain congregations still confer the tonsure. Hagan lio!

    I believe that those minor minor were able to give certain blessings. That is an open question with the MQ’s mandated switch to minor ministries. I’ve tried for years, without success, to determine what blessings those were/are.

  6. Scott W. says:

    I wonder why she would even want a blessing of a non-Christian marriage. Is there a validity issue involved? What kind of marriage is this and to whom?

  7. Dr. Edward Peters says:

    tonsure. i would think that any one who knows enough arcana to ask the question, knows enough to (at least google) an answer, unless one has noticed NOTHING about clerical formation nigh on 45 years.

    anyway, about the Book of Blessings, that whole thing needs urgently to be dealt with, but one no longer holds the proverbial breath.

  8. Geoffrey says:

    The actual text of blessing from The Roman Ritual: Book of Blessings is:

    “We praise you, Lord, for your gentle plan draws together your children, N. and N., in love for one another. Strengthen their hearts, so that they will keep faith with each other, please you in all things, and so come to the happiness of celebrating the sacrament of their marriage. Through Christ our Lord. R/. Amen”.

    It is obvious that it is intended for those destined for a sacramental marriage.

  9. cwillia1 says:

    What is a non-Christian wedding? It could be sacramental. It could be two baptists marrying before a judge. The seminarian could offer some sort of prayer. It is not clear that the couple have any understanding of what a blessing is. He could ask God to bless a natural marriage of two non-Christians for that matter.

  10. Michael in NoVA says:

    Since this involved a family member, one way to approach this while still respecting Fr. Z’s counsel would be to offer a prayer and not a blessing. Pray for God to watch over her and her husband-to-be, protect them, and lead them ever closer to Him.

    This way, you are not blessing their arrangement, but requesting God’s graces to lead them to the truth. An outright refusal to offer any prayer or blessing might make the couple feel spurned/rejected and turn the couple’s heart further from Christ and the Church. A prayer would still leaves this relationship intact, which could permit the seminarian opportunities to provide additional nudges towards a holy, sacramental marriage in the future.

  11. Fr. Timothy Ferguson says:

    to both cwillia1 and Michael,

    It would still be a very bad idea. Even offering a prayer (at a non-Christian wedding? what sort of prayer would one offer?) could be seen by some as actively consenting to and participating in activity unbecoming a seminarian. He is a seminarian – he is not a priest, he is not a cleric. He is not authorized to act as such.

    If he were a second-year med student, and a family member needed to have a heart bypass, would any reasonable family member consider asking him to do the surgery? Would any reasonable family member be upset when he refused to do the surgery if asked?

    His simple response should be, “Gosh, it’s so nice of you to ask me. I’m honored, but you know, since I’m just in the seminary and not yet ordained, I’m not authorized to do anything like that. You know, once I’m ordained, and you two get everything straightened out and want to get married in the Church, let me know and I’ll be happy to help you!”

  12. Michael_Thoma says:

    Fr. Timothy,

    You are absolutely correct. The problem is when priest X and seminarian Y who’s friends with cousin A and sister in law B does the opposite, then this seminarian becomes the “big bad rule welding fundamentalist (who hates Vatican 2!)” .. I know, I tried to explain the reasons to my protestant mother regarding my first daughter’s baptism. I tried to explain she could be a witness, etc., but some parts of the Mystery must be taken over by a confirmed practicing Catholic or Orthodox Christian. The response, “well, Fr. X let my friend be her grand daughter’s godmother and hold her at this point.” Never mind that it’s a different sui juris Church and totally different Rites. I just wasn’t being stubborn enough to force the priest to bend to my will.. and we ask why there are 40K denominations.

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