ASK FATHER: St. Blaise Blessing from a laywoman

st_blaiseFrom a reader…


Yet another weird anomaly for our Modernist parish is having laity assist the priest in blessing throats on St. Blaise’s Feast. The laymen make no “Sign of the Cross” at least, merely place the candles across the throat and repeat the prayer. Is it efficacious? I suppose NOT. And no, the priest and/or bishop will automatically dismiss complaints as “pharisaical”.

I have written about this before.

Traditionally this is unthinkable.

Thus, I don’t know what a “blessing” from a layperson does.  I don’t have to wonder much what a blessing from a priest does, all things being equal.

The problem here the theology of the new, uselessly innovative, Book of Blessings, [HAH!] in Latin De Benedictionibus.  In its preliminary comments, the BoB 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 BoB (which ought to be eradicated, extirpated, eliminated, exterminated) we find a difference in what priests or deacons do and what all laypeople:


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?  No.

BTW… The Book of Blessings (may it soon be trashed, deracinated, expunged, abolished, ) 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” (18, d).  So, some sense of hierarchy even among the laity remains.

Something is different.  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, 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.

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… and he wasn’t ordained as either a deacon or a priest!  So, apparently Major Orders are necessary for some blessings.

That said, lay people are baptized, which means that they 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 (cfTraditio 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: the father, head of the family, should begin the meal blessing.  If, however, a priest is your guest, he should do it.

Continuing on my point about the call of lay people to bless, 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).

So, we come back to the question about the Blessing of Throats for St. Blaise.

Does the St. Blaise blessing have much 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, the efficacy of the blessing must rely in large part on the will, disposition and desire of the recipient.  What is received is received according to the mode, manner, capacity of the one receiving it.

IMPORTANT: The St. Blaise Day blessing isn’t efficacious because of the candles.  This isn’t magic.

In sum, there is a difference between what Father does and what lay people do, even when imparting the St. Blaise blessing.  I think Holy Orders matters.

What that difference is…. I don’t know.

But … if it were up to me … I’d pass by the laywoman and get into the priest’s line.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    The BoB is being illogical.

    If someone doesn’t make the sign of the cross during a blessing, neither should he, for clarity’s sake, say “in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, Amen”, for clarity’s sake.

    Instead, he might, of course, if he will, say “in the name of the Father, etc.” at the beginning and end of the prayer, as usual, but separated from the body of the prayer by full-stops.

    Where the BoB now has “in the name of the Father, etc.”, he ought to say “we pray for this through Christ, our Lord, Amen.”

  2. Dr. Edward Peters says:

    I don’t like that BOB authorizes this, but it clearly does. I got his question just today. Personally, I think the only blessings that laity should confer on laity are those from parents to children. But BOB says what he says.

  3. Imrahil says:

    Interestingly, at my home parish we make regular use of EMHCs and the like, and the EMHCs also bless children and the like (I’m just reporting…)

    but the blessing of St. Blaise, together with the blessing of Children in Christmas Octave (originally for the feast of the Innocents, I think), are still the firm province of priests and deacons.

  4. TomO says:

    This very question came up in conversation a few days ago and reading the article on blessing in the Catholic Encyclopedia I found this distinction helpful.
    “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.”

    So could we say that a priest acts in persona Christi capitis so if not dependent on his own merits while a laymen’s blessing is contingent on his own personal sanctity?

    In the case of the St. Blaise Blessing the laymen is authorized and deputed by the Church so maybe in this case it is different. Though the fact that the Church makes a distinction in the signing means that She is recognizing a difference.

  5. Giuseppe says:

    Thanks for thinking this through with us, Padre,

    I once heard a sermon where the priest said something like this
    – Any one can bless anyone, and God can never NOT hear this blessing, as God sees, hears, knows all. He doesn’t have to do what the blesser is asking though.
    – A priest can bless anyone, and He does so as Christ. So the blessing is assured and never in doubt.

    Example he gave was someone sneezing.
    A passerby says “God bless you”. The request was made to God and it was heard. (God cannot NOT hear something.) No guarantee on any type of action.
    Padre says “God bless you.” The sneezer is now blessed. No doubt.

  6. dans0622 says:

    I think I once had a layperson say the St. Blaise prayer for me. My older, “you just hate Vatican II” self would go to the priest’s line, too.

  7. Geoffrey says:

    “Something is different. It’s just not easy to put one’s finger on it.”

    As a non-seminarian instituted acolyte, I have spent some time looking into all of this. My thinking on it is that the blessing of an ordained minister (bishop, priest, or deacon) is in fact a proper / traditional blessing that does not need much explanation. As Fr. Z has said, there is no question of efficacy.

    The blessing of an instituted minister (acolyte or lector) is the result of a prayer asking God for a blessing. Whether the blessing happens or not depends upon almighty God, although the “power of the keys” and the directives in the Book of Blessings would seem to indicate that a blessing does indeed occur, because Holy Mother Church says so. (I suppose the same can be said for non-instituted “ministers”.)

    Ordained ministers do not need to pray for a blessing to come down on some one or some thing as they are able to bless by virtue of their ordination. Instituted ministers do need to pray for a blessing to come down on some one, and it would seem that we can be relatively assured of the efficacy of this because Holy Mother Church has said so. I would like to see all of this fleshed out by one more learned than I.

    I am also reminded of the Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament. The blessing comes from Christ Himself present in the Blessed Sacrament and not from the hand of the ordained minister, who uses a humeral veil to emphasize this. There is indeed a hierarchy of blessings.

  8. marcpuckett says:

    Who was responsible for making BOB, I wonder? I mean, I know during which reign it was published but e.g. were Mons Bugnini’s friends still lurking about?

    I like to imagine that Benedict XVI would have eventually ordered a revision, had he had the time and strength.

  9. Suburbanbanshee says:

    I think the BOB is assuming that the use of a sacramental (blessed candles from Candlemas) is good enough. But unless you live in a land without priests, you want the priestly blessing too. And why not? St. Blaise was a bishop.

  10. joan ellen says:

    Fr. Z said “I think Holy Orders matters.”
    Holy Orders is a Sacrament. “A Sacrament is an outward sign instituted by Christ to give grace.” Consider that the Blessed Mother was full of grace. A priest is probably not full of grace…but…certainly he has much more grace than a lay man or woman because of his Sacrament of Holy Orders. A lay man or woman…and even a deacon…cannot bring about the Eucharistic miracle using ordinary bread & wine as a priest does.
    A priest also has consecrated hands.
    Surely there is a hierarchy of grace, and consecrated hands must also “matter” more than unconsecrated hands.

  11. Chrissin says:

    Don’t you think this merits the “I THINK NOT!” cartoon?
    I like that….so funny you can’t stay mad at some of this wacky stuff.

  12. Father G says:

    According to the BoB used in the USA, there are three options as to when and how to give the blessing of throats:
    1) individual blessings immediately following the General Intercessions (Article 1626), or
    2) individual blessings in place of the Final Blessing (1626), or
    3) saying the blessing with extended hands over the congregation without the candles if there are too many people (Article 1626).

    Even though Article 1633 states that crossed candles are touched to the throat, Article 1627 states the blessing MAY be given by touching the throat with two blessed candles. One could interpret it two ways: blessing the throat without any candles or blessing with candles but without touching the neck. This would open the door for blessing with a relic of St. Blaise only or using lighted candles without touching the person.

  13. rhhenry says:

    We use the BoB rather frequently in our house — blessings on children’s birthdays, blessings of Advent wreaths, Christmas trees, home on Epiphany, etc. — always using the rubrics for a layman. It is our understanding that Holy Mother Church allows us to do this, so we do. Should she change Her mind, we would obey. We always go to a priest to have a religious article blessed (no layman option in the BoB), and whenever we have a priest over, we always ask for his blessing before he leaves. Basically, we try to be loyal children of Christ’s Church and obediently make use of all the tools She gives us.

  14. TWF says:

    Thankfully, at the masses at the cathedral here in Vancouver, it is the custom of the priests (there are 9 in residence right now – Archbishop Miller is good to us) to come into the sanctuary from the rectory come each communion time to help distribute to avoid EMHCs as much as possible. Today at the 5 pm mass, the 4 priests distributing holy communion remained to confer the blessing as well. No lay ministers involved. And we knelt at the altar rail.

  15. Grumpy Beggar says:

    I’m wondering whether BOB was somehow thinking of leaving Home as soon as he was old (or new) enough. My 2 volumes of Rituale Romanum are buried in boxes somewhere (had to move a while back – kind of cramped right now), but I found Sancta Missa’s online copy of the Rituale Romanum’s Blessings for Special Days and Feasts. The Blessing of Throats for the Feast of St Blaise which they offer, doesn’t appear to contemplate the blesing being conferred by a lay person (scroll about 60% of the way down the page to # 10).

    Of the two main classifications of blessings (not degrees of blessings) this particular question is only dealing with the invocative . I haven’t heard of any instances where a lay person has attempted to invoke a constitutive blessing to date (notwithstanding women priests – Lord help them).

    One of the reasons that a blessing is assured when the priest blesses – acting in persona Christi capitis ,is because it is Christ and the priest who both bless us : one blessing , one action – but done jointly by both Christ and His priest – as One.

    True – we all share in the common priesthood , but the ministerial priesthood is a ministry set apart by God Himself : It isn’t the same as the common priesthood and I believe , particularly in this present world, that we need to guard against wishing too hard that they were the same thing. Liturgy and rituals were never intended to be a laboratory for experiments.

    Some 10 years ago , our parish was getting rid of some nice half inch diameter, brand new beeswax candles. I gladly accepted 4 of them, and duly went to see our parish priest at that time and asked him to bless them for me. His reply was , “Well, actually N., I would prefer that you dipped your finger in holy water and blessed them yourself.” Anyone else ever been instantaneously and simultaneously deeply saddened, discouraged, and angry all at the same time ? I so wanted to blurt out: “Father, do you know the difference between a peashooter and a nuclear weapon ?”

    In my long-term/palliative care pastoral apostolate, where I assist the Chaplain (priest) and also assisted several of our severely handicapped patients who were priests celebrate the Mass over long periods (one up to 10 years). On more than several occasions I have been asked to come and say prayers with the family of a dying person. . . or just over the person if the family isn’t there, and the first question I always have to ask is:”Have they called a priest for you yet” or, “Did you ask for a priest yet.” Unfortunately that doesn’t always solve it.

    Too much of the time, although the patients are believers , the rest of the family isn’t. So sometimes I get an answer like, “We would rather you do it because you have known him/her a long time.” So I do my best to give them the non-believer’s version of the 4 main effects of the Anointing of the Sick on their believing family member – leave them a little time to reflect, and then always add: “You know, if that was my mother (father,sister,brother) I would be kicking down doors to make sure she was anointed by a priest.”

    The problem with working that seam where the ministerial priesthood is distinguished from the common priesthood until it looks like an area where the common priesthood overlaps the ministerial priesthood, is that it always ends badly . . . as in:

    “I can do what the priest does”, which can subsequently devolve into those words the devil would love to hear :”We don’t need a priest. We can do it ourselves.”

    No priests = no Catholic Church, period.

  16. Geoffrey says:

    @rhhenry: Well said!

  17. Fr. Thomas Kocik says:

    Of possible interest to readers is Fr. Uwe Michael Lang’s essay, “Theologies of Blessing: Origins and Characteristics of De benedictionibus,” published in Antiphon 15:1 (2011) and available at the website of the Society for Catholic Liturgy:

  18. jameeka says:

    Fr Kocik: Thank you, that essay was very helpful.

  19. JGavin says:

    Not knowing the same re: an Abbatial Blessing of a Mother Abbess? I seem to recall they had in the old rite the authority to wear the gloves. I seem to recall this in of all things The Sound of Music with a Blessing given at Vespers? Keep in mind accepting a blessing from a layperson even a consecrated layperson has to me always seemed fraudulent in one sense if not a blasphemous parody of a the real thing. I do not accept ashes from a Catholic Layperson let alone a heretical minister of an ecclesial community wandering about health care institutions where I work. That being said whay of the Mother Abbess?

  20. Geoffrey says:

    “That being said what of the Mother Abbess?”

    I would think that has to do with the whole authority thing; she has the God-given authority over her nuns and can bless them, just as a father (or mother?) of a family has the God-given authority over their children and can bless them.

    When a lay minister distributes ashes on Ash Wednesday, the ashes have already been blessed by a priest. N.B. In my parish, I buck the trend and I am the only one to say the traditional “Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return”.

  21. Nan says:

    Fortunately the only line was the altar rail. The only choice was the priest or the…other priest, who I believe was the bishop acting as our Apostolic Administrator, who I’ve never met. If I go to the Cathedral for Ashes I’ll find out.

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