OLDIE ASK FATHER: St. Blaise Blessing from a laywoman

st_blaiseFrom a reader… ORIGINALLY 3 Feb 2016.


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:

    On an aside,

    the BoB seems to translate somewhat narrowingly.

    The original Latin has (and so does the usual German translation) “et ab omni malo”, which means “from all evil”, not just “from every illness”.

  2. JPManning says:

    “I have especially in mind the duty of a father to bless his own children.”

    Is there a particular way that we are supposed to do this? What do any of you other fathers do? What did your fathers do?

  3. edm says:

    In my friend’s parish today the priest asked the school children to bless each other’s throats. They weren’t told what to do or what to say. They just did it at the end of Mass while the celebrant walked around.

  4. VexillaRegis says:

    At my parish the St Blaise blessing is properly done by the priest.

  5. Rosary Rose says:

    I have not heard of or seen laypeople give this blessing. Would take the priest or deacon line or none at all.
    What I have learned about spiritual warfare from an actual exorcist is – only let consecrated hands touch you for blessings. Otherwise, you are inviting trouble, often unknowingly. Not sure if the blessed candles held by a layperson keep any demons away, or maybe because the Bishops have allowed it in the BoB they give laypeople authority….would be interested in what an exorcist says about it.
    I’ll go priest or deacon just to be safe.
    When was the BoB written? Late 80’s.

  6. AnnTherese says:

    I love this blessing! I’m reminded of my young nephew howling in fear when his mom described how the blessing would go when he went up to the priest, because he thought the candles would be lit!

    Because I didn’t have the opportunity to receive this blessing at church this year, I took time during my morning prayer to place my hands on my throat, reflect on how I use my throat for swallowing, breathing, speaking–and give God thanks for all those functions that are miraculous and help me love and serve God and others, and enjoy life! Then, I asked, through the intercession of St. Blaise, for God to pour blessings upon me that I might have continued health and use these gifts well–especially my voice.

  7. Daniel W says:

    One aid to help “put one’s finger” on the difference is to recall the role of the priest and deacon in the ministry of the Word. As Fr Z states, the sacrament of orders empowers the cleric to act in persona Christi in such a way that when reading or explaining the words of Christ, or reenacting his actions, the cleric makes the person of Christ present in the way that Christ was present in his public life. A baptised layperson does not achieve the same, although he or she is alter Christus. The difference between the sacramental character imparted at baptismal and that imparted by Holy Orders is very much parallel/analogous to the difference between Christ before and after he began his public life, ie before and after the voice of the Father publicly recognized his Son at his Baptism

  8. Daniel W says:

    Sorry, the punchline is that a priest/deacon when pronouncing words that Christ spoke, for example “In the name of the Father ….” for the sign of the Cross, or an exorcism “Get behind me Satan,” is that it is Christ pronouncing them officially, as part of his public ministry. Even a confirmed layperson can only act on Christ’s behalf in a private, unofficial capacity.

  9. jhayes says:

    Daniel W, although priests and deacons are both clerics, only a priest (or bishop) acts “in persona Christi” [Capitis].

    CIC 1009 #3 explains

    Those who are constituted in the order of the episcopate or the presbyterate receive the mission and capacity to act in the person of Christ the Head, whereas deacons are empowered to serve the People of God in the ministries of the liturgy, the word and charity”.

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