I am a laywoman recently hired by my archdiocese as a sacristan. In this role I am frequently pressed into service as an extraordinary minister. Last Sunday, as I distributed Communion, a young woman approached with her arms across her chest in a manner I recognize as a request for a blessing. [This mysterious gesture has that connotation in some places. Others use it when they want to receive Communion!] I turned to the priest distributing next to me, but he either ignored or didn’t see me. The young woman looked embarrassed and turned back without being blessed. After Mass I caught her and apologized for making her uncomfortable, offered to get a priest to bless her now, etc. She said she was taught by some nuns in Michigan that she could “do that” – approach a layperson for a blessing. Should I have blessed her? I felt terrible about giving her a traumatic experience.
Don’t feel terrible. And, no, you should not have blessed her. Moreover, you did the right thing to offer to get the priest.
This notion that Communion time is a moment for imparting individual blessings originated No-One-Knows-Where. It is surely as well-intentioned as it is confusing.
Further complicating the issue is the employment of Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion who have been instructed – wrongly – to “give blessings” at this moment to those who come forward with their hands crossed across their chest. Worse yet, people are being told that that is what they should do.
Lay people who are helping with Communion (or doing anything else for that matter) should not make confusing gestures as if they can bless in the manner of a priests. At the most they might say, “May God bless and keep you,” or something like that. That’s more of a kind wish than a blessing, so it can be uttered by anyone (without an accompanying sign of the cross).
I remind people that there really is a blessing at the end of Mass.
You can also ask the priest for a blessing outside of Mass. And you should!