ASK FATHER: Blessing of pets and of stuffed animals

From a priest…

QUAERITUR:

Today on the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi many parishes and schools will have a blessing of pets. We did ours this morning at our school and it went well. There were horses, a goat, many dogs and cats, turtles, lizards, fish and some other “creeping things.” It went very well and was reverent. I am seeing pictures of other parishes from around the country and I see a few of blessings of stuffed animals. I think that is rather stupid. Stuffed animals are not pets, I consider them toys. I think it diminishes the beauty of animals on the feast of St. Francis. Animals certainly do have a certain dignity because they are created by God and are considered “good.” What is your take on it? Do the blessings of teddy bears that I am seeing circulating cheapening the meaning of the blessing of animals and pets?? Or am too “rigid?”

Are you “too rigid”?  Good question.  Do you have a saturno?

The blessing of animals is a good practice.  In times past, a much larger percentage of the population depended on their animals for work and for food.  They needed their critters to be healthy.  And, for the most part, they couldn’t afford to sentimentalize them.  Puppies were cute, but dogs worked.  Kittens were cute, but they killed rodents.  Colt and calves… etc.  Their cattle (domesticated animals) kept them alive.   Of course they sought the Church’s blessings for them.

Today, however, it strikes me that more and more people have the notion that critters have immortal souls.   And so there are places that might have a huge pet blessing day, and maybe put out information about rescuing animals, but perhaps not a parish pro-life initiative.

Teddy bears?  It doesn’t harm anything or anyone to bless a little child’s stuffed animal.  After all, demons can attach to things.   And little ones form strong bonds that form them even later.

However, the difference in the way people are blessed and, on the other hand, the way that critters and stuffed animals are blessed, must be clear.

Let’s preach clearly about the differences between human beings, made in God’s imagine and likeness, and good, wonderful, amazing critters!  When they are gone, they are gone.  We, on the other hand, have immortal souls to attend to.

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22 Responses to ASK FATHER: Blessing of pets and of stuffed animals

  1. DeGaulle says:

    While unquestionably animals are a different category to humans, I have read that the theology of Duns Scotus allowed for the possibility of animals in Heaven. Thomas Aquinas didn’t always get it right. On a much more important issue, the Immaculate Conception, I believe he got it quite incorrect. Do such passages as Revelation 21:5 and Isaiah 11:6 at least not leave the issue somewhat open for animal lovers? Is not the Nativity Scene a sign? What about Our Lord’s riding into Jerusalem on a donkey? What about C.S. Lewis view that the relationship of the dog with his master was of a type, even if a very pale one, with that of that between the Christian and his Master? Lewis was, I believe, originally sceptical but became open to the notion of the possibility of animals in Heaven.

  2. Kent Wendler says:

    “When they are gone, they are gone.”

    (A somewhat lengthy but cited and reasoned response from an unpublished manuscript:)

    . What about the material beings we find in our mortal lives? Are they, any of them, present materially in Paradise?

    It has been my experience that if you ask a Catholic theologian or philosopher with this question about 80% of them will give an answer of a flat (or perhaps qualified) “no”. Some of the more pastorally oriented ones will concede that God provides whatever is necessary for the saint’s happiness, and if that includes certain “lower living material creatures” then they will also be there. Note that this specifies a contingency upon the saint for continued existence of a dog, for example.

    So let us examine at least some of these objections to the existence in Paradise of the lesser living creatures and see how well they bear scrutiny.

    Some say, “The saints need nothing but God, and spend eternity entirely in ‘gazing’ upon God, totally absorbed in His beauty and Glory.” This, taken absolutely, seems to ignore the Communion of Saints as well as the holy angels. This group might then accede to their presence, but seem to be picturing Heaven as being a kind of “God cloud” with the holy creatures randomly floating, everlastingly enthralled in God’s immediate presence.

    We might concede that this just might be true – for some, and it has a very simple wending diagram: just one node at the saint’s entry into Life Everlasting and one endless edge. But there’s no place for the saint to place his resurrected feet, and it totally ignores the rest of God’s material creation, or implies that nothing of that survives Christ’s second coming. This, it seems to me, implies a lack of love for a large part of God’s works (especially by God) and is counter to Sacred Scripture as well as lacking philosophically.

    Some Philosophical Considerations

    So let us first examine some of these philosophical aspects to the question of whether any of God’s “lesser creatures” survive into aeviternity.

    It can be argued that it is simpler to assume that the preservation of some or a large part of earthly creation is not necessary for man’s salvation or aeveternal happiness in Paradise. Therefore one can invoke the Principle of Parsimony (Ockham’s Razor) to determine that only a limited part is preserved, if anything other than humans. However, it strikes me that Ockham’s Razor implicitly postulates man’s limitations: we are not infinitely capable, so we need not invoke any more than is absolutely necessary. God, though, is not so limited, so I think it is a mistake to put any kind of implicit upper bound on what God can or will preserve.

    It can be argued that only man is created in the image of God, therefore only man is preserved. However, other material creatures also reflect God, at least to some extent. They are alive. They have being. Surely they were created for a purpose. Must one presume that this purpose will end with Christ’s second coming? If that purpose in earthly life is to give glory to God, why would they not continue to do so in Life Everlasting, and even in a more exalted way without their earthly imperfections?
    Here we need to be careful to distinguish between the uncreated aspect of Life Everlasting; i.e., the Beatific Vision, and the created part – everything else, also referred in Scripture as the New Heavens and Earth. It is not at all obvious why any creatures (other than humans) would need the Beatific Vision to exist in the New Earth any more than they do in mortal life.

    It can be argued that the only creature God created for its own sake was man, and thus only man is preserved. However we must then ask for what sake were the rest created? If it was for God’s own purpose then that seems to me to be a pretty good reason. And do God’s purposes have an ending?

    It can be argued that only man was created with a “spiritual soul”, one that is capable of intellectual understanding, especially of “spiritual” things like truth and beauty, happiness. However, can anyone doubt the happiness of otters sliding down a slippery bank, antelopes “pronging” into the air, a dog playing fetch with its favorite human companion, a cat purring sleepily on a friendly lap? It would seem likely that none but man is capable of discerning “right” from “wrong” or contemplating the existence of God, but that seems to me to be more like a reason that they are not capable of having the Beatific Vision, and not for supposing the ending of their existence.

    So, are any of them needed for the salvation of any human? Perhaps not, but then why were they created in the first place? And, they were created before Adam, at least in the first Genesis account if not the second.

    Examining Scripture

    So, it seems (to me, at least) that there are no insuperable objections philosophically to at least the possibility of the survival of the lesser material creatures into Life Everlasting.

    Can we find anything relevant in Scripture?

    Perhaps the most direct and strongest objection to their continuance can be found in 2 Peter 3: 10:

    But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a mighty roar and the elements will be dissolved by fire, and the earth and everything done on it will be found out.”

    Very strong language. Every atom as it exists in the old earth will be destroyed at Christ’s second coming. So how can the other living material creatures survive?

    Let us examine this verse a bit more closely.

    We must note that it is only speaking of the end time. It says nothing of all that has passed before then, including all the previous generations which have come and gone – and that includes humans. So it does not appear to be treating humans any differently than the lesser creatures in that respect.

    Therefore, as with many scriptural passages we can perhaps cast some illumination on it by examining other scriptural evidence, so let us look in other places.

    Let us examine some appropriate passages in the Old Testament:

    Ecclesiastes 3:
    14 I recognized that whatever God does will endure forever; there is no adding to it, or taking from it. Thus has God done that he may be revered. 15 What now is has already been; what is to be, already is: God retrieves what has gone by. ”

    So it seems to be saying that nothing that God creates is ever destroyed . Continuing…

    “19 For the lot of mortals and the lot of beasts is the same lot: The one dies as well as the other. Both have the same life breath. Human beings have no advantage over beasts, but all is vanity. 20 Both go to the same place; both were made from the dust, and to the dust they both return. 21 Who knows if the life breath of mortals goes upward and the life breath of beasts goes earthward?”

    This explicitly says that the fate of men and “beasts” is the same: they both die and their bodies corrupt. It also denies knowing if there is any difference in the fates of their respective souls. Furthermore the sacred author appears to be saying that it is vain to claim that anyone knows (at least in this life) that there is a difference.

    Examining what is prophesied in Life Everlasting we have, first:

    Isaiah 11:
    “6 Then the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat; The calf and the young lion shall browse together, with a little child to guide them. 7The cow and the bear shall graze, together their young shall lie down; the lion shall eat hay like the ox. 8The baby shall play by the viper’s den, and the child lay his hand on the adder’s lair”

    Here we see that at least some species continue to exist, along with men, and peaceably. Then, proceeding to the New Testament:

    Revelation 5:
    “13 Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, everything in the universe, cry out: “To the one who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor, glory and might, forever and ever.”

    Clearly, in the New Earth, every existing creature (more than just men) will be giving praise to God .

    Revelation 21:
    “5The one who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.” Then he said, “Write these words down, for they are trustworthy and true.”

    We must note especially “all things” and “make … new”; i.e., without deterioration or decay, and not “replacement things”. Then our Lord specifically affirms the trustworthiness of this statement.

    There are others, but if these are insufficient, perhaps you will consider what Jesus said of His own Authority in Matthew 22:
    “29 Jesus said to them in reply, “You are misled because you do not know the scriptures or the power of God. . . . 31 And concerning the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God, 32 ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead but of the living.”

    Now, you may very well be objecting: , “Jesus was talking to the Sadducees and only about human beings!” Really? Especially in the last part of verse 32 where He says of His own authority, “He is not the God of the dead but of the living”? I see absolutely no exclusions there – He said nothing like “, except gerbils. He is also the God of dead gerbils.” Now, before you respond, “Well how could Jesus know someone 2100 years in the future would try to place that kind of interpretation on what he said, in Aramaic, even!” I will respond, “Really? Are you claiming that He was (is) not omniscient – from Eternity?” Are you not perhaps inadvertently but nevertheless implicitly denying the hypostatic union?

    Thus it would appear that not only does Scripture not seem to indicate the non-survival into Paradise of the lesser creatures but actually to the contrary – that all, each individually do survive.

  3. APX says:

    Why wouldn’t there be animals in Heaven after the Second Coming when God creates a new earth and the old things pass away? It only seems logical that there be animals in Heaven.

  4. Ellen says:

    I hope I will meet my childhood pets in Heaven. I loved them dearly and I know they loved me in their own way.

  5. JamesA says:

    Alert the media (Fox News only, please) :
    I am disagreeing with Fr. Z, which only happens about once a decade. [Good luck.]

    I believe at least some animals might have souls that might be(come ?) immortal , per C. S. Lewis’s thoughts. [They are immortal or they aren’t.]
    That doesn’t mean they have the same kind of souls we have. [They have animal souls, which are not immortal.]
    Angels are immortal souls, but different ones than we are. [Angels are “separated substances”, souls which are not intended to inform matter. Each angel is his own species. Our are intended to inform matter, hence, we belong to the same species. However, when we die and our soul separates from our bodies, we will be a bit more like angelic souls, in that we won’t have the same appetites, etc. as in life.] I simply find it unthinkable that God would go to the trouble of creating beings capable of giving and receiving such great love that he would allow them to pass into nothingness. Why ? He certainly doesn’t have a problem with space for them. [You find it unthinkable and… therefore….
    Well. And, I think we can reject the premise that they give the sort of love that humans can give. Not possible. There is a strong tendency to anthropomorphize animals. That’s okay to
    a point, but let’s not be confused about it.]

    Just the musings of a guy who’s favorite movie as a child was (the Rex Harrison) “Dr. Doolittle” ; ) [Not, perhaps, the best starting point for disagreeing!  o{]:¬)  ]

  6. Charles E Flynn says:

    Just last week, I saw a Catholic church advertising its blessing of animals. It would be interesting to know how many non-Catholics took advantage of the opportunity.

  7. Ryan says:

    Br Morico, said that the friars should not eat meat. St. Francis replied, “You sin, Brother, calling the day on which the Child was born to us a day of fast. It is my wish that even the walls should eat meat on such a day, and if they cannot, they should be smeared with meat on the outside.” (From the Second Life of St. Francis of Assisi by Friar Thomas of Celano, Number 199)

  8. Gab says:

    How wonderful to bless the animals God has gifted us to be our companions and a source of joy on our earthly journey, to be our source of food in some cases, to help with our labours and so on. From my very limited knowledge, once in Heaven we have no attachments to anything from this life, nor do we need anything from this life to bring us joy and happiness as we will have the beatific vision and need nothing else. However, happy to be corrected if I’m wrong in believing animals do not go to Heaven.

  9. tho says:

    As a person who has had animals for most of his life, I think the premise of an animal having a soul is ridiculous. I believe such notions are called anthropomorphic, and they are devoid of common sense. I live adjacent to 65 acres of woods, and I have never met Bambi, or Rudolph. Plus, I have spent some time in the Far East where dog are considered delicious. Now, I don’t recommend eating dogs, but only in first world countries do we have the means to entertain frivolous notions.

  10. APX says:

    tho,

    Animals have souls. They just have mortal souls whereas we have immortal souls.

  11. Fr_Sotelo says:

    tho,
    I would not call the discussion about animals and the nature of their souls something “frivolous.” Saints and scholars far holier and wiser than us have mused on this question. We know that only we have an intellectual soul, and that the intellectual soul is immortal.

    But we cannot see and study the plans which God has for creatures with a sentient soul. St. Francis preached to animals; St. John Bosco spoke to a dog that would appear to protect him; St. Martin de Porres not only spoke to animals, but devoted many hours to recovering injured dogs and cats and nursing them at his sister’s home.

    Bonaventure did speculate that God might grant some animals life after death, and this might have influenced Dun Scotus, if Scotus speculated along those lines. Catholic philosophers and theologians in the Catholic universities of the 19th century questioned what are the powers of a sentient soul in an animal. Of course, the focus of Catholic Faith is getting humans to heaven, so the Church has never devoted serious time to this discussion or issued doctrinal teaching on the subject.

    However, that does not make the question useless to one and all. Various cardinals and bishops long before Vatican II were extremely attached to their pets and wondered whether their souls truly did die with their bodies. True, that in the Far East, there are people who eat dogs and cats–but they also abort children and throw female newborns into dumpsters. Some have even been cannibals, so I would not place the highest theological authority on what people do in the Far East.

    What we can agree on is that all of creation gives glory to the Trinity, and humans must crown creation by treating it, and creatures, with care and respect.

  12. TonyO says:

    One of the most important proofs for the immortality of the soul has always been its spiritual nature, i.e. its immateriality, which rests on the intellectual nature of our knowledge of such things as universals. If you want to throw that out (or even, put it up for debate as an “unsettled” question) you are going to have to throw out an awful lot of Catholic dogma that attaches to it.

    Because animals in general do not grasp universals nor have any capacity for intellection, we have (rightly) concluded that their souls, (yes, the really do have souls) are not intellectual and are not immortal. When they die, that’s all there is, there is nothing left to “carry on” so that God could give them “back” a body for them to live in heaven. It’s if they don’t have an immortal soul, there’s no room for any other logical result.

    But this does not prove that there are no animals in heaven. God can populate heaven with animals if he wants, and he might just want to: some Christians have argued (without offence to the Faith) that part of man’s complete fulfillment is to have pets, because in making animals into pets we enable them to live the life of reason – not naturally, as we do, but by being directed to it by us: exactly the meaning of “master” and “slave” that some speak about. Thus there is (arguably) a real role for animals in heaven. Or, at least, in the “new heavens and the new Earth” that will be regenerated at the end of times, with the resurrection of our bodies.

    In such a view, while my dog Fido (in his distinct individuality) that died 2 years ago cannot be resurrected in heaven because his soul does not carry on after death, God can create a “Fido 2” that is exactly like Fido in all ways. A person (whether human or angelic) is an essentially unrepeatable individual being: precisely because animals are not persons, I suggest that they ARE (conceptually) repeatable. Hence, if God wanted to reprise Fido 2, he could be not just “similar” to Fido, he could be exactly LIKE Fido in every way.

    I don’t know just how far to run that “just like”, but it seems hard to place a definitive limit on it. If God could reprise the material aspect with the VERY SAME material with which the original Fido existed, and if the difference between the soul of a person and the soul of a dog is that the soul of a person is unrepeatable, then…isn’t the soul of a dog repeatable? And (a la Aristotle and St. Thomas), if the material component is the principle of individuation in material beings having the same nature, then…could Fido 2 be “the same” in both body and soul as Fido 1?

  13. mepoindexter says:

    We took one of our chickens to be blessed today. Our Latin Mass priest told us the traditional day for the blessing of animals was in fact the feast of St Anthony, but he was nice enough to give us the blessing of St Anthony regardless.

    I’m told the blessing of animals on the feast of St Francis was something that crept in through the 1983 book of blessings.

  14. I don’t see the logic of that conclusion.

  15. Tooksam says:

    Sometimes it seems to me that my pets have a self, and it would be great if they were in heaven. Some seem to take great consolation in their pets being in heaven. However I am not sure, so I will leave it to up to God. The recent trend of people treating animals better than their neighbor is disturbing. I have seen some people come to almost worshiping animals along with hating their fellow man. Something is disordered here.

  16. Hidden One says:

    The too-little-known St. Francis of Paola brought about the resurrection of his pet trout by a Sign of the Cross. This was after said trout had been cooked and eaten! God creates material souls; he can recreate them too, if He so wills.

    Anyway, I think that blessing something good that a child values highly, such as a teddy bear, is an entirely good and reasonable thing to do, especially when the child does not have a real animal that could be blessed. I do think that the actual blessing itself should be a separate blessing, though, even if temporally separated quite briefly in time.

    TL;DR: bless ALL the good things!

  17. At our pet blessing later today I know there will be at least two individuals who plan to bring their pet’s ashes, their earthly remains, to be blessed. I think it is a waste of money to pay to cremate an animal and purchase an urn. But, it being common practice, is there anything wrong with having the ashes blessed / sprinkled with holy water?

  18. Alice says:

    Although I didn’t take our family pet to the pet blessing for logistical reasons, I was present for it. Father isn’t very creative (thank God), so the blessing was completely by the book and was very clear about the place of animals in creation. I had to smile when Father mentioned something about animals being good to eat as part of the blessing. We weren’t invited to bring our stuffed animals, but I suppose a blessed stuffy might be comforting to a child who has trouble sleeping and I know that they can be used in therapy for children who are working through sexual assault, so I can see why a solid priest might bless stuffed animals.

  19. poohbear says:

    I sometimes wonder if we are more interested in seeing our pets in heaven than we are in seeing God face to face.

  20. Suburbanbanshee says:

    The patron saint of toymakers is St. Claude of Besancon, although some say it is St. Claude de la Colombiere.

  21. surritter says:

    Does anyone notice how dogs are slowly gaining more importance than children? I can’t stand it that people now bring their dogs into stores! Folks, even at Home Depot — DON’T bring your mutt into the store. And even worse would be a grocery store.
    Where is the etiquette of days gone by?

  22. hwriggles4 says:

    I grew up with pets. We normally had a dog and my mom talked my dad into letting her have one kitten when I was about 4 years old. When we got older, we eventually had three cats and two dogs. Mom always said, “pets are not toys, they have feelings too.”

    Anyway, with regards to animals having a soul – about 8 years ago I put down a 15 year old cat who was dying of cancer. Had her for 13 years – I stayed with her and held her when the veterinarian administered the medication – I figured I owed her that, and she even purred a little to say “thanks.” While cats and dogs do become part of the family, they do not have a soul. The vet office gave me a few options of how to bury the carcass. The one I used was the “cheap cremation” where a business goes around to vet clinics, picks up carcasses, and incinerate several together.

    Today, I think several people treat their pets too much like “substitute kids” and take them everywhere. While it’s fine to take a dog to the park, a walk, and yes, we sometimes took our dog on a car trip (depending where we were going like my grandfathers house), I would not fly a dog in coach (unless it’s for training or an aid dog) and I do think it’s overkill to do doggie day camp. I also think kids can learn about responsibilities taking care of pets – my brothers and I sure did.