ASK FATHER: Blessings that are not in Latin? Wherein Fr. Z rants at length.

I received a somewhat convoluted note about blessings, which contained several implicit questions. I will tease out the essence.

He can’t find a priest to bless things in Latin and it would be very far to drive to find one.

QUAERUNTUR: Why not just use the English translation provided in “Weller” (a three volume set that translated the traditional Rituale Romanum).  Or should the Book of Blessings be used?

I don’t think the Book of Blessings should be used for anything other than a tire block when parking on a slope.  There is only one prayer in the book that blesses the object.  Otherwise, it expresses happy thoughts about someone who might see it or use it someday.  In the Praenotanda there is an explicit repudiation of the Church’s teaching about invocative and constitutive blessings.  It is appalling.

That said, the Church has always been concerned lest people fall into the trap of seeing blessings and sacramentals and sacraments as a kind of theurgy or magic.

We are confident that, when the priest blesses, God blesses in the person of the priest.  We are confident that, when the priest exorcises, God exorcises.  We are confident that when the priest consecrates items or places or persons, God acts in the priest to constitute them as blessed or consecrated, to tear from from the grip of the Prince of this world and set them apart for the King and the advance His Kingdom.

The efficacy of the blessings depends ultimately on God, who desires what is good for us.

However, we do our best to bless and consecrate through outward signs, the gestures and words of, especially, the priest who is alter Christus.

If our blessings are not magic, neither are they nothing.  Gestures and words count.  Latin makes a difference, as exorcists will confirm.  Moreover, the Rituale Romanum, in the edition that was in force at the time of Vatican II and after explicitly states that if Latin is not used the blessing is void.  I am not making that up.

The Rituale Romanum, Title 8, Chapter 1 gives the general rules for blessings. These are also presented in Weller, vol. 3, pp. 2-5.

Note that n. 2 states:

“Benedictiones sive constitutivae sive invocativae invalidae sunt, si adhibita non fuerit formula ab Ecclesia praescripta.   

Both constitutive and invocative blessings are invalid if the form prescribed by the Church is not used.”

Weller’s English translations were never approved for use, even in that interim time after the Council when more English could be used.  The translations are for reference, not use.  The LATIN is approved for use.

The apparent meaning of that, read as it is, is that if priests are using the Weller translation to bless things, Holy Water, etc., they aren’t blessing.    At the end, you have salty water.


  • We cannot limit God.
  • We don’t make the perfect the enemy of the good.
  • People are not bound to do the impossible.

That said…

  • God gives us strong guidance in how to worship Him in a way that pleases Him and we see the fruits.
  • If there is a way to do things better, we should strive to perfect them.
  • People can improve themselves and, for example, learn Latin.

If a priest doesn’t use Latin and instead uses the English translation is something blessed or not?

All I know is that I will always use Latin when I bless holy water.  I will always use Latin to bless objects.  I will always use Latin for the important bits, such as forms of sacraments and exorcisms.

I am never going to leave anyone with the slightest whisp of a doubt about what just happened.  When you come to me for blessings or sacramentals or sacraments, I owe that to you.  It is my duty to make sure that you have no doubt as to what happened.  Latin always resolves that and the vernacular can resolve that.

Latin, for me, is now second nature.  It isn’t for a lot of priests.

These are troubling times.

When the People of Israel broke covenant after covenant with God, God eventually imposed Law on them which reflected not just their state of being chosen by Him, but reflected also their wickedness.  This is why, for example, God allowed for divorce, which, as Christ says, was not so before.

It seems to me that the Church is so messed up right now, and our Catholic identity is so violated and wounded and scrambled, that latitude has to be provided, because Deus providebit.

How do I mean this?

Take analogy of our sacred liturgical worship as, now, having been forced onto a continuum of Catholic identity, ranging from clueless to well-informed and dedicated.

Using Paul’s image of the newly converted being like children who can only take milk, not ready for solid food, in these our times we have to work within reality, not fantasy.

The hic et nunc has to be considered.  We have priests of the Latin Church, the Roman Rite, who have no idea about how to celebrate in their Church’s Rites and don’t know Latin.  This was purposeful on the part of those who both wrote and then warped what was written for the reform of the liturgy.  This was systematically done by those in charge of priestly formation.  They destroyed Catholic identity guttatim.  Drop by drop.  They undermined priesthood, brick from brick.   The result, hic et nunc, is what it is, and it is not what it isn’t.  That sounds tautological, I know, but we have to sober ourselves with this smelling salt and get the cobwebs out of our heads.

So, today, if a well-meaning priest, who through no fault of his own, blesses something using the English translation in Well, does he bless or not?

Here are the factors I put into the scales of my mind.

  • God loves us and wants us to have blessed things.
  • The Church without doubt said that the approved text, meaning Latin, has to be used.
  • God knows that 99% of priests don’t know Latin because the Church has, manifestly contrary to the law, cheated them out of that critical aspect of their formation and identity.
  • God is not limited by the Church’s positive law concerning blessings.
  • Priests of the Roman Catholic Church ought to pray like Roman Catholic priests.
  • The Rituale Romanum itself states that it is a starting point, a reference point for the development of local rituals.
  • It is extremely important to maintain the categories of constitutive and invocative blessings against modernist encroachment and the campaign against them.
  • We are our rites!
  • The wider world is affected by what we do regarding sacred objects, places and persons.  Getting it right is more important than our comfort zone.

Putting all of that into the mental hopper and letting it macerate, when a priest blesses (constitutive) using some other form than what is in the book, I am not sure what happens.  I am inclined to think that, God being merciful, something happens.   If, for example, someone were to walk up to me and ask me to bless the Rosary she was holding out, and if I were to make the sign of the Cross over it while saying something like, Benedictus benedicat (which I got from my old mentor the holy and late, great Card. Mayer), I am inclined to think that the Rosary was blessed.

You will object, why shouldn’t I have just memorized the Latin prayer for the blessing of a Rosary?

We have to fight to recover these things and use them properly.  In the meantime, we have to be smart and flexible.

Allow me to go back to my food analogy for liturgy. This might seem a little insulting but it is just intended to make a point about the continuum we are on.

In 99% of a man’s day and activities, it is  beneath his dignity to scrunch up his face and make airplane noises while moving a spoon around with his hand.  People would think he was nuts.   OR… if he is sitting in front of the high-chair of his little son, who can only eat goop and must sometimes be convinced to eat it, then that man is not doing anything beneath his dignity.  On the contrary, he is performing a sacrificial act of love for his child.  He sacrifices his dignity – becoming more dignified yet – for the sake of his boy’s eating something that will help him to grow out of the need to eat that sort of thing in that sort of way.  He helps his boy move up the food and eating continuum to more complicated foods eaten in a more human way.  Infants eat in the way that infants eat, not in the way that adults eat.  To force an infant to eat steak and cabernet is abuse, not love.

This is our situation with a large number of those who miraculously still self-identify as Catholic.  Some can take the solid food of the Vetus Ordo, with its greater challenge and deeper apophatic approach to an encounter with mystery.  Some are still pretty much bound up in the emphasis on the immanent in the Novus Ordo.  Some are ready to make a move quickly and others need more time.  Some are ready for steak and cabernet and others still need goop, or perhaps SpaghettiOs if they are into the Novus Ordo with some traditional elements.  Eventually, they can handle a slice of bologna and maybe stab at it with a fork that they have to hold in various ways while they learn and their dexterity improves.  You get the idea.  Eventually, it is china, linens, crystal, sharp knives and bistecca alla fiorentina with a bottle Tignanello.

Do not make the mistake of thinking that the toddler with Spaghetti O’s is bad because he can’t handle spaghetti all’arrabbiata.  Do not make the mistake of thinking that mom and dad who give their toddler SpaggettiOs are bad.    They would be bad if, once junior is grown and able to take more and better, they keep him eating pureed carrots in a special chair.   They would be infantalizing him, which would be abuse of their child and beneath their own dignity as parents.   Of course if the parents had been kept in an infantile state themselves, they wouldn’t know any better.

Keeping people down liturgically is just plain wrong.   However, if priests and bishops don’t have a clue themselves… what to do?  Priests and bishops are included in this.   Some priests are at the level of the boy in the high chair when in comes to liturgical identity.  Remember: we are our rites! Alas, they listen to the “experts” who did the infantalization in the first place and the closed circles just grinds on and on.

To move this into the plain of the Church’s teaching on morals, while we acknowledge that some people are in sinful situations, we don’t leave them in sinful situations.  Understanding that movement and improvement takes time, we don’t just excuse what they are doing because, after all, the ideals we have been presented are just too hard for some people.   No.  We are our rites and our rites are doctrine.   With the help of authority and of grace, we must be working toward the ideal, even if it is painful.  This is true for our moral lives and also our sacred liturgical worship, by which we individually and collectively fulfill the virtue of Religion.

Our Catholic identity is a mess.  There are correctives and remedies.   But the therapy will have its painful moments.  But they MUST be undertaken.

I’ve had injuries that required painful therapeutic exercises.   Oh, how I didn’t want to do them.  But I wanted recovery enough so that I was willing to deal with the discomfort.   In the long run, it paid off.  I never want to have that pain again, but it worked.

I am reminded of the Lord’s words in John 16, using the image of painful child-birth:

21 When a woman is in travail she has sorrow, because her hour has come; but when she is delivered of the child, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a child[b] is born into the world. 22 So you have sorrow now, but I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you. 23 In that day you will ask nothing of me. Truly, truly, I say to you, if you ask anything of the Father, he will give it to you in my name. 24 Hitherto you have asked nothing in my name; ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.

We have to get through this dark time together, in solidarity, with joy, hopeful determination and elbow grease.

Are you asking for restoration of our Catholic identity and sacred worship in the Holy Name of Jesus?

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in "How To..." - Practical Notes, ASK FATHER Question Box, Hard-Identity Catholicism, Latin, Liturgy Science Theatre 3000, Save The Liturgy - Save The World, Si vis pacem para bellum!, The Coming Storm, The Drill, The future and our choices and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Pingback: ASK FATHER: Blessings that are not in Latin? Wherein Fr. Z rants at length. – Via Nova Media

  2. redneckpride4ever says:

    Sorry if this question seems to be redundant, but I’ll ask anyway.

    I had an Eastern Lestovka blessed by a La Sallette missionary priest. Nice guy, and although not traditional he holds holiness and Christian morality in high regard. My only issue is that the Shrine is a bit too ecumenical (in my opinion). But I digress…

    I remember when I called the rectory to ask for the blessing that he came out with his arm in a cast. I apologized but he insisted it was fine and asked me to come in.

    His blessing seemed to be an ad lib culminating with his blessing it via the Sign of the Cross.

    I have to wonder if he even blessed it in the technical sense. I have no idea if text from the BofB was even a part of this.

    I really want to stress that the Shrine is not heterodox as far as I can tell. The chapel is way too modern, but everything else looks and feels truly Catholic. I can also say that not one Mass in that chapel has had dancing in the sanctuary or anything that would constitute a grave liturgical abuse.

    Put simply, he’s a sincere priest who may have had some poor formation hence I question the blessing.

  3. michele421 says:

    Clearly those who prefer the TLM should have access to it but it’s not a cure-all by any means. I’m a cradle Catholic who remembers what the Church was like before Vatican II. It’s no coincidence that most who favor the TLM are converts to Catholicism. Older cradle Catholics know that the pre-Vatican II Church was far from perfect, with many of the same problems as today. The major difference in this respect is that then it was a lot easier to cover up and keep things quiet. As for the TLM being more edifying, people rarely followed the Mass, instead praying their rosaries or doing pious reading. Even if they would rather have slept in, the Mass was preferable to hell. As now, most people lacked the time or inclination to learn Latin. Of course, more Catholics attended religious schools, but because they had forgotten much of their training, they were nearly as ignorant about the Church as those who had attended public school. Most simply trusted that if they followed the rules, ticking them off one by one, they would at least make Purgatory. A few loved the Mass, like the relitively few converts now, but it simply didn’t make hard-identity Catholic out of the vast, indifferent majority. The Church needs a tremendous amount of work and prayer to make it once again a powerhouse of faith and conversion. The TLM and the accompaning return to the old ways will help for some, but definitely not for all or even the majority. The Catholic Church is still looking for that balance between being in the world but not of it, and trying to go back in time won’t change that. Personal note: As I’m sure everyone knows, I’m no great fan of the TLM. The bishop in my childhood diocese was very progressive for the time, and my parish used a translation of the TLM, with the actions same as those of the OF. On vacations we attended the TLM. This gave me a great love for my home parish, as not only did the TLM make no sense to me but it was always so joyless. It was always Good Friday and never, ever Easter. Any trace of joy had to be stifled by penance and sorrow. I realize TLM converts find joy there but they’re different from the “obligation Catholics” of the majority. If it were again the only Mass allowed, the TLM would in time return to what it was.

  4. Bosco says:

    “Propterea dico vobis, omnia quæcumque orantes petitis, credite quia accipietis, et evenient vobis.” Mark 11:24

  5. Lurker 59 says:

    One of the more pervasive missteps of a modern life that seeks God’s grace is the presumption that God is going to act according to how one feels. It is one part sentimentality and one part the background noise of Protestant theology in the culture.

    This really comes out when dealing with blessings and blessings in sacramentals. An object isn’t blessed because a priest says an incantation that compels God to make the object a source of “good luck”, “favor of the gods”, “grace-filled (like a car’s gas tank)” etc. It is especially not blessed because in the face of a rambling priest, the recipient (or owner of the object) has certain feely goody feelings and wishes. It is blessed because the priest conforms his actions and words to those authorized by the Church, the Mystical Body of Christ, which has the authority and capability of dispencing from the treasury of merit won by Christ, to hallow and set aside objects/places/things as vehicles of grace, all as instructed by Christ and expanded upon both by the Church and the dually authorized minister conforming their lives to the Missionary Mandate, which is, in part to sanctify and hallow creation, reordering it into the service and praise of God and for the individual man’s salvation. The blessing “works” because of the obedience of the minister to the will of Christ, not because Christ does what the minister says.

    On the question of “to what degree can a blessing be disordered for the certainty of it being actually blessed is negative?” I am a pessimist. A Luthern minister does nothing when he does the Lord’s Supper. No blessing occurs when a Methodist minister presides at a funeral. The Book of Blessings doesn’t bless as it has no intent to. A rambling priest leaves you with a sense of feely goodness, but not a blessed rosary.

    I am reminded a bit here of Jer 14:18 as fleshing out things. It is very applicable to our situation, isn’t it? If a priest doesn’t know what he is doing or what he is supposed to be doing, he wanders aimlessly– his work doesn’t find its end. This is why Catholic identity is important, especially for the priest. It is why there is a problem with post VII presentation of Catholicism. The combination of blessings that don’t actually bless and people expecting blessings to be a feely goody thing is indicative of an identity problem. It is a problem with the order of things — and as such I don’t think God is going to “bless” this disorder, but the disorder is rather the punishment for the rejection of the order of things (being given to sentimentality is a sign of this).

    What happens when priests don’t actually bless things? Well, the things don’t actually bless things — those rivers of grace are closed. Doesn’t mean that God won’t bring His grace to people, just not those ways. There will be famine in the land and people will not have an abundance of grace to help them to Christ and holiness.

    We need to keep in mind that blessings are unmerited free gifts of God, treasure them when they come to us and praise God for them. Not demand or expect them.


    No one argues that TLM is a cure-all or actually argues that returning to pre-VII status quo is the end goal. These are conformity to Christ. If there is a difference between TLM means to identity and NO means to identity, it is that the TLM is a well-refined minting press — it doesn’t take much to let the process mold one’s identity. The NO is a bit like an IKEA project, a lot more effort is needed to put together actual identity and avoid pitfalls of sentimentality. (VII wanted the laity to make more of an effort, that is for sure, but it is manifestly the case that one has to often fight against post-VII formation methodology to actually have a Catholic identity.)

    Oh, and you cannot have theological joy in this life without passing through purgation. Good post-VII spiritual texts understand this — the rest really isn’t Catholic soteriology.

    And this is REALLY important to understand: God has some people walk through LONG periods of purgation without an Easter morning. Joy is found for them in an internal hope, not in an externally expressed sentimentality.

  6. michele421 says:

    As someone who has suffered from severe depression my entire life I well understand about purgation with no Easter morning. That’s one reason why I so much prefer the OF, as so many others do. People who already suffer daily don’t need to hear that we need to suffer and do more penance so that God won’t make us suffer even more. We need to hear that God loves us even when we feel unlovable. To do otherwise is to hand a person a stone when he asks for a fish.

  7. michele421 says:

    For that matter, if it’s a choice between teaching priests Latin and teaching them to give homilies that actually motivate and help people to live good Catholic lives I believe the latter would be more beneficial. Unfortunately right now neither one is being done.

  8. iwatt says:

    michele421 – A book like ‘The Banished Heart’ by Geoffrey Hull shows there were many negative aspects of the Latin Church’s liturgical practice (from the laity’s perspective) which had developed over 500 years (some of which were being addressed in the early 20th century). That does not detract in anyway from the rite itself, nor does it justify the replacement of it by something drawn up by a committee, so radical that 82% of the old collects were either replaced or rewritten, making it almost impossible anymore to ground the law of belief in the law of prayer. A return to the TLM is not a return to the 1950s (despite the Brideshead brigade which sometimes frequents it) and the particular approaches to the liturgy in a particular country. How could it be? The TLM is the Apostolic rite of Western Christianity (in the way the Liturgy of St Chrysostom is to Byzantine Christianity), in many ways the primary means of passing on the deposit of faith (and a sure safeguard for authentic development), passed on by obediently ‘doing’ what Christ commanded us (‘*do* this in memory of me’).

  9. iwatt says:

    michele421 – reading your other comments, I understand where you are coming from. I too have noticed a certain negativity from certain Trad quarters (almost puritanical) on the internet (sermons, for example). There is much less of this in the UK, interestingly. It is annoying and I often think unnecessary. It is almost as if some Trad priests have read hard-hitting post-Tridentine sermons from Italian priests preaching to a society that was almost 100% Catholic by baptism, where everyone went to Mass regardless of their interior commitment. Those who, in today’s Western society, still go to Mass and believe what the Church teaches are already radically at variance with the surrounding culture and likely suffer, to some extent, as a result of this. I agree entirely that we need to hear of God’s love for us before anything else. That God is love is surely the basis of all good theology. This, however, doesn’t seem to me a result of the rite, however. I suspect it is a reaction to the 1960s inversion of ‘God is love’ to ‘love is God’.

  10. michele421 says:

    I really don’t mean to bash the TLM. It certainly should be more available to the significant number of people who find it helpful. And some of the accompanying beliefs and practices are wonderful.(Personally, I love the rosary.) But contrary to what traditionalists often seem to think, rolling back Vatican II won’t fix what is broken in the Church. The same things were broken before. But in the past, out of respect for the Church and the clergy, it was rarely spoken of. Hard-identity Catholics were just as rare as now, perhaps more so. Vatican II didn’t so much cause the problems so much as it failed to fix them.

  11. JMody says:

    This reminds me again of the anecdote of Fr. R. Knox (? Maybe another?) asked to perform a baptism in English and declining, and parents pleading. “But you see, the baby doesn’t know English, but the devil knows Latin”.

    And as for all that talk of sacrifice and dignity and helping others – you sound a bit like a “Tool of the Patriarchy(TM)” and someone who might just hate V2, Father …

  12. Lurker 59 says:


    –>For that matter, if it’s a choice between teaching priests Latin and teaching them to give homilies that actually motivate and help people to live good Catholic lives I believe the latter would be more beneficial.<—

    In the NO, the sermon is often overemphasized so that the priest's skill at rhetoric becomes the reason for going to Mass rather than Christ's action. It is a very Protestant way of looking at "what one does on Sunday". Priest's shouldn't be focused on being motivational speakers but should defend their flock from the devil and the world, provide the sacraments, and live a life of holiness.

    I say this, not to jump on you but the goal of "Catholic Identity" isn't this pre-VII thing, but it is this radical reorientation that is so far outside of the box of the modern world that I can just barely get a glimpse of it myself. Catholic identity must be reclaimed in a radical way.

    Using depression as an example; depression is a cross given to an individual precisely because God loves them. That is a hard row to hoe. Do depressed people need to hear that they have penance to be doing as well? Yes of course. Do they need to hear about God's love for them? Yes of course. Both. Because we find joy after hoping and mercy after penance.

    A close friend of mine has lifelong severe depression. Their NO Masses where the priest prattles about joy and mercy that my friend cannot feel because their brain is broken brings about intense sufferings. But at the end of the day, that is largely about sentimentality and letting go of a disordered attachment to a need to feel a certain way rather than embracing what God has given and choosing to follow His way than what my friend thinks they want.

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  14. DCG81 says:

    I realize this may be a stupid question … so please be gentle in explaining where I am mistaken. :)

    I believe there have been implementations of “Traditionis Custodes” in certain places where diocesan priests have been told that they may not use the “Rituale Romanum.” If one of those priests were to defy that order and attempt to use the “Rituale Romanum” to bless an object, would that blessing be void? If not, why not?

    SCENARIO #1: A priest attempts to bless an object with an English translation of a Latin prayer in the “Rituale Romanum.” The object is *not* blessed, because lawful Church authorities have decreed that the blessing is void if Latin isn’t used.

    SCENARIO #2: A priest attempts to bless an object, using the “Rituale Romanum” (in Latin). However, he is a diocesan priest and has been told by lawful Church authorities that he cannot use the prayers contained in the “Rituale Romanum.” He uses the “Rituale Romanum” anyway, despite being forbidden to do so. Is the object still blessed?

    My source of confusion is this: If the Church can say, “Use the prayers of this book only in Latin, or else the blessing is void,” why cannot the Church say, “The use of this pre-Vatican II book is no longer authorized. Use the prayers contained in the ‘Book of Blessings’ instead. Use of the ‘Rituale Romanum’ voids the blessing”?

  15. Fr. Reader says:

    … SpaggettiOs…

  16. Boniface says:

    The current Enchiridion of Indulgences states that one can gain a partial indulgence for devout use of any “properly blessed” article of devotion, and that a plenary indulgence can be gained (with the usual conditions) on the feast of Ss. Peter and Paul if that article was blessed by the pope or any bishop. It continues in a footnote that:

    “In order to bless an article or devotion properly the priest uses the prescribed formula, if there is any; otherwise, he makes a simple sign of the cross toward the article of devotion, laudably adding the words: “In the name of
    the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”.

    So it would seem that if one can gain an indulgence from an article that has simply been blessed with a silent sign of the cross, that item is undoubtedly validly blessed, as the Enchiridion – which was issued under papal authority just like the Book of Blessings – clearly states (I point this out even while, to make an irrelevant point, I am a huge fan of requesting the use of the older Rituale where possible and practicable).

    Also, the current Book of Blessings gives the following formula for the blessing of religious articles:

    “To be used to bless medals, small crucifixes, statues, or pictures that will be displayed elsewhere than in a church or chapel; scapulars, rosaries, and other articles used for religious devotions.

    In special circumstances, a priest or deacon may use the following short blessing formulary.

    May this (name of article) and the one who uses
    it be blessed, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, + and of the Holy Spirit.

    R. Amen.”

    The Book of Blessings also provides a short form blessing of rosaries, which is simply the above formulary with the word “rosary” inserted into the blank space:

    “May this rosary and the one who uses it be blessed, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, + and of the Holy Spirit.”

    If I were a priest I’d just memorize the above formula in Latin and the vernacular, and that way one is always ready for somebody who asks for a blessing of a sacramental when one is away from the sacristy.

    I am also of the opinion that all priests, whether or not they now have faculties to use it, should have a copy of the Weller edition of the Rituale (volumes 2 and 3 containing the blessings), to at least get a sense of the Church’s traditional thinking and practice regarding blessings. It can only serve to further illuminate them regarding this important theology and history.

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