Tag Archives: blessings

Can lay ministers give blessings?

The question always surfaces about the fittingness, according to Catholic liturgical theology and supported by  Canon Law, for the lay minister of Holy Communion to impart a blessing. The quick answer is that the Church does not offer this as a legitimate possibility for good reasons.

Recently, the priest offering Mass invited all people to the communion line to receive the Eucharist, and if not, to receive a blessing “because we are in communion with the deceased person” –the reason for all of us gathered at the Mass. Father missed the point. While we are in communion with the deceased in some sort of metaphysical level known only to God, the Church teaches what is revealed to us: we are first in communion with God the Holy Trinity, then the sacrament of the Church, and with one another. We have first principles. Coming forward to receive a blessing is a symbolic act reinforcing the painful separation of Christians, and it is clearly a second rate manner of being in communion which says to the person receiving such blessing that they are not good enough to receive the real thing. This priest confuses the faithful and opens the door to even more problems.

The exercise of the priesthood of the faithful is not expressed in giving blessings in the communion line, but it does demonstrate the error of clericalizing the laity. Therefore, let’s say from the outset that a person distributing the Eucharistic species may not bestow a blessing on a person because this is not one of the gifts given by the Church to the priesthood of the faithful. In fact, it is a serious cross-over from the laity to the ordained person.

Parishes rely, with good reason, on the extraordinary minister of Holy Communion because of the sizable the numbers of communicants and the lack of extra ordained ministers: priests and deacons, and the institute acolyte. The lay minister, as well as the clergy, have to respect the dignity of the Eucharist and the administration of the sacrament. But do we tend to see when a person has no intention of receiving the Eucharistic Lord? Typically, we encounter one of three things when the person presents him or herself with arms crossed over the chest:

1. they speak and gesture a sign of the cross over persons;
2. lay hands on such persons’ heads or shoulders while voicing a blessing;
3. waive or place the Holy Eucharist over them while speaking a blessing.

All three actions are liturgical abuses.

Ed Peters, a rather well-regarded canonist, teacher, and author, articulates why these acts are abuses in the sacred Liturgy. Professor Peters states,

Let’s consider them in order of gravity:

1. Blessing the faithful with the Most August Sacrament is expressly reserved to the ordained. Lay persons may not confer any blessings with the Host (Eucharistic worship outside of Mass nn. 91, 97-99, and 1983 CIC 1168). This practice should therefore be immediately halted wherever it has cropped up.

2. Touching many persons’ hair, faces, and/or garments while serving food (albeit divine Food) to the public has to be a violation of some health and safety regulation somewhere, not to mention its being poor manners. If the swine flu makes distribution from a common Cup an issue, surely touching hair and heads while serving others food from a common Plate is a problem. This particular practice should therefore be halted promptly, regardless of what one might think about lay blessings during Mass.

3. Ministers of holy Communion have, I suggest, no authority by their office to confer any sort of blessing on anyone. Neither the General Instruction on the Roman Missal nor the Book of Blessings (which later source makes provisions for laity to administer certain blessings) authorizes ministers of Communion to confer blessings during Mass. Given that lay persons serving as extraordinary ministers of holy Communion have no liturgical duties besides the administration of Communion, the introduction of a mini-blessing rite to be performed by them seems to me a plain violation of Canon 846. This practice should, I think, be halted pending a study of its liceity by qualified persons and, if appropriate, its authorization by the competent authority (1983 CIC 838,1167).

In brief, I suggest that lay ministers of holy Communion have no authority to bless anyone in Communion lines, they should refrain from touching people while distributing holy Communion, and they should immediately cease using the Blessed Sacrament for mini-Benediction rites.

If you are looking for another way of knowing what the Church teaches, Paul Matenaer gives  a response in his 2011 article “Can lay ministers give blessings during Communion?” which is worth reading critically as this is no small thing in the Ordinary Form of the Mass. He gives more detail to the answer than Ed Peters did.

Let me conclude: we want to be welcoming to all people, but there are appropriate places, actions and times for one to be hospitable. The communion line is not one of those places.

Blessings, etc, at a priest’s First Mass

priestly first mass image.jpgWe are now preparing for the ordinations of men to the Order of Deacon and to the Order of Priests this time of year. With these ecclesial events, there is generally a lot of misunderstanding as to what is permitted, what is not, and who can restrict what. Imagine: liturgical and ecclesiological confusion in the Church! 

Plenty of newly ordained deacons and priests exhibit arrogance and a sense of entitlement that is both inconsistent with the gift of the priesthood and with the law of charity. Because a man is ordained, or given an office to exercise, e.g., pastoral care of souls in a parish or the abbatial office or the Vicar General’s office does not mean you’ve “arrived,” and that you can do whatever you want just because you are now “somebody.” Ask yourself, what example does Christ the high priest and head of the Church require? What does true priestly humility look like?
The ever attentive canonist Edward Peters on his blog (In Light of the Law) posted today a helpful primer to questions asked with regard to “Ordinations, first Masses, clerical blessings.” I recommend laity and clergy alike carefully read what Dr Peters has to say and carefully attend to the distinctions he makes.
***I hear that if you write for the special use of an indulgence, or the solemn pontifical blessing (a particular note needs to be added to your “worship aid”, or fax, the Apostolic Penitentiary, you will get a quick response. The Prefect is Manual Cardinal de Cordeiro. His address:
Palazzo della Cancelleria
Piazza della Cancelleria, 1
00186, Roma Italia

Blessing of Throats on the feast of Saint Blaise

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Hear, O Lord, the supplications your people make under the patronage of the Martyr Saint Blaise, and grant that they may rejoice in peace in this present life and find help for life eternal.

(the Collect at Mass)

From the Roman Martyrology we read:

At Sebaste in Armenia [in the 4th century], in the time of the governor Agricolaus, the passion of Saint Blaise, bishop and martyr, who, after working many miracles, was scourged for a long time, suspended from a tree where his flesh was lacerated with iron combs. He was then imprisoned in a dark dungeon, thrown into a lake from which he came out safe, and finally, by order of the judge, he and two boys were beheaded. Before him, seven women who were gathering the drops of his blood during his torture, were recognized as Christians, and after undergoing severe torments, were put to death by the sword.

The Order of Blessing of candles for the blessing of throats is noted here.
You may ask why get your throat blessed. I’d ask, if you were truly Catholic, why would you NOT have your throat blessed on this feast day. As the Church prays today, we praise God for the gift of staying close to him in times of persecution –that we don’t weaken in faith in Christ Jesus our Savior. Through the intercession of Blaise, a 4th century witness to Christ who was known to be a physician, bishop and martyr may we come closer to the Lord and in doing so, tell others about Him. The blessing of throats as such is not that important. What is important the recognition that all things come from God the Father through Jesus under the power of the Holy Spirit. The blessing of throats is a dynamic example of begging of God to bestow grace upon us. Here is the sacramentality. Here is the mission-focus of our faith: Grace comes into our context. Who doesn’t need grace? Who would be so full of pride and laziness not to approach the Throne of Grace asking for help and love?

Christ’s new priests for NY and the CFRs

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Saint Patrick’s Cathedral was the setting of a beautiful Mass with the Rites of Ordination to the Priesthood for 10 men.
The cathedral was packed with people from the humble to the “great” to ask the Holy Spirit to come down upon the ordinandi making them priests.
New priests giving their blessings at Saint Joseph’s Seminary.
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The Reverend Father Thomas A. Roslak
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The Reverend Father James H. Ferreira
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The Reverend Father Fredy O. Patino Montoya
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Father Charles-Benoit Reche, CFR
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Eugene with Father Luke Sweeney and
the new ordained The Reverend Father George La Grutta

Herbs Blessing on the Assumption Solemnity, August 15

It is customary in the Western Church, since at least the 10th century, for the priest to bless herbs on the Solemnity of the Assumption. The Eastern Church likely had a similar formulary much earlier.

As a point of liturgical fact, the Church asks God to bless herbs and flowers –and thus us– to remind all of us of the gifts God has given us for our sustenance, healing and beauty. In many places the faithful had all their flowers blessed, especially those closely associated with the Blessed Virgin Mary. Herbs blessing, therefore, is another example of giving thanks, a key theological and liturgical point in our life of faith. While customary it is not likely to be used in many parishes. The collects for the herbs blessing rich and savory.

The Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy (2001) says of herbs blessing:

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The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary (15 August) is deeply imbedded in popular piety. In many places the feast is synonymous with the person of Our Lady, and is simply referred to as “Our Lady’s Day” or as the “Immacolada” in Spain and Latin America.

In the Germanic countries, the custom of blessing herbs is associated with 15 August. This custom, received into the Rituale Romanum (200), represents a clear example of the genuine evangelization of pre-Christian rites and beliefs: one must turn to God, through whose word “the earth produced vegetation: plants bearing seeds in their several kinds, and trees bearing fruit with their seed inside in their several kinds” (Gen 1, 12) in order to obtain what was formerly obtained by magic rites; to stem the damages deriving from poisonous herbs, and benefit from the efficacy of curative herbs.

This ancient use came to be associated with the Blessed Virgin Mary, in part because of the biblical images applied to her such as vine, lavender, cypress and lily, partly from seeing her in terms of a sweet smelling flower because of her virtue, and most of all because of Isaiah 11, 1, and his reference to the “shoot springing
from the side of Jesse”, which would bear the blessed fruit of Jesus.

The Order of Blessing of Herbs is found here.

About the author

Paul A. Zalonski is from New Haven, CT. He is a member of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, a Catholic ecclesial movement, and an Oblate of Saint Benedict. Contact Paul at paulzalonski[at]yahoo.com.
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