Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Communion Blessings

My friend Fr Zuhlsdorf put up a post on Blessing during Holy Communion in the UK it is something almost every priest does. It seems to have crept in from Anglicanism and now seems to be part of Catholic custom. I do it, I can't say I am too unhappy about it. At funerals especially, by offering the possibility of a blessing, it allows one offer an alternative to those who have estranged themselves from communion with the Church.

Is it correct? No, For several reasons:

  • It is an addition to the Liturgy. The principle should be followed that "nothing is added and nothing taken away", the priest is the servant of the Liturgy not its master.

  • The focus of the distribution of Holy Communion is Communion, giving the Body and Blood of Christ, it is wrong to turn attention from the Body of Christ to a priest giving his personal blessing to an individual.

  • People are blessed collectively at the end of Mass, therefore it becomes a duplication, such duplications of a liturgical action should be always be avoided
Fr McNamara LC, the Zenit answerer of liturgical questions, suggested some time ago, that it might be appropriate to say some prayer over those who come for a blessing, that encourages communion, such as, "May the Lord soon bring you into full Communion".

The problem is not just a pastoral one, of finding some way of including the excluded but a deeper one of misunderstanding the meaning of "active participation", and people simply not understanding how to make a Spiritual Communion, if that is lacking then maybe even those who make an actual Communion fail to understand what should happen.
Then it could be that we have lost site of what a blessing actually is.


Steven said...

This is an issue that has vexed me for some time. I have two children and it is not always possible/convenient to go to the priest at communion, sometimes one ends up with 'extra-ordinary' ministers saying the most sacerdotal of things over them.
I am sure that if we understood the final blessing more coherently we would not need to invent these little rituals of inclusivity.

Crux Fidelis said...

In our church the blessing is given to under age children who are accompanying a parent who is receiving. At some funerals I have attended the blessing is also offered to non-Catholics present at the Mass. What are your feelings on this, Fr Ray?

servingblogger said...

Father: will this one get posted ?

You write: "..... it allows one offer an alternative to those who have estranged themselves from communion with the Church."

Why do you want to exclude people ? Why is your stance always about people being excluded ? Why not try in whatever way you can to INCLUDE. I thought that was what our Church was all about. But so often I detect a default position of defining yourself and the Catholic Church as looking for reasons why people don't belong, rather than rejoicing in why people do belong. Even if they are imperfect, sinful, not completely where you want them to be, but just ordinary, struggling people doing the best they can where they find themselves, and hoping like me to be made perfect in Heaven through the mercy and grace of God.

Try INCLUSION for a change. Leave behind EXCLUSION. You'll probably end up meeting some lovely people who will bring you great joy and blessing.

fidelisjoff said...

I think the matter of blessing during communion also makes those not in a state of grace and not desiring a blessing as an alternative (me at times) more uncomfortable than we should be. Our duty to receive communion and confession at least once a year at Easter time seems to have become receive communion every time come what may or feel uncomfortable and just forget about confession in most parishes.

Joe said...

Two thoughts:

1. The blessing at Communion is one pastoral practice that is often used to address two quite different situations. Some people - catechumens and young children - do not receive Holy Communion because they have not yet made their first Holy Communion; in due time they will be able to receive Communion. Some people are unable to receive Communion and there is no prospect of them being able to do so - divorced and re-married, for example, or another such situation. The blessing at the time of Communion seems a more appropriate pastoral practice for the second group; for the first, it seems inappropriate because I suspect, particularly for children, it gives the impression that there is not much difference between the blessing and receiving Our Lord himself in Communion.

2. What is the meaning of the sign of peace? The practice of the sign of peace in the High Mass of the Extraordinary Form indicates that it is about the peace of Christ being communicated (deliberate choice of word) from the Divine Presence on the altar to the Church, represented in the hierarchy of her ministers. It is not about being friendly to your neighbour, which is simply to reduce the Liturgical sign to a sociological sign. [Side note: but how many of our people see it as no more than this? And how many of our priests?] The Ordinary Form develops this, perhaps, by including the members of the congregation in the sign. During the last couple of days, I have begun to reflect on how far we should view the sign of peace as an act of spiritual communion, and catechise accordingly. This does respect the nature of the Liturgy itself - the sign of peace is part of the Liturgy. And by raising its status in the eyes of the Church, it would meet the pastoral need currently being seen as being met in the blessing given to non-recipients at Communion. I think it would demand, though, a review of the way in which the sign is exchanged between members of the congregation; some form of more explicitly sacral sign is needed. And the optional nature of the sign of peace in the Ordinary Form might be used to preferentially include the sign of peace in circumstances where many people are not able to receive sacramentally.

I strongly oppose the suggestion of the Synod on the Eucharist, currently under consideration, that the sign of peace be moved to an earlier point in the Mass. I think that would be to give it a completely different meaning.

Anonymous said...

aside from our all being sinners, do you think it is important to be in a state of grace for communion and, in all charity, to remind people of this necessity not in order to 'exclude' them but to steer them towards penitence? Surely the eucharist is the food of repentant and not obdurate sinners?

Or is politics more important?


Victor S E Moubarak said...


I am not the most diplomatic of people; so forgive me if what I say comes out wrong.

You say: "Then it could be that we have lost site of what a blessing actually is".

There are many things we Catholics seem to be losing sight of. And I feel that primarily it is because the Church tends to prevaricate and send mixed messages.

I've followed this Blog for a few weeks and there have been other examples apart from this particular one about blessings.

In a previous post you suggested that the Vatican did not fully back Medjugorje. I commented then that I did not know that; and many Catholic churches around here organise trips to there.

Recently mention was made about Communion in the hand in view of the swine flu, (not on this Blog). And our church has now stopped Communion on the tongue, withdrawn the chalice of wine from Communicants, and withdrawn the holy water by the church door as instructed by the bishop. Yet the Pope seems to favour Communion on the tongue, and given by the priest only.

These are two examples where the Vatican and the local church are using separate hymn sheets.

It is these and similar messages which confuse an easily confused person like me.

I hope you do reply Father. Because my comments aren't meant as a criticism; but as a means to seek understanding.

God bless.

maryrose said...

I think the blessing is an alternative to those who are estranged i.e living in relationships outside of marriage. It is preferable than having people receive communion when they are not in a state of grace. It recognises difficulties people may have and it does recognise that it may take time to change. It also gives the priest an opportunity to invite those who for one reason or another are not in a position to receive to approach the lord for a blessing which will help them to change their lives. Its all about reaching out to the sinner. I dont see anything wrong with that.

Shepherd said...

Serving Blogger, if I may spring to Fr Ray's defence, there is nothing exclusive about it....those who are not Catholics or are Catholics not in a state of grace, have excluded themselves from full participation in the Mass. Father (and others) are looking at a correct and charitable way of making provision for them.
The Catholic Faith is about including people but they must want to be included or, at least, be open to accepting the teachings of Christ Himself in this matter.
Without those elements they, along with the rest of the congregation, will receive God's blessing via the priest at the end of Mass. Perfect!

Marc said...

Servingblogger,what on earth do you mean? If you mean what I think you mean, its utter rubbish. Are you a parishioner at St MM? If you are, then you will know that Fr Ray goes a long way to make sure that everyone is included and if you are not then I can only assure that you are wrong.

gemoftheocean said...

I don't particularly like this custom. And I especially don't like a lay person coming up for me for a blessing at Communion. If I am in this situation, I make no sign over them but say "God bless you" otherwise they'd stay rooted to the spot. I think that's safe enough for me, because I say as much often when I say goodbye to people on the phone.

As re: nothing added/nothing subtracted. It's a fine *general* principle, but it's clear that over time things *have* been added. Otherwise we'd all be standing, recieving in the hand, wouldn't have put in Communion rails, or patens under the chins, we'd be having Stational Masses, we'd have long songs to accompany the Kyrie, we wouldn't have the elevations etc. ad infinitum. It's well to remember that ALL these practises were once "innovations." [And once upon a time the choir shut up and the canon could be heard in the EF.]

The an EF order staffs my weekday parish. For what it's worth I've been somewhat amused to see that every priest I've seen who does Mass there ALSO has blessed the babies and small children at Communion. But I've never seen an adult come up for such a blessing.

dave said...

ServingBlogger your comment made me laugh. Poor old Father Ray. If he really was as 'exclusive' in real life as maybe sometimes he does appear on his blog (his article on divorcees last week perhaps) , he would have nobody sat in his church. Fortunately we all keep coming back. Why? Well you will just have to come and join our parish to find out.

Richard said...

I suspect that the habit of seeking a blessing is a result of a deeper problem - that people feel the need to communicate every time they go to Mass.

And that itself seems to be the result of a problem that is deeper still - the loss of appreciation of the sacred.

It may be too late to treat the symptoms - something needs to be done to deal with the underlying causes.

Malcolm Kemp said...

The question of the position of the Peace during Mass is interesting. My own preference - being by nature very untactile - is the old form in EF High Mass where it goes no further than the altar party.

In the Anglican church some churches use the Roman Rite and others do it according to official Anglican (Common Worship) liturgy at the beginning of the offertory.

When done just before Communion, as in the Roman Rite, I think people are more aware of the need to get it over and done with fairly quickly although it does, admittedly, interrupt the flow of the service.

When done at te begining of the offertory - which is what happens in most Anglican churches, even some of the more "advanced" churchmanship ones - it can very easily get,longer and longer, wasting a lot of time - especially if the concelebrants feel it their duty to shake hands with everyone. If I'm playing the organ for such a service I try to judge when I've given them enough time without going on too long and then promptly launch into the hymn. This then brings everyone back into line.

Many people dislike it intensely, even now, and would prefer it not to happen at all. But, who said we were into people power and giving them the entertainment they want?