Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Blessings at Communion time: the CDW speaks

When I wrote about blessings at Communion time (specifically for children), I mentioned the fact that, as far as I knew, this was not an issue addressed by the Instructions combating liturgical abuses which came out under Pope John Paul II. I have just discovered, however, thanks to Fr Hugh of Deus Mihi Adjutor, that a statement has been made, a response to a private dubium sent to the Congregation for Divine Worship. In a word, they don't like blessings at Communion.

Here's the letter; here's the source.

(Protocol No. 930/08/L) dated Nov. 22, 2008, sent in response to a private query and signed by Father Anthony Ward, SM, undersecretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship.

The letter said that "this matter is presently under the attentive study of the Congregation," so "for the present, this dicastery wishes to limit itself to the following observations":

"1. The liturgical blessing of the Holy Mass is properly given to each and to all at the conclusion of the Mass, just a few moments subsequent to the distribution of Holy Communion.

"2. Lay people, within the context of Holy Mass, are unable to confer blessings. These blessings, rather, are the competence of the priest (cf. Ecclesia de Mysterio, Notitiae 34 (15 Aug. 1997), art. 6, § 2; Canon 1169, § 2; and Roman Ritual De Benedictionibus (1985), n. 18).

"3. Furthermore, the laying on of a hand or hands which has its own sacramental significance, inappropriate here by those distributing Holy Communion, in substitution for its reception, is to be explicitly discouraged.

"4. The Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio n. 84, 'forbids any pastor, for whatever reason or pretext even of a pastoral nature, to perform ceremonies of any kind for divorced people who remarry'. To be feared is that any form of blessing in substitution for communion would give the impression that the divorced and remarried have been returned, in some sense, to the status of Catholics in good standing.

"5. In a similar way, for others who are not to be admitted to Holy Communion in accord with the norm of law, the Church's discipline has already made clear that they should not approach Holy Communion nor receive a blessing. This would include non-Catholics and those envisaged in can. 915 (i.e., those under the penalty of excommunication or interdict, and others who obstinately persist in manifest grave sin)."

This is a very interesting angle. Many people defend blessings at Communion precisely because they can bless people in irregular unions and the like.

The key consideration I brought up in my post was that blessings are restricted when the Blessed Sacrament is exposed. There is something not quite right about a priest holding a ciborium of the Blessed Sacrament giving a personal, priestly blessing to someone. In the light of the above, I would add that there is something odd also about inserting a non-liturgical blessing, or a blessing not belonging to the liturgy of the Mass actually going on, into the proceedings. I think the instinct of the priests who raised the issue originally, that this is a kind of liturgical monkeying-around, has some foundation.


  1. As you say, very interesting indeed!

    Given that 'this matter is presently under the attentive study of the Congregation' is there any indication of when they may say more about this?

    1. Well, I'm not surprised that it has been 'under active consideration' for at least four years... The wheels of the Vatican grind pretty slowly.

  2. As far as liturgical abuses go, this one is low on the totem pole, so it's not surprising it'll take time to resolve. My own guess is that since liturgical blessing of children is extremely popular, and Eastern Churches allow communion since birth (since baptism+confirmation+first communion are tied together) something will be worked out.

    That might mean that liturgical blessings are allowed for children with a specific blessing (perhaps just before communion or at the end of mass), or it might mean the proper order of the sacraments might be restored with confirmation+first communion happening earlier (say at age 3) so there's no need for a blessing since children of that age wouldn't have a clue what a blessing is.

    I suspect this latter approach is the one that's favoured, but it would be strongly resisted since priests would have other ways to catechized the young who are now only confirmed or receive communion after they are tested.