Extraordinary blessings in the Communion queue

The setting: a large urban parish, where several hundred people attend the main Sunday Masses. Communion is offered in both kinds. Lay extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion help the celebrant administer it.

A good number of communicants approach the extraordinary or ordinary minister of Communion with arms crossed, asking for a blessing in lieu of Communion; or they themselves receive but ask for a blessing for the child who is with them. What do the extraordinary ministers say?

For purposes of this discussion only, let us avoid some of the answers and related tropes that frequently show up in online liturgy discussions:

  • “Laypeople do not need to receive in both kinds.”
  • “Extraordinary ministers should be banned.”
  • “Communion is not the time to ask for a blessing, because the entire assembly receives a blessing at the end of Mass.”
  • “Lay extraordinary ministers cannot bless anyone or anything. They are firing blanks.”

All of those answers, and many more like them, can be found in the usual places.

In this case let us set them aside and assume that Holy Communion will be given in both kinds, that there will be lay extraordinary ministers of Communion, and that people will ask for blessings. In fact, the parish priest actively encourages those who do not wish to receive to “ask the priest or the minister for a blessing by crossing your arms.”

To start the conversation: picking up on the insightful ‘quantum theology’ post, why could the extraordinary minister not say, “May God bless you”?

What other brief prayer of blessing would be appropriate for lay ministers to use in this situation?

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54 comments

  1. Just heard a new (to me) one last weekend at a Sunday Celebrations in the Abcense of a Priest workshop I was on the team for: “May God bring us all one day to the heavenly banquet.” Short, sincere, appropriate, some would call it a blessing while I suppose not technically so.

  2. Tough call. People do come forward with expectations. I recommend the CM place the heel of her or his hand on the child or the person, close eyes momentarily (no squinting) and say nothing.

    1. @Dunstan Harding – comment #3:
      A simple cross traced on the forehead: that’s what I do as a priest when blessing at Communion, and is what I ask Ministers of Communion to do. It is simple, dignified and recalls the welcome which priest and others use at the start of the baptism rite.

  3. Why not a simple “May God’s blessing be always with you.” Leave it at that since this is technically not a time for blessing in a traditional sense but a time to acknowledge humanity that longs for communion with God as they approach the Altar.

    I instruct our EOMHC to never touch the person but to simply hold their hand in blessing over the head. This allows us to respect the sensitivity of persons who do not wish to be touched by a stranger and it also keeps hands that are distributing the Body of Christ from hair that might be unclean.

    We avoid the use of Trinitarian blessings and tracing signs of cross on the forehead since these are often associate with Ritual Acts or Sacraments in the Liturgy. However, we do encourage our parents to always offer a Trinitarian blessings to their children upon entering the Church from the font, while exiting the Church, at home, etc.

    On another issue of Blessings, what are your opinions on everyone raising their hands in blessing while the priest gives a blessing (i.e. nuptial blessings, blessing of ministers, etc.) My real problem is not so much the confusion over whether it is a “priestly-cultic” blessing but that the gesture of a one-handed blessings from hundreds of people in the assembly reminds me of the horrible World War II images of salutes to Hitler. The same can be said of concelebrants who also offer unified blessing with one lone hand. (This doesn’t seem to be the case with the hand position at the consecration.)

    1. @John J. Hoffman – comment #4:
      I instruct our EOMHC to never touch the person but to simply hold their hand in blessing over the head. … We avoid the use of Trinitarian blessings and tracing signs of cross on the forehead since these are often associate with Ritual Acts or Sacraments in the Liturgy.

      But the gesture you describe is used in the sacraments of Confirmation, Ordination and in the Extraordinary form rite for the sacrament of Reconciliation.

      1. @Samuel J. Howard – comment #40:

        The General Introduction to the Book of Blessings notes that when lay people offer blessings (which they may do under many circumstances) they should not use the gestures that the ordained use. The example given is that when the Trinity is invoked in a blessing, rather than making the sign of the cross in the air over the other person, as would the priest, make the usual sign of the cross WITH the other person(s).

        I like Rita’s suggestions of offering a simple blessing without gesture (which can be difficult to manage with chalice or ciborium in hand) that invokes what we are about at this moment at the liturgy, which reminds the ones giving it and hearing it that all blessings come from God, and for certainly in the Catholic tradition as in others, are animated by the Paschal Mystery. Blessings are not sacracmental signs just for those blessed.

  4. I fail to see the difference between a non-verbal blessing (cf Todd and Dunstan) and a verbal one. Either the EM is able to give a blessing, or isn’t.

    The blessing is not a kind of non-communion for those who do not receive. It is, in my understanding, an expression of God’s love for that person — the *same* love that is offered in the bread and wine, coming from the same source of that love.

    In training the Lutheran equivalent of extraordinary ministers at the various parishes I’ve served, I’ve had them pose this question to me. I start my answer by sharing with them the blessing that I give to those who come with arms crossed. It comes from the baptismal liturgy, and I say it while making the sign of the cross on the person’s forehead: “Child of God, in baptism you have been sealed with the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever.”

    When I know the child has not been baptized, I shift to a more generic “May you always be held in God’s arms, and always know God’s peace.”

    Whether I as the presider or a layperson as an EM offer a blessing, it is God who truly blesses. To those who believe it is inappropriate for EMs to offer any blessing, I would ask whether laypeople are similarly prohibited from sharing the peace with one another. This is a very real blessing that the people of God proclaim to one another: “Peace be with you” is a blessing.

    Similarly, laypeople proclaim a blessing elsewhere in the liturgy, such as when the presider says “The Lord be with you.” Whether the assembly replies “And with your spirit” or “And also with you”, the assembly is proclaiming God’s blessing on the presider.

  5. We need to get our theology straightened out here.

    I have a priest friend who, whenever he is asked “Will you bless my rosary, Father?”, always replies “No!” — and after a brief pause then adds “But I’ll ask God to”.

    And that is the point. Human beings cannot bless, only God can bless. What happens is that we, both lay and ordained, invoke God’s blessing not so that the thing or person may be changed (lots of people think of the results of blessing as something akin to transubstantiation — it isn’t) but so that through that person or thing grace may come to others.

    So, can lay Ministers of Communion give a blessing? Of course. Parents bless their children, we say “Bless you!” when someone sneezes…. However, the act of blessing by lay people does not include tracing the sign of the cross in the air in front of or over the person — that gesture is traditionally reserved to the ordained, in the same way that some blessings are reserved to deacons and priests — but a form of words can certainly be used.

    In this part of the world, for the sake of hygiene, lay ministers are encouraged not to touch the person (one often sees ministers laying a hand on the shoulder, or even on the head — which might be misconstrued as a laying-on-of hands gesture once again reserved to the ordained, quite apart from the grease on the hair transferring to the hand and fingers — and is one reason why I would not advocate signing the person on the forehead), since the hand that touches may then go back immediately into the ciborium or paten.

    Spoken formulae commonly met with include “May God bless you and give you peace” and “May God’s blessing come upon you”, during which the minister might well lean forward a little so that their head is closer to the other person — a very human gesture. By analogy with “The Body of Christ” and “the Blood of Christ”, I encounter ministers who say “The Blessing of Christ”, but that seems to be to be a little impersonal. Formulae such as “May almighty God bless you, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit”, as well as being too long, do not seem appropriate here since they cause confusion with the final blessing at Mass as Jonathan suggested in his post; and yet I often witness priests and deacons doing just that, together with a blessing gesture or a hand laid on the top of the head.

  6. process suggestion

    The following excerpts from two comments are examples of the theoretical conflict language that turns many people (including me) from further reading the comments, or even commenting on some posts.

    It makes it difficult for many readers to bring their experience to the table either because they don’t want to get into a conflict, or because they won’t sound theoretical enough.

    I think Jonathan was trying to avoid this and to get us a lot of practical suggestions and to enable a lot of people out there to share their experience in a hospitable environment in this post.

    # 4I fail to see the difference between a non-verbal blessing (cf Todd and Dunstan) and a verbal one. Either the EM is able to give a blessing, or isn’t. The blessing is not a kind of non-communion for those who do not receive. It is, in my understanding, an expression of God’s love for that person — the *same* love that is offered in the bread and wine, coming from the same source of that love.

    #5We need to get our theology straightened out here……
    I have a priest friend who, whenever he is asked…
    And that is the point. Human beings cannot bless, only God can bless…..
    So, can lay Ministers of Communion give a blessing? — but a form of words can certainly be used…

    Both comments gave us a lot of data that is very useful to the whole discussion along with their theory. I would retain all the data.

    As a social scientist my comments also usually have both a lot of theory (vision) and a lot of data. Both are necessary. I have decided however that the vision that often frames my data may discourage some people from sharing their data. Since I want a lot more data in the comments, I have decided to wait to the end to comment.

    I would like to see at least 20 or 30 comments full of experience, some of which might contain useful ideas for parish ministers.

    Then we could have our theoretical discussions on the basis of more data, and address our many readers ideas and interests not just our own and those of fellow frequent commenters.

  7. Touching verboten for two reasons: first, one does not know if one has permission to touch; second, communion hygiene.

    .

  8. What about the beginning of the Aaronic blessing: “May the Lord bless you and keep you”?

    In some settings the EMHC are instructed to hold the host between thumb and forefinger while laying the heel of the hand on the head or shoulder of the … I almost wrote “communicant”. Blessee? … all the while saying the words of blessing.

    1. @Jonathan Day – comment #9:
      Your first paragraph is good. The situation described in the second probably runs afoul of the prohibition of laity giving benediction with the Blessed Sacrament…but you probably knew that (that said, laity would have very solid ground for objecting, shall we say); and besides, then there are all cavils some folks have with the very notion of benediction….

  9. I regard this gesture as a sign of welcome. When little children come I smile and gently and lightly lay my hand on their heads. Adults and taller children are given the smile as I gently touch their arms or shoulder and whisper god bless you. The CM’s do the same.

  10. I’m struck by the fact that all the suggestions are generic. Is there no context-specific flavor imparted by the Eucharistic character of the celebration?

    Here are a few phrases that occur to me (off the top of my head):

    May Christ, present in the Eucharist,
    bless you and remain with you always.

    May the Lord who feeds us
    Fill your heart and your mind with a knowledge of his love.

    May the gift of faith in the Risen Christ
    abound and overflow in your life.

    May the Holy Spirit grant you spiritual communion
    with all who partake of this holy meal.

  11. This question comes up periodically. The Maronites have a custom where they bless children who have not yet made their First Communion by simply placing the vessel holding the Hosts on the head of the child. Nothing is said – just a gesture which implies (so I am told) not yet, but soon! If such a gesture were approved for the Latin rite it would mean that any minister of Holy Communion could be involved. From a pastoral point of view (having assisted at lots of Maronite Masses) it is very effective and parents and children are very happy.

  12. A little less than half of our elementary school kids are Protestant (we have a Messianic Jew and an Reformed Jew as well). For at least thirty years we’ve encouraged them to come forward for a blessing. But we keep it brief. If I’m doing it, I simply say “May God bless You” with a “small” Sign of the Cross hand blessing. Our retired bishop simply says “God Bless You” and touches the back of his hand to their head. I’ve instructed our EM’s to say what seems natural, “bless you” or “God Bless You” or simply hold their hand over the persons head without the Sign of the Cross or to touch the head as our retired bishops does with the back of their hand. At our normal Masses the same procedure is in place.
    I find the longer blessings above a bit much but only in light of the Ordinary Form’s truncation (for the laity only) of the formula for distributing Holy Communion which was “May the Body of Christ keep you safe for eternal life,” but in Latin of course. The other versions for the blessings shown above are reminiscence of the old Latin formula and thus would be more appropriate in the Extraordinary Form not the Ordinary Form. But if we restored to the laity their version of what the priest says prior to his Holy Communion in the Ordinary Form, I would suggest, “May the Lord keep you safe for eternal life.” Otherwise the Ordinary Form’s formula “The Body of Christ” for those not receiving should be ” The blessing of Christ.” This September I’m meeting with our EM’s for a workshop and I think that’s exactly what I will recommend to them, not to touch, but simply look at the person requesting the blessing and say, “The blessing of Christ” which ties in nicely with “The Body of Christ” in the Ordinary Form. And if the EM, deacon or priest happen to be holding the host for the next person, all the better “symbol” of making a “spiritual communion” by tasting through seeing.

  13. What were some liturgical and theological reasons for the suppression of the blessing with the host along with the prayer “Domini nostri Jesu Christi custodiat …” during the administration of holy communion? I don’t suggest that the blessing or the prayer be reinstated, as doing so would absolutely prohibit the use of eucharistic ministers and limit the administration of the eucharist to priests and deacons. Even so, why there should be a re-emphasis on blessing gestures and sayings if one of the very first reforms to the order of Mass was the elimination of a blessing at the administration of holy communion?

    1. @Jordan Zarembo – comment #14:
      I often wonder why the formula was truncated and the “sign of the cross” with the host removed. Was it in anticipation of the allowance of lay person distributing Holy Communion and a preparation for that? The truncation occurred almost immediately with the 1965 transitional Roman Missal which was still the 1962 Missal with small adaptations. I think you could still have the longer formula for the laity without the “Sign of the Cross” for both clergy or laity distributing Holy Communion, but of course that encourages those distributing to begin to “speed” say that formula because of its length.
      While I wouldn’t ban “blessings” at Communion time until the proper authorities say we should, I do wonder why priests contrived this blessing in the first place decades ago in their parishes, similar to asking the laity to hold hands at the Our Father and even doing so in the sanctuary. Both the blessing at Holy Communion and the holding of hands by request of the celebrant at the Our Father smack of “adding to the Mass” that which is forbidden by SC itself. I wonder too if those who began these things did so to make them feel better liturgically by making a diverse congregation feel completely involved and a part of a big happy, clappy family? Just wondering. But these kinds of accretions, similar to the ones that were added over the course of time to that which became the Tridentine Mass seem to happen naturally. Then we have a reform and remove them all and the next thing you know other accretions are added.

      1. @Brigid Rauch – comment #21:
        Brigid, there’s nothing wrong with “being a happy, clappy family” in the proper context, but I wonder how many parishes truly are or when they do it are simply play-acting and in a non-liturgical way but during the liturgy–better to be that way once dismissed,and authentically so, not contrived, and amongst our brothers and sisters and others to whom we give witness and in other times of fun fellowship.

  14. I place the three middle fingers of my right hand (Trinity) on the forehead of the person seeking a blessing and say very quietly, “Holy Peace.”

  15. Sometimes we forget what it is we are doing when receiving Communion, we forget about Covenant and our partaking of the Sacrifice by which we renew our Covenant with God thru Jesus, etc etc. If that’s a meaning that isn’t completely forgotten, it can at least be obscured by seemingly reducing the Eucharist to a “Special Blessing”.
    Might it be acceptable, before COmmunion is actually distributed, to have some minister lead an Act of Spiritual Communion for those unable to receive? Must we continue the impression that at Communion time “everybody gets something”?
    Reception of Communion is the apex of a very special action with a definite meaning. HOw can we continue to honor that?

  16. I usually extend my hand over them and say this: “Receive the Spirit of Jesus Christ in your heart.”

    After all, is that not what is going on when we receive Communion?

    1. @Jonathan Sorensen – comment #19:
      That is what’s happening in Communion, but if someone is not able to receive communion, would they be able to receive the Spirit? So, why say it when there’s already reason for them to not be receiving the Spirit in the normal way–through Communion?

  17. On the one hand, I’m not a fan of blessings in the communion line. This is not because I am an EMOC, but because it is confusing two things. On the other hand, the time to have this discussion with someone is not when they are standing there with crossed arms. So, I extend my hand, don’t touch, and say, “May Christ be with you.”

    This is how far out of hand this has gotten: Several weeks ago a young man approached with arms crossed, I did my thing and he still stood there, looking bewildered. After five seconds I said, “Did you want to receive?” He said yes, he wanted both the blessing and communion!

    Either this is a return to the 1962 missal by a circuitous route, or people are just trying to confuse me.

    On another note, I’ve seen a real drop in “Our Father hand holding.” So, things may eventually right themselves.

    1. @Cathy Crino – comment #20:
      Cathy, perhaps the young man you mentioned who had arms crossed but wanted a blessing AND communion was from an Eastern Rite background. In the Byzantine Ruthenian Rite, it is not uncommon for the faithful to receive with arms crossed over the chest.
      If this was the case, I can see why both of you would be confused.

  18. There is nothing wrong in ‘renewing the Cross’ on the forehead given at Baptism — and to say, if the moment permits, “God bless you”. This is no more than a recall of the Cross on the forehead made with Holy Water when one enters church. This can be done very simply by anyone distributing the Holy Communion — and has an added ‘eschatological flavor’ besides.

  19. For those wondering about the change in the formulary for the distribution of Communion:

    DOL 252. SC RITES, Decree Quo actuosius, promulgating a new formulary for the distribution of communion, 25 April 1964: AAS 56 (1964) 337-338.

    {2034} In order that the people may more actively and beneficially take part in the sacrifice of the Mass and profess their faith in the eucharistic mystery in the very act of receiving communion, numerous requests have been submitted to Pope Paul VI for a more appropriate formulary for the distribution of communion.

    Graciously welcoming such requests, the Pope has established that in the distribution of communion, in place of the formulary now in use, the priest simply to say: The body of Christ [Corpus Christi] and the people are to answer: Amen, then receive communion. This is to be followed whenever communion is distributed, both within and outside Mass.

    All things to the contrary notwithstanding, even those worthy of special mention.

    From my point of view, the previous form could have been adjusted only slightly to facilitate the “active participation” (which here means responding to the priest and making a profession of faith) of the faithful:

    Priest: Hoc Corpus Dómini nostri Jesu Christi custódiat ánimam tuam in vitam aetérnam.
    Communicant: Amen.

    The priest is now saying, in effect, “May this, the Body of our Lord Jesus Christ, preserve your soul unto life everlasting” to which the communicant responds “Amen”. It is still a blessing, yet it incorporates a profession of faith from the communicants: no longer is “some” Body of our Lord Jesus Christ (which is not identified with the Host being received) preserving their soul, but this which is the Body of our Lord Jesus Christ.

    1. @Jeffrey Pinyan – comment #23:
      It’s my impression that the formulary was revised because in the old days, by the time the priest reached say, the 50th communicant, the long formulary had devolved into a garbled mess.

      On a related note, some get very upset if the person distributing Communion alters the formula to “Body of Christ, Name”

    2. @Jeffrey Pinyan – comment #23:

      I suspect that the suppression of the medieval communion formula and the deletion of the host blessing in the “interim” missals perhaps also arose from frequent abuse of the formula and not necessarily out of liturgical or theological considerations. Even today, sometimes priests administering holy communion in the EF pronounce the communion formula over two or more communicants while making a blessing with each host administered. Even if hoc precedes corpus and each communicant says ‘amen’, some communicants would only say ‘amen’ to a phrase and not the entire sentence. The Anglo-Catholic parish at which I once worshiped merely accepted that the communion admonitions could not be pronounced to each individual communicant. The two communion admonitions from the Prayer Book were deliberately broken up so that the priest or deacon would begin the first admonition at one end of the rail and end the second admonition at the opposite end of the rail. It would take hours to communicate the parish if each communicant received both admonitions in full.

      It’s also quite important to remember that both the Tridentine and Prayer Book rites for the administration of communion presume that few at the Mass or service will receive. I suspect that liturgical Christian traditions have shortened communion admonitions simply because it is now expected that the majority present for the eucharist will commune. The brevity of the new formulas is both theological and practical.

      I am wary of any blessings at communion, either clerical or lay, simply because blessings at this point of the liturgy arose during a time when lay communication was infrequent (i.e. the priestly indulgentiam and blessing before ‘public communion’ in the Tridentine liturgy before 1961). The reintroduction of blessings during communion hearkens back to a time when the laity were discouraged from frequent communion. This sentiment is not in keeping with current liturgical theology.

  20. It seems to me that the formula of blessing used by lay ministers should be

    1) Standard, so that the minister never has to improvise or make it up as she goes along; varying blessings can be clumsy in a long communion queue

    2) Short so that it can be done quickly and without calling undue attention to the recipient or the minister

    3) Suitable to the laity so that those with particular liturgical sensibilities are less likely to be offended.

    This is why I especially like Rita’s last example, “May the Holy Spirit grant you spiritual communion with all who partake of this holy meal.”

    Or, shorter,

    “The blessing of Christ be with you.”

    Or even shorter,

    “May God bless you.”

    I don’t see why a hand can’t be raised in blessing, without making the sign of the Cross or touching the recipient.

  21. A former vicar at our parish offered as how that those who wish to process but cannot communicate need only offer the profound bow as the host is held before their presence, and in that “exchange” a reverence is extended and a blessing is implicitly imparted. No touching, no extraneous words, but effective in a true sense. Made sense to me. Feel free to poke holes in that, I wasn’t the author of that instruction.

  22. I usually to give a blessing that ties in with the gospel: e.g. May the Good Shepherd Bless and Protect You; May the Risen Lord be with you always; May God feed you on the living Bread, etc.

  23. Data: Local Orthodox Church

    After a person communicates during Divine Liturgy, they walk to the side of the front pew where there are two “servers” dressed in ordinary clothes like our communion ministers (they are usually women). One bears a large bowl of bread chunks (which will later be given out after the liturgy to take home). The other bears a brass tray with small thimble size plastic cups of grape juice.

    Orthodox who do not communicate (usually only a small number) and non-Orthodox can go up, bypass the communion station at the center, and receive the blessed bread and grape juice. I don’t do this because of my walking stick.

    The sub-deacon’s wife usually picks up an extra piece of bread and a grape juice and brings it back to me on her way back to her pew. Other people often bring bread back to those who don’t go to communion. So sometimes I get several chunks of bread.

    I certainly don’t feel left out of the meal or the hospitality of the community because I do not communicate even though most people will be receiving communion. In fact I feel very well treated and very much a part of their community in my own special way. They know I come for the liturgical celebrations (divine office, feasts) that are not available in our church.

    Note the communal nature of the communion procession, the communicant meets three ministers for reception of the sacrament, two servers for reception of the bread and grape juice, and often takes bread (and maybe grape juice) to others in the pews.

    Elderly who do not wish to walk up for communion sit at the center aisle end of the pew. The ministers come and give each communion, followed by one server with a small brass tray with a few chunks of bread and a few grape juice thimbles.

    Like service in an elegant restaurant.

    I doubt if there is any legislation against giving out blessed bread; in our tradition it will clearly not be the Eucharist. I would skip the thimbles. Perhaps spinkle some grape juice over the bread. The bread into which has been poured some wine and oil at the end of Vespers on great feasts is really delicious.

    One gets to be part of the procession, and to participate in a symbol far more closely related to the Eucharist than other blessings.

    1. @Jack Rakosky – comment #33:
      Jack

      Does your local church have restrictions on those who may receive the antidoron? My understanding has been that, at least as a notional matter, it’s not supposed to be received by people who are not baptized (or whose baptism is not recognized by the Orthodox church) nor by people under severe penance. (I learned this because I got disabused by someone of the idea that it was kinda a come-one, come-all option….)

      1. @Karl Liam Saur – comment #34:
        Karl,

        I don’t know.

        This OCA parish has a Sunday attendance that is about 100 adults (I know that from their internet bulletin; I don’t go there on Sunday). Like many small OCA parishes they instantly recognize and welcome anyone new. Most OCA parishes and priests are now 50% or more non cradle Orthodox, about even divided between Catholic and Protestant converts. Most of the services that I attend are not those in which there are likely to be any unrecognized persons. Unrecognized persons are almost always greeted and quickly become recognized persons.

        I would not be surprised that what you say is in the rule books. But, of course the Orthodox liturgy, e.g. the fasting rules, are pretty much an adaptation of the monastic liturgy which is an ideal to be strived for by laity rather than enforced rigidly.

        I have not attempted to conform to their liturgical practices: I don’t salute the icon of the day when I come to church; I just bow rather than making the sign of the cross in the customary places. And to this post’s subject I don’t go up at the end to kiss the priest’s cross and receive his personal blessing. (It a beautiful monastic custom, but the priest isn’t my spiritual father).

        While the official rule is that Catholics can’t communicate some Orthodox priests communicate some Catholics whom they know well. Again its more about a spiritual relationship than about rules.

        Of course some ultra Orthodox, e.g. some of the monasteries on Athos, don’t recognize our baptism and don’t allow Catholics beyond the narthex. Perhaps that is origin of the rule about antidoron, namely the nonbaptized and penitents were not supposed to be there anyway.

  24. While I can see a lot that we can learn from in the comment of Jack Rakosky, also feel this is a non-question. Here in Japan, in most Churches, all are invited to come forward. The usual notice about only those who are baptized in the Catholic faith is also made. Welcome all, pray for all, bless all. In the area I live and work in we have a substantial migrant worker population, and among those who settle and start families they tend to have more children than the average Japanese, all of whom come up for a blessing at Communion time if they haven’t made First Communion. Also we have students from all over the world on exchange programs, graduate programs etc. – as a result I have blessed a few Muslims over the years.
    Depending on the time and numbers factor a silent blessing might be best, other wise variations on Rita Ferrone’s suggestion seem suitable whether the minister is ordained or not. Well trained EM’s probably have as good pastoral sense as many priests or deacons. A single rule for an appropriate gesture possibly hard to come by, the odd mistake, learning by experience gives one an idea as to what is possible according to cultural back ground of person in front of you. The only gesture I’d be wary of is blessing with the Host – showing the Host to someone, blessing them with it and then distributing it to the person next to them or next in line can only lead to misunderstanding and confusion.

  25. Can’t let pass Alan’s swipe against holding hands during Lord’s prayer. This gesture emerged in parishes across the country early on after the new missal was introduced. Catholics had been used to a notorious individualism in the old Mass. Some prayed the rosary, some prayed from missals, others nodded off, etc., but they did not pray OUR Father. As people internalized the communal focus of the NO, joining hands at the Lord’s prayer just made sense as an expression of the unity of the worshipping assembly. The only arguments I’ve ever heard against it are “it’s not permitted” or it’s not reverent enough. Despite the efforts of the younger “orthodox” priests it’s still being done in this diocese. It’s a local custom that ought to be respected.
    One final word on the blessing. It needs to be short when the procession is lengthy.

    1. @Jack Feehily – comment #37:
      Fr. Feelily, my comment was on priests manipulating people into holding hands by asking them to do so. If it happens naturally and in family or friend groupings whose business is that? I say more power to them. But when asked to do so by the priest, naturally it will become a custom. When I came to my parish 9 years ago, the parish had been told to hold hands at the Our Father. Several people came to me saying they did not like the custom and felt it an invasion of their personal space to have to hold hands with people they didn’t know, especially their small children. I simply put a note in the bulletin, but never said anything verbally about it, that people should respect the “personal space of others” who do not like holding hands. “If you intend to hold hands, please consider doing so with members of your family only.” I had a number of people thank me for simply writing that in the bulletin and only once. In my parish today some people hold hands with their family and friends, the majority don’t.
      I think the same holds true for blessings at Communion time. When I came to this parish, the pastor had instructed Protestants and others at our funerals and weddings, as well as our two Catholic Schools who have Mass here to come forward for a blessing at Communion time and to signify they are not Catholic by crossing their arms over their chest. Well, he created the invitation and expectation that this occur. What I say now at our weddings and funerals is: “We can only invited those practicing Catholics who are properly prepared to receive Holy Communion to do so. We invite all others to make a “spiritual communion” and to pray for the common good of all.” Usually, only the Catholics come forward, but no one is denied a blessing who indicates the desire for one if they come forward.
      As for the community dimension of Mass, its most profound aspect is the fact that we gather as a community, to pray privately and communally together, hear the word together, and participate interiorly and exteriorly together and are dismissed communally to “Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by our lives.” Every Mass is communal even if a private Mass or a Mass that is “touchless.” Sitting, standing and kneeling in a full pew is probably the most intimate community most people have all week long.

  26. Jack, I agree. In searching for reverence and the transcendent, some have started to disparage the community dimension of worship. You can see this in a preference for multiple ‘private Masses’ over a concelebrated liturgy, in critiques of holding hands at the Our Father, in a tendency to skip or rush through the exchange of the Peace.

    I think Herbert McCabe got it exactly right – here is a brief excerpt from God, Christ and Us:

    In one way … you could say that as knives are for cutting and pens are for writing, people are for living with each other … the Greek philosophers said that man is the political animal, one who lives in a polis … in the special kind of community that we call friendship, the special sharing of life with each other …

    In another way we can say that the aim and purpose of human life is to come to God, who made us for himself, so that our hearts do not rest until they rest in him. All other goods are satisfying, but never completely satisfying …

    What makes the Christian Gospel unique is that it proclaims that these two apparently quite different ways of talking are, in the end, saying the same thing… what we are seeking in our community with one another is, at its greatest depth, community with God.

    And here is CS Lewis, from a sermon called ‘The Weight of Glory’

    Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbour is the holiest object presented to your senses. If he is your Christian neighbour he is holy in almost the same way, for in him also Christ vere latitat—the glorifier and the glorified, Glory Himself, is truly hidden.

    1. @Jonathan Day – comment #38:

      It is sometimes said that people from New England and New York are “cold” or distant emotionally compared to people from other parts of the country. A distant cousin (an “uncle”) married a woman from California. She spent almost all her married life in the northeast. She marveled, even after decades of living here, at how we would often not introduce ourselves by name until after the first meeting (and perhaps even the second). Also, she lamented at how it might take years before neighbors would become chatty.

      Certainly these are very broad stereotypes. Even so, no less than Christ commanded us that love of neighbor is the foundation of the eucharist. Herbert McCabe and CS Lewis certainly elaborate on the amity which not only is the summary of the law but also the foundation of the eucharistic sacrifice. Yet, if Christians are to embrace inculturation rather than merely speculate on its significance, ingrained cultural practices must be respected first. If certain congregations do not want to exchange the Peace or hold hands at the Our Father, let them act according to their custom and mores. A desire to not show these signs is not necessarily an intentional desire to ignore or malign others. Perhaps this reluctance reflects ingrained notions that worship and socialization are two separate spheres. Forced signs of friendship where they are considered out-of-place might in fact contribute to greater mistrust, as persons might find it awkward to later talk to a person to whom they have been compelled to show a superficial sign of friendship during Mass.

      I have long thought that a number who attend the EF might do so simply because the greater autonomy of worship reflects their temperament. Attempts to overly socialize the OF might indeed push these persons farther away from the normative Roman rite.

  27. I’m wondering if anyone else has trouble with the actual gesture people are generally instructed to use when not communicating? I don’t know where this came from, but what I’ve seen is that people have typically been instructed to come forward with arms crossed over their breast. The trouble that I have with this is that it is the standard posture for receiving communion in most of the Eastern Churches. This seems to have two unfortunate consequences. First, it ritualizes a gesture which has one meaning in one part of the Church to have literally the opposite meaning in the other part of the Church. Second, and more practically, when Eastern Christians are present for a Western liturgy they are often a little nervous about Communion just as we tend to be at theirs. They’ll often approach with their hands folded over their breast. I’ve had any number of occasions, both at major events here in the States (conferences, Chrism Masses, etc.), as well as just regular Masses in Rome where people come forward to receive with their arms folded, I presume they are not receiving and offer a blessing, and they give me a funny look and ask for communion anyhow.

    Thoughts anyone?

    1. @Fr. Dominic McManus, OP – comment #41:
      Fr. Dominic, excellent point, I believe the crossing of the arms over one’s chest is a sign of reverence for many Vietnamese Catholics as well. And yes, unless one knows this when distributing Holy Communion, it could be awkward and hurtful to the person expecting to receive to have only a blessing. In Augusta, we have a small Eastern Rite parish many of whom attend the Roman Rite Mass often and yes, they cross their arms over the chest as you indicate when approaching Holy Communion.

  28. First of all, I bet I am like many people, I’m usually a little thrown off everytime comes up and asks for a blessing, so even after many years, I still feel like I need to think on my feet and I mutter something, which usually comes out sounding something like the Aaronic blessing (“May the Lord bless and keep you.”) The only addition/change I’ll make is if it’s someone I personally know who’s perhaps age 5 or 6 or 7 and who is preparing for actively for First Communion, or will be, eventually joining us at the Lord’s Table in a year or two. Then I’ll add something like “….until the day of your First Holy Communion.” (Same as in those rare cases for RCIA folks who aren’t being dismissed, such as at a weekday Mass.)

    Leading to….
    In other words, there’s a difference between (1) young kids–so this is often a friendly way to welcome parents who feel so unwelcomed at times at our churches; and (2) adults.

    Regarding adults, again, I’d note they fall into 2 main categories: (2a) people passing through, and I’m welcoming and friendly and want them to have a good experience of a friendly Catholic Church, and (2b) people I’ll keep my eye on, who are there week after week, and the pastor or I find the right polite pastoral time and situation to ask “so, NAME, have you ever considered joining the Catholic church?” And let’s face it, for 2b, so many people are just waiting for the invitation: non-Catholic spouses of Catholics, seekers, etc. And soon you don’t have to worry about what to say to them, because soon they’ll be receiving communion! (I can imagine a 2c, adult Catholics who are coming up for a blessing, instead of Communion, but I’m sure they exist but they are very rare. They either stay in their pew, or just receive Communion.)

  29. Alan (I always address my brother priests with their given name), people should indeed be free to respect another’s “space” when gathered for worship, but they are, after all, related to each other by both Flesh and Blood. When I am presiding in my parish, I extend my hands to the deacon on my right and the server on my left just as I do when gathered around other festive tables on Thanksgiving or Christmas. It’s a gesture that says, in effect, while I am standing here in the person of Jesus Christ it is not something that I wish to boast about, rather I am also your brother. The Lord’s Prayer is akin to a blessing before the meal in which we shall partake of the Lord’s body and blood (give us this day our daily bread). I don’t know what you meant by people gathering for private and communal prayer, but this moment in the Mass certainly lends itself a visible expression of what it means for God to be OUR Father. The rubrics in no way preclude this custom. My hands are “extended” when joined with those next to me.

  30. We Lutherans, even the Evangelical Catholics, do not have a long history of non-communing worshippers coming forward for a blessing. Truth be told, we usually follow what you, as our elder brothers and sisters, do only 5-10 years later. As our parishes are much smaller, time is rarely a constraining issue when communing those presenting themselves, I encourage children to come forward with their family or with those who bring them to Mass. As the Pastor of the parish, I administer the ciborium, with lay folks the Chalice and pouring Chalice for those who insist on those dastardly implements. I bless each child that I know is baptized with “The grace of your Baptism bless and keep you” while tracing the cross on their forehead (their coming forward implies permission to touch). For those who are baptized but not communing (whether children or adults, such as Roman Catholics present) I use the same blessing. For those whose baptismal status is known or uncertain as negative I bless “The grace of our Lord Jesus keep you in His loving arms”.

    As a good liturgical Lutheran, I pore over these blogs to stay current on what I should be doing at Mass and appreciate your openess in sharing.

  31. This practice cropped up in my diocese because John Paul 2 blessed children at a Mass – or multiple Masses (World Youth Day?) When asked, the priests say “If the pope does it, why shouldn’t we?” Pretty flawed argument!

    Right from the get-go, I was turned off by the touching of the kid’s head or forehead. This is especially true with real young kids. I don’t wish to receive a host after the minister laid hands on the head of a kiddie who just sneezed and wiped their hands all over their face.

    All I do, on the rare occasions I EMHC, is to bow slightly and say “May God bless you.” It’s what I encourage our ministers to do right now, until some word comes down from on high. Some ministers, when originally instructed by the pastor who just loves this concept and the laying of hands, came to me and said that they simply aren’t called to make that gesture. I was impressed and said that they need not.

    I hope that while considering the issue, whoever is in charge will come up with something better than “It’s not in the rite.” Look at the theological issues. If it turns out to be a harmless, or even positive addition, then I’ll go along with it. If there are harmful issues, bad theology, then educate the people and we’ll stop. Personally, I never felt left out or shunned by not going up in procession before my 1st Communion, nor do I feel uncomfortable if I do not receive on occasion now.

  32. @Paul Inwood #6 – I agree with 99% of what you say! However, don’t we in fact bless God? “Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation for through…” “Blessed be God for ever.” “We praise you, we bless you, we glorify you…”

  33. Fr. Allan J. McDonald : @Fr. Dominic McManus, OP – comment #41: Fr. Dominic, excellent point, I believe the crossing of the arms over one’s chest is a sign of reverence for many Vietnamese Catholics as well. And yes, unless one knows this when distributing Holy Communion, it could be awkward and hurtful to the person expecting to receive to have only a blessing. In Augusta, we have a small Eastern Rite parish many of whom attend the Roman Rite Mass often and yes, they cross their arms over the chest as you indicate when approaching Holy Communion.

    You’re so right! Eucharistic ministers (both extraordinary and not) are always surprised to learn that. Wish we could come up with another gesture, yet it’s difficult to change a symbolic gesture once it’s gotten traction. Any ideas, anyone?

  34. Hmm… I’m a bit baffled by the hygienic reticence of touching someone’s forehead. I’m much more squeamish about getting saliva on my fingers when communicants don’t give me a good “target” when receiving the Host on the tongue (and in re the common cup — let’s not go there…)

    In the parish where I work the most, I would say that 95+% of the folks in the communion procession who present themselves for a blessing are young children. My practice is to touch them on the shoulder (or on their upper back, if they’re in a parent’s arms), and say, “May the Lord bless and keep you all the days of your life.” If the child is shy or anxious, I merely say the words. It appears to me from the way the parents (and others in the procession) react, that they find the gesture inclusive and welcoming, and arguments about “the Communion procession is not an occasion for blessing” would be taken as a fine liturgical distinction trumping an occasion for hospitality.

  35. The act of approaching the altar with arms crossed is in itself an act of consent; requesting a blessing that will usually involve the touching of the forehead.
    As a lay minister, I take the Host between my thumb and forefinger and then with the back of my hand with other fingers extended so that the Host does not come into contact with hair (no contamination) , I rest my hand upon the forehead or on top of the head and say “May God always be with you in your heart and your mind”.
    That same host is then offered to the parent.

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