Blessing Non-Communicants during Holy Communion

I am seeking information on the now widespread custom in U.S. Catholic parishes whereby people (adults and children) unable to receive the sacrament of Christ’s body and blood request and receive, instead, a blessing from the minister of holy communion. Here are my questions:

  1. Does anyone live in a diocese that has issued guidelines in this matter? I am well aware of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishop’s “Guidelines for Reception of Holy Communion” (1996), which “encourage” those not receiving Holy Communion “to express in their hearts prayerful desire for unity with the Lord Jesus and with one another.” There’s nothing about people coming forward for a blessing. Have officials in your diocese issued any directives regarding the custom?
  2. Would anybody be able to report on whether training for extraordinary ministers of holy communion in one’s parish (or even diocesan level) includes instruction on how to respond to people who present themselves for a blessing (widespread custom has become the person’s placing hands, arms crossed, on one’s chest)?
  3. Are there any parishes that include any instructions concerning the custom in their weekly bulletin or any other worship aid? (I’m well aware that the various missal and missalette publishers in the USA include the USCCB’s 1996 Guidelines for Reception of Holy Communion in their front- or back-matter.)
  4. Do you have any other information or wish to comment on this practice that, to my experience, reaches back at least to the early 1990s?
  5. Has anyone noted or wish to comment on the nomenclature in this matter? Myself, I am not satisfied with the term “non-Catholic” to describe fellow Christians? I’m well aware of the distinction the Vatican has made between the churches and Christian communions or other ecclesial bodies. But would anybody have examples of how their parish (or similar pastoral scene) refers to such fellow Christians. It seems to me that wordiness often becomes a challenge in practice, such that “non-Catholic Christians” becomes the default appellation. No polemics are intended on my part, just curiosity for information.

I’d be grateful for the input. I am currently working on an article I’ve been invited to write for a liturgical journal with a mostly Protestant readership. The editor has asked me to address the state-of-the-question on non-Catholic Christians’ participation in Catholic Mass (terminology used in her request to me). In addition to my rehearsing the official material (Code of Canon Law, the above-mentioned USCCB guidelines, etc., plus I’ve read Jeffrey VanderWilt’s Communion with Non-Catholic Christians, along with some of the sources he cites), I want to be able to give some fair description of the practice(s) people are encountering. My thanks to helpful respondents, in advance.

52 comments

  1. 1) My diocese has particular law:
    5.6 Although it has been a common pastoral practice in the Diocese of Raleigh for Ministers of Communion to impart a blessing to those who come forward with hands crossed in the communion procession and who are not receiving Holy Communion, Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion are commissioned only to distribute the Body and Blood of Christ to the faithful. The Extraordinary Minister may offer a brief prayer for those in the Assembly who come forward in the communion procession and who are not receiving Holy Communion, such as “May God bless you” or “May God continue the good work in
    you.” This prayer is to be offered audibly and may not be accompanied by the gesture associated with a blessing, e.g., the raising of the hand or the sign of the cross.
    http://dioceseofraleigh.org/sites/default/files/files/Norms-ExtraordinaryMinistersHolyCommunion2012ENGLISH.pdf

    2) We train our EMHCs at the parish according to this diocesan norm, but old habits are hard to eradicate even in the most well-meaning vets who began before the promulgation of that norm, and there are even some who simply refuse to comply.

    4) This is one of those practices where even the most convinced opponents usually don’t see a pastoral way to get rid of it once it has taken root. Once an expectation of a blessing in the Communion line has been created, the failure to receive one can often be received as an insulting, exclusionary snub. Recognizing this, I think lots of folks with reservations might try to adjust so as to improve practices as they find them, but very few would try to eliminate these blessings completely.

    Also, Communion-line blessings (for children, at least) can cross ideological frontiers, since I went to Mass with a one-time provincial of a traditionalist society who blessed each non-receiving child (with words and sign of the cross) at the rail.

    1. The extraordinary minister at my church makes the sign of the cross on the foreheads of those in her line for a blessing during communion. Am I correct when saying she’s not to do this?

  2. I appreciate your questions because I have been wondering about some of the same things. To answer #2, At the parish I attended in the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, they did not like the idea of a non-ordained person giving a “blessing” so when a person presented themselves with their arms crossed indicating they did not want to receive, we had to say, “May you receive Christ spiritually.”

  3. Please refrain from sneezing in the communion line, because if the lay EMHC says “God bless you,” all hell will break loose. However, if you are in the proper line, you may sneeze with faith.

  4. Here is the text we use in worship aids for weddings and funerals:
    “As a sign of the unity of all Christians, those who are not in full communion with the Catholic Church are invited to come forward in the procession for a blessing, rather than receiving Communion. Simply cross your arms over your chest so that the minister knows to bestow a blessing.”
    Both priests also verbally invite people to come forward for a blessing on these occasions.

  5. I’ll defer to the Roman Catholic scholars on this, and can’t find the source where I once saw this, but I believe the CDW also applied the “no blessing” rule to the divorced and remarried who come forward with arms crossed.

  6. I can speak as an EMoHC. In my parish in the Arlington diocese, the practice of coming up for a blessing is firmly established. The pastor reiterates it at times where there are likely to be a number of visitors or those of other religions (funerals, weddings). We EMoHCs have been trained that we cannot bless them as a priest does nor can we pretend do, but similar to what’s been described above we are encouraged to say something like “May God bless you.”

  7. At one point on the Catholic Answers forum (I think), someone posted a redacted letter from Francis Cardinal Arinze about this issue. I do not have a link handy, as this was at least a year ago, but you could probably search for this and find the link / post.

    One of the more interesting points that Cardinal Arinze made in this letter was that everyone receives a blessing by the priest at the end of Mass (assuming they stick around for it). This being the case, there is no reason for people to come forward for a specific blessing during Holy Communion, as (a) everyone receives this blessing anyway and (b) the Communion procession is specifically that–a procession for those who will receive the Sacred Body and Blood. I’m not sure that this would help to get the “come forward for a blessing” situation “un-caught” when it has already caught on, but it seems like a good starting point for a discussion of what’s proscribed, what’s possible and what’s pastoral.

    Our parish uses the “May God bless you” formula similar to what Aaron mentioned (#1). Many years ago, however, some people were instructed to make the Sign of the Cross on a person’s forehead while saying this formula, so we’ve had to address that previous procedure with a few ministers.

  8. I worked for 20 years as the Director of Pastoral Care at St. Mark’s High School in Wilmington, Delaware. When I arrived in 1989, school masses for the entire community were held in the gym to accommodate 1600 teens and another 200 adults. The custom was for an announcement to be made at the beginning of the mass, “All non-Catholics, you are to remain in place during the distribution of holy communion. Only Catholic students are to come forward and receive.”
    We put an end to that immediately. First, I posted my motto, “Language Creates Reality,” and I taught the faculty that we will not refer to “non-Catholic” students. Instead, we would refer to “students of other denominations” or “differing denominations.” We also implemented a workshop for new students in which I would talk through the mass and explain to them what it is we Catholics do. I taught them about the sign of the cross, why it is done, what it means.
    For communion, we now taught that ALL students would come forward. If, because of denomination or some other reason were not receiving holy communion, they were asked to cross their arms on their chest and the ministers of communion would offer a prayer of blessing for them. Our focus was: a) we do not separate (segregate) based on religious affiliation, and b) at a Catholic mass everyone participates, everyone comes processes forward, everyone receives (some receive communion, some receive a blessing).
    With about 23 % of our population (students and adults) members of a different faith tradition, our sensitivity and willingness to engage a hospitality that was previously absent, made a huge difference in terms of school unity and a greater involvement in our spirituality programs.
    In the early 2000’s, our previous Bishop (Michael Saltarelli) was asked by a senior girl why students were not allowed to be ministers of holy communion. I explained that the diocese required that such ministers needed to be at least 25 years of age. The Bishop said, “Then we will change that.”
    And so he did, allowing for students age 16 or older to apply for the ministry. They needed to apply for the ministry. They then needed to be approved by their teachers, their parents, and myself. They were required to take the formation classes offered by the diocese. Once finished their training, they would be formally installed at a school liturgy.
    The Bishop also gave permission for the students to exercise the ministry in their home parish. Unfortunately, we experienced a number of pastors who refused to allow teenagers to serve in “their” parish.
    A wonderful image remains with me. It was the first time I saw teen minister, with great dignity and reverence, offering holy communion to a teacher.
    The adage holds true: “Young people are not the church of tomorrow. They are the young church of today.”

  9. I have long thought that the clergy (i.e. major orders only, not acolyte-subdeacons, not the laity) might pronounce with the blessing gesture, Jesus Christus custodiat + animam tuam in vitam aeternam (or a translation we can spend years arguing about) over those who indicate that they would prefer a blessing. I am not sure if it is canonically permissible to give a blessing if it is not clear whether or not a person is baptized. In that case, the blessing would be omitted.

    This prayer-blessing is an adaptation of the time-honored communion blessing of the Roman rite, Corpus [Sanguis] Domini nostri Jesu Christi custodiat + animam tuam in vitam aeternam. This blessing is not only beautiful but very powerful, as the communicant is blessed with the Host. Perhaps in the Ordinary Form, a deacon could pronounce this prayer-blessing while blessing the communicant with the chalice.

    Not surprisingly, I would rather the old blessing replace the somewhat insipid (and blessing-less) Corpus [Sanguis] Christi. I understand that the latter formula was likely introduced to speed up communion lines and permit more communicants to receive at a given Mass. Also, a layperson can say “Body [Blood] of Christ”, as this is just a statement. I do not wish to get involved with the politics of the introduction and implementation of EMHCs, so Corpus Christi it is 🙁

  10. I neglected to mention the following. At a convenient time before the communion (perhaps after the homily), the preacher should remind the congregation that members of the clergy (and not a layperson) will give blessings to non-communicants. The preacher should also remind non-communicants to find and stand in a line which ends with a clergyman.

    In this way, a fitting and spiritually efficacious blessing such as Jesus Christus custodiat … as I have proposed, will be imparted to non-communicants. Any blessing of the clergy is infinitely more efficacious compared to “God bless you” or similar statement from a layperson.

  11. Many thanks to everyone who has responded thus far. I’m thoroughly enjoying your comments and learning much from them.

    I do have at least one further question at this point: When the extraordinary ministers pronounce their words to the person who has hands across their chests, do they place a hand on the person’s shoulder or touch them in some other way? I’m assuming some sort of gesture is involved, but would be grateful for any specifics. (And I have, indeed, noted the comments mentioning prohibitions in some places against lay ministers making the sign of the cross or raising a hand in blessing over the person.)

    At the cathedral where I preach and preside most weekends, I notice the lay ministers (as well as one of our deacons) placing his/her free hand on the person’s shoulder while saying an encouraging word about the love of Christ or union with Christ or such.

    Again, my gratitude for these helpful, informative comments, as well as any more to come!

  12. From the outfield. I have to hand a pamphlet from Westminster Cathedral (London, UK), that contains the Order Of Mass for Sung Masses – hymns, responses etc in English and Latin. On page 7 it states, “Those who are no Roman Catholic, or do not wish to receive Holy Communion, are welcome to come forward for a blessing. Crossing your arms across your chest will indicate to the priest that you wish to receive a blessing.” At the Mass I attened lay Eucharistic Ministers far outnumbered priests, but sadly I was unable to observes how they responded when faced with someone seeking a blessing.
    Here in Japan there seems to be a division among the Bishops as to wether lay ministers should use a gesture, outstretched hand, with no contact, or simply repeat a formula asking that God bless the individual – they don’t use the traditional Trinitarian blessing formula.

  13. View from the pew:
    Regarding: “…now widespread custom in U.S. Catholic parishes whereby people (adults and children) unable to receive the sacrament of Christ’s body and blood request and receive, instead, a blessing from the minister of holy communion. ”
    – People who are not receiving the Eucharist of consecrated bread and wine come forward in the communion line to receive a blessing for various reasons: spiritual communion, the family wants to be together, catechetical preparation, and so forth.
    – In as much as any Christian (and for that matter any person of good will) may bless, the laic or cleric minister blesses the person. The blessing often includes the minister signing the cross on the forehead.

  14. Re # 12. In our EMoHC training, that was not specified. It was made clear that we do not imitate or simulate that priest making a cross with his hands, but I don’t recall specification beyond that. I generally don’t do anything with my hands and say with eye contact “May God bless you.” Most other EMoHCs seem to do the same here. I do believe I’ve seen some touch the person on occasion, but it doesn’t seem to be the norm.

    To me there seem to be two general types of people coming up for blessings. One is the little kids in the families that have not yet received their first communion and are just coming up with the family. They sometimes turn away before you can even say anything. Then there are the rest who are coming up for a blessing for whatever reason that appear to be past the age of first communion. They typically wait for some type of acknowledgement.

    For perspective, at our parish for most weekend masses we need 5 people distributing communion (2 for the center aisle, 1 for each wing and 1 for the choir loft). Depending upon whether there are 2 or 3 priests present, we typically use 2 or 3 EMoHCs. We do not distribute the blood.

  15. I have been an EMHC in 4 dioceses in VA, FL, NJ and PA over the past 20+ years. I was never given instruction in giving such a blessing either in parish or diocean trainings. In every parish priests have given such blessings–but never EMHCs. My understanding always has been that clergy give blessings such as this but not laity. I may bless my child when I send him off to school, but liturgical blessings are reserved for those that are ordained.

  16. I once worked in a diocese in which these blessings were done, but in which the diocesan liturgy committee tried to discourage presiders from making an *announcement* about it right before the invitation to communion.

    I was always under the impression that it was an act of fencing the table, disguised as a gesture of hospitality. The real intent was to ensure that they didn’t actually receive communion. It wasn’t just “non-Catholics” either, but those not in a “state of grace” for whatever reason, and maybe kids too young to receive, too. They were all lumped in together.

  17. In my area, the practice seemed to become much less common once Communion ministers became sensitized to keeping their hands sanitized during the distribution of Holy Communion.

  18. Following up on comments no. 2 &12, the Norms for Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion in the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend can be found here: http://www.diocesefwsb.org/Data/Resources/344ab45a1befdc0704c9b4e11c9e6703-EMHC-Norms-FW-SB.pdf . The issue of Blessing During the Distribution of Holy Communion is addressed in nos. 40-45. No. 42 insists on NO TOUCHING “both because of hygiene concerns and also because of the real possibility that small particles of the Eucharist may be transferred from one’s
    hand.”

  19. Two references:
    1. John Paul II, encyclical “Ut Unum Sint,” no. 72, where he mentions that he blessed a non-communicant on a special occasion at a Vatican liturgy.
    2. Bishop Daniel Jenky, CSC (Peoria), Pastoral Letter on the Liturgy, Nov 30, 2003, where the bishop allows the practice but says that Extraordinary ministers should not give a priestly blessing, but offer a short prayer, e.g., “May God keep you now and for ever.”

  20. A custom that provides for inclusion of all worshippers has an effect of diminishing the number of other Christians who reach for Communion supposing that is our practice. That’s a good thing, no?
    There are many kinds of “blessings” not all of which require the sign of the cross. The word bless after all means to give thanks to God. Among those blessings is a simple gesture of hospitality and/or a simple statement that may be given during communion. For small children, I simply place my hand lightly on their heads. For taller children and adults, I gently touch them on the shoulder, smile, and say “God bless your day”. CM’s are instructed to do likewise. It’s simply a loving thing to do. All the rest of the talk about CDW or Diocesan regulations, I leave to the more pharasaical among us. I know of one “very Catholic” pastor who discontinued the practice after giving a long catechesis expressing some of his favorite opinions.
    May God save and bless us all!

  21. Random thoughts:

    Everyone present is given a blessing at the end of mass.
    The practice of individual blessings during the distribution of communion is not part of the communion rite ( for the ordained or lay ministers )

    Perhaps those who will not be sharing in communion but wish to be part of the procession might simply bow and show reverence?

  22. re #23

    Anne, everyone who comes up to receive is supposed to bow and show reverence, so what you suggest would merely create confusion.

    What no one has mentioned is that the default posture suggested for those only seeking a blessing, arms crossed, is exactly the posture of Eastern Christians who DO want to receive. I wonder what their pastors tell them to do, should they be stuck in a situation of needing to attend a Latin rite liturgy, so they are not refused Holy Communion by a minister (ordinary or extraordinary) who has been inadvertently trained, as it were, not to correctly understand their body language.

    This situation, admittedly, is probably rare in most places, but in any area with Eastern Rite Catholic parishes, at least, it ought to be on the radar screen as a possible issue.

  23. Recently, I’ve been regarding that blessing as a sign of “spiritual communion” for one who cannot receive sacramentally.

  24. Katherine, #24
    My thought was that arms would be crossed ( I should have stated that) along with a bow as a sign of reverence. No doubt some folks are confused when witnessing those blessings.

  25. re: #23
    Thank you. It’s not just Eastern Christians, but many Latin Catholics from Eastern Europe. When I was pastor of St. Louis parish, one of my parishioners-a Latin Catholic of Eastern European descent-attended Holy Mass at St. Louis Cathedral in New Orleans. He went up to receive Holy Communion, as was his custom, with his arms crossed. The priest gave him a blessing. He said: “Father, I’m a Catholic and want to receive Holy Communion.” The priest said: “No you’re not…”
    If everybody would just “say the black and do the red”, everybody else’s life would sure be a whole lot easier.

  26. It’s not only Eastern European Catholics. I have many times seen people coming up to receive with their arms crossed over the breast but who also stick their tongue out.

    My diocese, along with other English dioceses, does indeed train ministers of Communion to give a blessing when a person does not receive. Although I understand those who say that persons who are not going to receive have no place in the Communion procession, there is by now a question of expectation as others have mentioned, not to mention a question of hospitality.

    I find a common question is whether ministers are in fact allowed to give a blessing. The answer is, of course, Yes. It is not the person who blesses but God who gives the blessing. We simply invoke God’s blessing. (A priest always says “May almighty God bless you”, not “I bless you”.) Having said that, we explain that making the sign of the cross is a gesture traditionally reserved to the ordained. We encourage the extending of a hand above the head of the person requesting a blessing, but not touching the shoulder and certainly not the head, for the hygiene and other reasons already mentioned by others in this thread. We also make it clear that the blessing is not to be given holding a host, which I have seen in some places.

    A common form of words is “May almighty God bless you and give you peace”, though I have come across a number of ministers who, by analogy with “The body of Christ” and “The blood of Christ”, say “The blessing of Christ”.

    Our diocesan policy is that anyone can be a minister of Communion if they are 15 or older, have been confirmed, and have received the relevant training. A recent rumour that our bishop had said that women were not to be ministers of Communion is fortunately untrue — in fact he very recently commissioned a number of women for service as ministers at the cathedral.

  27. Our instructions to recievers:
    Place your hand over your heart to signal you wish a blessing.
    We invite you to come forward in the Communmion procession to the Altar.

    To our Eucharistic ministers.
    There is no set formula for the words.
    Please do not assume Christian belief so do not use a Trinitarian formula. (I do acknowledge that being at Mass and walking in line with others there assumes some sense of the divine so one can use the word God in the blessing.)
    Don’t act surprised …pay attention to each person as they approach you.
    For some, this is a big sign of division so please bless with the greatest sense of hospitatlity.

    Some other early morning thoughts after reading posts…Please don’t use secret Latin Language for someone not of the faith. Use language they will understand. Also if I can bless my self, I can bless another person asking for a blessing. I don’t need anyone’s permission except the person asking for the blessing (or in the case of an infant, the child’s parent). That gesture is not reserved for a priest.

  28. The paranoia about lay people giving blessings — and I can’t call it anything but paranoia — is quite sad. Why touch is ruled out? Lay person. Why blessing gestures constrained? Mustn’t step on the turf of the ordained. The Book of Blessings is rife with the same anxiety. Don’t extend hands! KEEP YOUR HANDS DOWN.

    Yet “Sacramentals derive from the baptismal priesthood” says the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “every baptized person is called to be a blessing and to bless.” CCC 1669. Certain blessings are reserved to clergy. Some to priests alone, some that can also be conferred by deacons.

    But to someone whose arms are crossed on the Communion line — what *sort* of blessing is that? No one knows. So the default clerically fearful assumption is that a lay person may not give it, or if they give it, they must not touch, must not make a gesture — sort of a “half blessing” perhaps?

    Yet, consider this: It is not a blessing associated with the sacramental act. It is totally ancillary. It is blessing *the person* who comes forward — a person not sufficiently in communion with the Church to receive the sacrament. Tracing the sign of the cross is something sponsors and godparents do in our ritual, parents do for their children at any time, catechists do for catechumens. Why can’t lay communion ministers trace the cross on the forehead of the one who comes forward for a blessing? Or otherwise touch them? Why should this be such a taboo?

    1. @Rita Ferrone:

      Rita,

      While I am really in sympathy with much of what you say, the fact is that for some people, and in some cultures, being touched by a lay person they do not know can be offensive. There may also be safeguarding issues.

      (As a humorous sidenote: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uc80G6Yzu04)

      I would be the first to say that the Church’s ministry of touch is something that we need to recover, especially in the lacuna caused by an inadequacy of priests to anoint, but perhaps the distribution of Communion is not the place to do it.

      Of course, if the Church was able to admit all comers to Communion, this whole conversation would not even arise….

  29. I have three toughts.
    1. The gospel selection at Mass this morning, (Saturday, Setember 5) told of Jesus reacting to the Pharisees who questioned his discples eating from the grains of wheat as they walked through the field. I can only wonder about his reaction to clericalism that would not want others to give an invocative blessing.

    2. This discussions reminds me of a funeral Mass for a young mother. The church was standing room only. Before the distribution of Communion began, the young celebrant recited the entire page about receiving Communion as found in the missalettes. He had it memorized. For me, it was extremely embarrassing.

    3. A good friend attended a neighbor’s funeral in a Methodist church. Her daughter remarked:”Mom, this is just like a Catholic Mass.” At Communion time the celebrant, who happened to be a woman, said “You are all invited to receive Communion. This is not a Methodist table; this is Christ’s table.” As a Catholic priest who represents the Church, I must still say “I’m jealous.”

    Father Dave Riley

  30. Rita, one reason EMs may be reluctant to touch is because they have sanitized their hands with antibacterial gel… Another little added ritual.
    I find this practice troubling for various reasons but that’s for a whole other discussion.

  31. Although it doesn’t refer to EMHC and Blessings, this is the formula I have developed for pre-communion when many non-Catholics may be present: ” I regret that I cannot offer communion to those present who are not Catholic. If you are not Catholic and, therefore, cannot receive communion, please use this time to pray for the unity of the Church which is the will of Christ.”

  32. Rita, thanks for articulating so well what I was thinking as I read these comments. I just don’t understand the problem with lay ministers blessing others.

    Part of the beauty of our Catholic tradition is the tangible, sacramental nature of our faith. Many argue that people are blessed at the end of mass, and therefore don’t need an additional blessing during the Eucharist. I think part of the reason people seek a blessing during communion is because they seek the tangible words and touch. When our priest stopped blessing children (so as not to distract from the Eucharist) a few years ago, our 4 year old commented that it seemed like they didn’t want him there. Some would distort this into thinking that the world should revolve around the wishes of my previous little son. I saw it as a missed opportunity for drawing the children into a sacred moment.

    As a pediatrician, I just don’t get the concern about germs. The forehead and shoulders aren’t particularly germy parts of the body. The hands and mouth have far more germs than the forehead, so that seems a rather silly concern.

    I was under the impression that our banned even priests from blessing those not receiving the Eucharist, but our new priest, who is only a few years out of seminary, does provide these blessings.

    1. @Melissa Maykuth:

      Melissa,

      I think the problem is more with touching the hair, rather than the forehead or other areas.

      (Coincidentally, only yesterday I saw a priest touching the hair of a youngster with the back of his fingers and knuckles, while holding a host between index finger and thumb.)

  33. In our town of 4 parishes, there is one (with newer apparently conservative priests) that stopped such blessings. The other 3 still do bless, including of a paralyzed child about 6 who is wheel-chaired up to the communion point. To stop this would seem cruel. All the children appear to look forward to the blessing.

  34. Paul and Anne,

    Thanks for your responses. I get it about the germs and germ-phobia. Thank you, however, for acknowledging that we need to be more at home with touch generally, as a foundational element of our ritual heritage. My experience is that Africans and those of African descent are much more comfortable with touch than those of Northern European extraction, for many reasons no doubt. Jesus performing the epheththa as recounted in this Sunday’s gospel would have caused many of our white congregants to run screaming from the room.

    But if the *real* concern is about the transmission of germs (and I don’t doubt that looms large in the minds of some – thanks for the hilarious video, Paul), it would be just as fine with me for the EM to raise his or her hand while saying the blessing or to make the sign of the cross in the air above the non-communicant. But that’s where the big foot comes down especially hard as it’s a taboo for lay people to do anything of the sort.

    I observe priests touching people all the time in ritual, and on the communion line, when priests bless, if they do, they place a hand on the child’s head or the forehead of the adult. That’s what I see. Since lay people don’t have more germs than clergy (I hope), I have drawn the obvious conclusion that lay exclusion from precisely this practice forms a ritual taboo aimed at underlining the powers of the priest rather than that it is a health issue.

    Melissa, thanks for adding your perspective as a physician.

  35. A blessing and receiving Communion are not the same. When inviting “all” forward, this is what we are telling people. The Archdiocese of Chicago does have a policy of not permitting a “blessing” in the Communion line, everyone is blessed at the end of Mass. Lay people are not ordained and thus cannot give a blessing to another person. Just as when a layperson presides at LOH, they say, “May almighty God bless us…” not “you”. What should have been promoted at the parish level is to have the individual come forward with arms crossed and bow before the consecrated host being held up before them. We have many visitors at our parish so I inform EMHC during training to stand with the host in hand, this way they have no available hand to bless with. We also guard against the “dunkers”. Intinction is not permitted in the US. Only a priest can intinct. We do not self serve!

    1. @Stephen Palanca:
      Stephen,

      You say, flat out: “Lay people are not ordained and thus cannot give a blessing to another person.”

      You seem to think you have all the answers. Don’t be so sure of yourself. You have contradicted the Catechism:

      “Sacramentals derive from the baptismal priesthood” says the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “every baptized person is called to be a blessing and to bless.” CCC 1669.

      1. @Rita Ferrone:
        Rita..sorry if I came across militant. It was for brevities sake. The USCCB should take up this procedure for clarification as it varies from parish to parish/diocese to diocese. As in the past when the question came up of standing during the Eucharistic Prayer in the US.

  36. In the parish where I live the pastor is very warm and personable. His longstanding practice is to bless young children when they come forward in the Communion line. Most of the EMHCs also give a blessing or some variation thereof. For our five-year-old daughter this is a highlight of her week.

    When the pastor went on a sabbatical this summer, a young priest took most of the weekend Masses. His practice is to not give blessings to children in the Communion line, but to sternly stare straight ahead until the child goes away. And go away we did-we have not attended Mass at that church for three months now. I wanted to give him a piece of my mind, but my wife talked me out of it. When the pastor returns, we will also return.

    How many others will never return to that parish? Or will check out the new nondenominational church just up the street that has been so warmly welcoming people to their church?

  37. There is a difference between lay people being able to bless (which the Church affirms) and the appropriateness of such blessing occurring when the Church is gathered liturgically as a Body (which I am convinced the Church denies).

    1. @Aaron Sanders:
      So, you think the church “denies” that lay people can bless when the church is gathered liturgically in a body? Then you will have to account for the fact that the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults — a public rite of the church, yes, for when the church gathers liturgically — includes lay people giving blessings. You will also have to account for the fact that parents and godparents trace the sign of the cross on their children to be baptized, again, in a public liturgical gathering of the church. The book of blessings is a ritual book of the church (public, liturgical), and lay leadership of blessings is included there.

      Now, I am going to bow out, because I feel I’m encouraging a side conversation that does not advance Bruce’s main question. But I do find it interesting how much ignorance there is around this topic of blessings.

    2. @Aaron Sanders:
      I’m sorry, but you are you are mistaken in what your are “convinced the Church denies” concerning “such [lay people] blessing … when the Church is gather liturgically as a Body.” The example that readily comes to mind is the Rite of Baptism for Children, no. 79:

      “The celebrant continues:
      N., the Christian community welcome you with great joy. In its name I claim you for Christ our Savior by the sign of his cross. I now trace the cross on your forehead, and invite your parents (and godparents) to do the same.”

      1. Sorry, I shot for brevity and was far too imprecise. Laymen, in the absence of the ordained, can bless appropriately using liturgical rites in the BB, so that would obviously falsify my statement. But the principle behind my too general statement is that operative in BB 18 which indicates that it is more appropriate for the one in the highest grade of Orders to bless, even though someone else present may be capable of conferring the same blessing – a layman defers to deacon defers to priest defers to bishop. This better respects “the place and office within the people of God belonging to each person” (ibid.). It’s a matter of reflecting our complementary roles within the Body. I (a layman) am not the same organ as the cleric who has been set apart for the precise purpose of ruling, teaching, and sanctifying. Through my baptismal priesthood I share in all of those munera, but it is less-/inappropriate to exercise them while the full body is convened and another member is better suited to the task. Accordingly, while it did not desire to issue detailed instructions on Communion blessings at the time, the CDW did respond in 2008 (Prot. No. 930/08/L) that “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).” Is it definitive? Open to challenge, but enough to “convince” me that laymen shouldn’t bless when gathered as a Body *for Mass.*

        Baptism and RCIA show a way in which laymen might be *associated with* clerical blessing without standing as a replacement for it. In signing the catechumen/candidate the celebrant declares the significance of the act and is the first to make the sign of the cross, only then inviting the lay participants to do the same. They join in his blessing, to form one act, but they don’t bless in lieu of a cleric.

  38. I have often heard this canard, “lay people can’t give blessings at Mass.” We have seen the evidence to the contrary. Does anyone have evidence to support this statement? Does it come from somewhere concrete, or just from folk wisdom?

    And please don’t trot out the old, “No other person, not even a priest, may add, remove, or change anything in the liturgy.” I dare you to find a single priest who follows the ritual and rubrics perfectly without ever changing one word.

  39. Isn’t Communion a blessing? The issue of “lay deferring to deacon…” was already addressed by the commissioning of the extraordinary minister. They are to defer to clergy, but there is a place for them alongside clergy in the distribution of communion and the other responsibilities associated with that.

    That is how I’d approach the issue. Maybe it’s good no one lets me make decisions like that lol.

  40. Scott Pluff : I have often heard this canard, “lay people can’t give blessings at Mass.” We have seen the evidence to the contrary. Does anyone have evidence to support this statement? Does it come from somewhere concrete, or just from folk wisdom? And please don’t trot out the old, “No other person, not even a priest, may add, remove, or change anything in the liturgy.” I dare you to find a single priest who follows the ritual and rubrics perfectly without ever changing one word.

    I know at least five or six within three miles of where I sit right now.

    I have no problem with lay people blessing: in fact, the wording is usually that of a prayer for the person: “May God bless you…” which hardly seems like something that should be reserved to priests. We can all pray for each other.

    But individually blessing folks isn’t really part of the Mass apart from the unnumbered blessings our Lord gives in the Blessed Sacrament, right?

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