In an earlier post (Liturgical Face Masks, 5/24/20) I suggested that we might bless face masks, since we will be wearing them for some time — including in church — as the pandemic continues.
No one took me up on the suggestion, so I wrote one myself. I offer it here for you to use or adapt as you see fit. Or you might write one yourself. As churches re-open, I think the blessing of face masks would be a welcome gesture.
Father of Mercy,
You willed that all people should have life and have it abundantly.
You call us to care for one another, putting the needs of our neighbor on a par with our own.
Bless these face masks + which we wear during this time of pandemic.
May they protect us, and all those we encounter, from the threat of Covid-19.
May those who wear them never bring harm upon anyone, knowingly or unknowingly,
by spreading this terrible disease.
Holy Spirit, grant us a peaceful heart.
Teach us patience.
Help us turn to you in prayer when we are irritable or afraid,
or when the journey seems too long for us.
May all our efforts to guard and protect one another in charity
become a shining witness to the love of Jesus Christ,
for he is Lord forever and ever.
As an aside, I’d like to mention that although I didn’t discover any Catholic blessings for face masks on line, I did see examples of Jews and Buddhists who incorporate blessings into face mask use.
This one from Rabbi Michael Knopf is interesting. He argues that wearing a mask during a pandemic and other acts of responsible care for life are mitzvot and therefore should be accompanied by a blessing. Here is the one he composed.
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְ‑יָ אֱ‑לֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, אֲשֶׁר קִדְּשָׁנוּ בְּמִצְוֹתָיו וְצִוָּנוּ עַל שְּׁמִירַת הַנֶּפֶשׁ
Barukh atah Adonai, Eloheinu, melekh ha-olam, asher keed’shanu b’meetzvotav, v’tzeevanu al sh’meerat ha-nefesh.
“You are bountiful, Infinite our God, majesty of space and time, who has sanctified us with divine commandments and has commanded us about protecting life.”
There are also Thai Buddhist monks who are emblazoning a blessing on the masks they make from recycled materials. It reads: “To know the problem is to find a way to end the suffering.”
Your face mask will NOT protect you. If may give people you meet some protection from you – but only if YOU are already sick. Maintaining a safe social distance is a lot more effective than any rag over your face will be.
It’s not for you, it’s for others. A mask helps contain the moisture droplets on your breath rather than let them disperse toward others.
Agreed. But line 4 of the proposed blessing says “May they protect us” – which they simply cannot do.
Masks are ONLY useful if the wearer already has the disease. And by that time, it’s too late to protect the wearer from anything.
Anthony Fauci just said today that masks both help to protect the wearer from getting the virus from others, and protect others from getting the virus if the wearer has it. I don’t think your information is entirely correct.
So “May they help to protect us” might be better phraseology.
“Us”, being first person plural, includes everyone else present, not just the wearer, as it were.
I would have no problem with Paul Inwood’s amendment.
Karl is right, however, that the broad sense of “us” is what I intended.
If anybody is protected, I too receive a benefit, because the chances of becoming sick through community spread are diminished for everybody.
Thanks, Anthony, for mentioning Dr. Fauci’s comment. I do not want to get into the weeds of an epidemiological debate, but I do think the community of health care workers would not be so keen on personal protective equipment if it conferred no protection on the wearer at all! The fact that the person in the pew has a looser mask means it is less effective, but still offers some.
Thank you, Rita, for your thoughtfulness in creating this blessing, which sweetly and eloquently underscores how wearing masks demonstrates love for others.
Thank you for this kind comment, Rachel.
You are welcome.
This is a wonderful idea! Blessed facemasks can become “sacramentals”…and help with the healing in both time and place.
A tradition of letting situations in our lives generate a prayerful accompaniment and response goes back a long way in Ireland; I imagine other places also have such a tradition. In 1975, Diaruid Ó Laoghaire SJ published his collection of “Ár bPaidreacha Dúchais” (Prayers of our Culture) in the Irish language. He has 957 prayers collected from the different regions of Ireland. These are not the “standard” prayers of the church, although 87 of them connect with the Mass and 65 around the Rosary. Mostly they are in connection with the many and varied nuts and bolts of everyday living. Most are quite short. Many are poetic.
This custom provided strength and encouragement in Penal Times when the structures of church life were forbidden by law. It would be normal to have a custom of prayer for washing of hands and wearing facemasks in time of crisis.
Examples of the kinds of occasions:
On seeing the sun
Preparing the bed
Lighting the fire
Going on a journey
Before, during and after work
Passing a cemetery
When the clock strikes
Entering and leaving a home where there is sickness
On crossing a bridge
On arriving home
Lighting and extinguishing the lamp
Seeing the New Moon
In time of thunder
Two samples, in Irish (my apologies that you cannot hear the sounds!) with my English translation, which sadly cannot capture the poetry of the original.
A prayer before food:
Rath an Rí a rinne an roinn
Ar ár roinn ‘s ar ár gcomh-roinn.
The blessing of the King who did the breaking (of the bread)
On our portions and on our shared partaking.
You’ll notice the alliteration in Irish with the letter “r.” There is wordplay also on the word “roinn” which means a portion, and to divide.
Entering home where there is sickness:
Ar mo dhul i dteach isteach
a bhfuil an galar ann,
Críost go mbeiread ann
agus nár bheiread as.
As I enter the house
where there is sickness,
may I bring (the presence of) Christ with me
and not take Christ away (when I leave).
This is fantastic. Once again, Padraig, you’ve added some wonderful and thought-provoking examples from Ireland to enrich our collective reflections. Thank you.
When I wrote the blessing prayer for the post, I was thinking of something that a priest might pray over the congregation’s masks. But the Jewish example, plus your examples of blessing of daily activities from Ireland, have raised the option of the individual offering a prayer. Yes, it is in “accompaniment and response” to what has become an everyday activity during a time of pandemic — the washing of hands or the act of putting on a mask. Or, as my husband and I call our daily ritual of putting on a mask and gloves to leave the house: “suiting up” to go to outside. I like it. The Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us that “blessings proceed from the Baptismal priesthood.”
My grandmother never put a loaf of bread in the oven without first making the sign of the cross over it. I have often envied her sense of a God-soaked world which she lived in, with religion offering the possibility of offering back to God the gifts of everyday life because the things of life are themselves gifts from God.
But it needs a shorter prayer than mine, one that is easy to remember, not unlike that Irish grace (with alliteration and word-play) that you quoted above.
I don’t think it is prudent at this stage to encourage or discourage the use of face masks. As with all things, make it voluntary and practice social distancing.
Blessing facemasks seems to me to be a marked departure from the tradition of what blessings are (as well as being kitschy). Blessings are intended to differentiate the object and make it for sacred use. Whether you agree with the distinction between the sacred and profane, blessings were a means of affirming or creating a reality.
I think blessing masks risks superstition – as in “this is a blessed mask even more protection” notwithstanding the fact that the use of mask is contested in the literature and there are risks with it
I would rather see ecclesial and political efforts made at improving senior care homes which is where most deaths occurred. In my province of Ontario, the state of them is reprehensible – soiled diapers, cockroach infestations, a culture of fear around using supplies to cut costs
I doubt the situation is much different in the US or other parts of the world.
Thanks for sharing your concerns, George. Allow me to reply to two of them.
First, the encouragement of superstition. This may be a danger in any blessing of objects, but no less for a rosary or a medal than it is for a face covering. The problem of superstition does not stop us from blessing things, but should invites us to use proper language and support this — as we do all the church’s liturgy — with proper catechesis. In many of the blessings found in the Book of Blessings the accent falls on the people who use the object, and the prayer blesses God for the bounty this gift represents and affirms the person in its right use. I have tried to replicate this pastoral perspective in the crafting of this prayer. First, naming God’s work in praise, then asking for the goodness of God to flow through our use of this thing to the persons who use them. A blessing can awaken charity and faith so that they may use this not in fear or resentment but in a spirit of love.
Second, your description of the intention and scope of blessings is simply more narrow than it needs to be. Some blessings are indeed intended to set objects aside for sacred use, but not all. If you consult the Book of Blessings, you will find blessings for tools, farm implements, vehicles, facilities and buildings, homes, foods, people, and meetings, in addition to objects associated with worship and the liturgical year. If we can bless motorcycles and speed boats (and we do), we certainly can bless face masks. In recent years the church has moved away from blessing certain things, such as nuclear weapons, but for tools of peace and health there can be no moral objections. We bless Advent wreathes and dispose of them once they dry out. Blessing doesn’t make an object a sacramental. It’s a prayer directed to God asking for a specific benefit.
Thanks Rita and all of that is fair enough and perhaps I am too narrow on what blessings are intended for. I am just ambivalent about masks on general so that is part of my reaction. And I am not sure churches (or anywhere else should mandate masks). I just returned from grocery store and about half had masks, half didn’t. But again, this is the decision of those who are competent to make them and I would go along with whatever the convention was.
Parishes have not quite opened up yet in my city but my brother and I both attend Byzantine parish. He still goes to the Roman one with his wife in his city and he said they have to wear masks but in the Byzantine church they don’t.
So I think there is variance with the practice
I just came across this personal prayer at Michelle Francl-Donnay’s blog (Quantum Theology). It’s a fine one. I hope she doesn’t mind if I quote it here.
“Holy Spirit, whose very breath brought creation into existence,
Grant me the grace to wear this mask, with all its discomforts and inconveniences, in wisdom and charity. Help me to bear this cross which I carry for the most vulnerable among us. Hold us all close in your care and bring this pandemic to a swift end.
You can read her post here:
Thank you for this information. Custom face masks are safe which allows for completely custom prints as well as the utility of a standard face cover.